As we inch closer to this year’s NFL Draft later this month, our draft team here at Turn On The Jets will be running a series of individual prospect evaluations. These scouting reports are intended to provide an in-depth breakdown of individual prospects in this year’s draft class highlighting players’ overall strengths, weaknesses, potential upside, red flags, and what their best schematic fit will be at the next level. Today, we continue our series with BYU Defensive End Ezekiel Ansah.
Position: Defensive End
College: Brigham Young
Measurables: 6’5″ 271 lbs, 35-1/8″ Arm Length, 10-1/4″ Hands
One of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s NFL Draft is undoubtedly BYU Defensive End Ezekiel Ansah. Having just moved to the United States from his native country of Ghana in 2008, Ansah had never even played American football prior to 2010, when he walked onto the football team at BYU after previously participating on the school’s track & field team – a stint preceded by two unsuccessful tryouts for the Cougars’ basketball program.
In his first seasons as a football player, Ansah served primarily as a backup and special teams contributor before an injury propelled him into the starting lineup for his senior season in 2012. It wasn’t until he was fortunate enough to receive this opportunity that evaluators began to recognize the immense potential of the budding defensive end.
Although his 2012 campaign at BYU is not necessarily one that produced an impressive stat sheet (just 4.5 sacks last year), it is Ansah’s growth throughout the season that has NFL scouts salivating over what he could become as an NFL player. Physically, Ansah is an absolute specimen. With fantastic size, he possesses the athletic ability and physical tools of some of the league’s top players at the position. At 6’5″ 271 lbs, Ansah posted an astounding 4.63 40 yard dash and 4.26 20 yard shuttle run at the NFL Combine, highlighting his immense speed and agility, particularly for a player of his stature. Beyond his speed, Ansah displayed decent strength with 21 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press, a number that will likely grow as he becomes accustomed to an NFL strength and conditioning regimen.
Like every prospect, however, Ansah cannot be judged solely on workout numbers. The inexperience factor is certainly a concern for NFL teams in terms of their evaluation process as there isn’t a whole lot of film to go through beyond the 2012 campaign. The question of “one year college” football wonder has been raised; fair considering the ‘upside’ and ‘big potential’ players that have been drafted high in the past, only to flop or become marginal players at the next level.
So, the question remains – will Ansah continue the trend of growth he showed at BYU and become one of the NFL’s next great defensive ends? Or will he be another player to underachieve and never realize his full potential, joining the likes of Vernon Gholston, Aaron Curry, Aaron Maybin, and countless other draft busts?
The answer, unfortunately, can only be determined with time. If everyone knew the answers to questions like this, anyone could be an NFL General Manager. The NFL Draft is an inexact science, and while it is fun to project the type of players prospects will become at the next level, there are no certainties whatsoever.
With that being said, we can evaluate a player based on what we do know using game film as the primary tool of evaluation, along with the pre-draft testing and interview process, and importantly, an understanding of a team’s scheme and quality of coaching. Often times, situations players are drafted into have just as much to do with the success, or lack thereof, of the player’s development. Teams evaluate prospects, not only as football players, but as potential fits in the schemes they run on both sides of the ball in order to get the most educated projection for how a player will fare at the next level.
So, let’s take a look at Ziggy Ansah – the good, the bad, and where he has the best chance to succeed at the next level.
Aside from the immense physical prowess of Ansah, as mentioned above, there is much more to his game than one may initially assume, based on his lack of overall football experience. While he is incredibly fast, quick, and explosive, Ansah also possesses one of the best motors of anyone I’ve seen on film this season. Going through his film from 2012, it is nearly impossible to keep track of the number of plays Ansah made when he was in a disadvantageous situation at the start of the play. There were plenty of times where Ansah appeared beat, having been slowed by a double team or caught out of position due to his alignment in the front BYU was in, but on nearly all of those, Ansah found a way to fight through, or around, only to end up making the play or arriving to the ball as the tackle had been made.
Beyond his motor, Ansah uses his large frame and body incredibly well. He has excellent quickness in his initial strike off the ball and uses his arm length incredibly well to get extension and leverage on the opposing offensive lineman, often times dictating what he is going to do on a particular play. In addition to this, Ansah has a very quick first step, and combined with the qualities aforementioned, he keeps opposing offensive lineman from becoming comfortable and confident more often than not.
But what makes Ansah truly intriguing outside of his physical tools are what you would not expect such an inexperienced player to do so well. Ansah shows very good awareness in his play. When rushing the passer, if Ansah hits a double team that he realizes he cannot get through quickly enough to get to the quarterback, he immediately looks to get his hands up – a technique that paid off last year in the form of a number of batted passes or altered throws.
In many cases with inexperienced players with the physical abilities of Ansah, there tends to be a hesitation in play – a sign of unfamiliarity and lack of confidence in assignment. These players are not necessarily timid, but are more often than not just unsure of their assignment, causing them to hesitate in just about everything they do.
Ansah, on the other hand, plays a very physical brand of football for the position at full speed. What is interesting is how he was used at BYU. Ansah saw reps as a pure defensive end, defensive tackle (sometimes lined up as a 3 technique and even at NT in some 3rd down packages), and outside linebacker. Not once did he show any sign of hesitation. Whether this means he had a good understanding of his assignment or not, what’s clear is Ansah’s willingness and desire to be a disruptive force on the defensive front seven.
When watching him on stunts, Ansah displays an ability to shoot gaps incredibly fast, or loop to the outside and gain the edge when aligned on the interior of the defensive line before the snap. There were countless plays last year when he would stunt inside from his defensive end position and seemingly beat the opposing offensive lineman across their face and into the gap before they had even taken their first step. This led to tackles for loss, sacks, and just an overall disruption of the offense.
Additionally, what’s arguably the most impressive asset of Ansah’s game, when considering his lack of football experience, is his ability to react to blocks. While some players can gain a pre snap advantage based on alignment, formation, and even stance of the opposing offensive lineman, Ansah gains his advantage by trusting his keys after the ball is snapped. If the opposing offensive lineman blocks down away, he jams their outside shoulder to throw them off their line of attack, while maintaining leverage in his own gap. If the opposing lineman steps to the perimeter with his hat trying to get to the outside shoulder of Ansah, he does a great job of recognizing it and applying pressure to pressure, not allowing himself to surrender the edge by getting reached. If he is lined up on the interior and the offensive lineman across from him pulls away, he is immediately in their hip pocket, striking the ball carrier trying to follow the lead block in the backfield, or after a short gain.
To me, this speaks of Ansah’s ability and willingness to be coached. Along with the improvements he showed, not only from game to game, but from play to play, he clearly has a high learning curve and can adapt and adjust based on his own instincts and coaching points. In terms of projecting how he will develop at the next level, this speaks volumes to the likely success he will have.
While he does not have the consistent poor tendencies of a typical inexperienced player, there are some fundamental flaws in Ansah’s game. The most common are playing too high at times, as well as lunging forward with his head down, leaving his hips and feet behind him, rather than underneath him. The problems these flaws cause for Ansah can allow him to be pushed off the line of scrimmage when he exposes his chest plate and lets the opposing offensive lineman get underneath him, or recklessly flying upfield like a missile with no balance caused by leaving his feet and hips behind. These issues are not nearly as apparent as the things he does well, however, but they are certainly something he needs to improve upon to have success against an NFL offensive lineman.
Overall, I think Ansah is an excellent prospect who will thrive at the next level. When you look at the immense physical talent and combine that with what seems to be a high level of coach ability, work ethic, and motor, sky is the limit for the young defensive end. When you put on the tape, you see a player who is not only big and strong, but is physical, uses his body very well, has great awareness, and simply put, is a fighter. Regardless of where he was lined up, in the defensive front 7 or on special teams, Ansah plays at 100 mph, doing anything he can to make a difference within his assignment. In the San Diego State game, he stopped a fake punt attempt. He also disrupted a punt against Ohio, and sold out on special teams throughout the year. Ansah is a player that seems to have recognized how great he can be and will do everything in his power to realize his full potential
The fundamental flaws in his game are a fixable issue, in my opinion. These are flaws that I have personally seen players fix through more experience and quality coaching. I do not think that these will have any effect on his draft stock, because not only are they rare, they can be easily ironed out. And Ansah seems to have the mindset and willingness to be coached and improve on, not only his small flaws, but at what he already does so well.
In terms of where he fits best, the most obvious answer is 4-3 defensive end. This position will allow Ansah to highlight his size, length, power, explosiveness, speed, burst, and agility as the primary aspect of his play while he continues to learn and grow. However, the fluidity he played with when lined up at linebacker, along with his awareness and motor indicate he could fit as a pass rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 as well. He has the physical tools to succeed there, but mentally, it may take him a little bit longer to have a great impact than it would as a 4-3 end. Still, I would not bet against him in any position he is placed in, and with how NFL defenses are using multi-front schemes, his versatility will have whichever defensive coordinator he ends up with drooling from the moment he gets in the building.