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Ziggy’s Talents Will Fit in Well in Motor City

26 April 2013 Brett Richins
Former Cougar Ziggy Ansah poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.

Former Cougar Ziggy Ansah poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.

The truth be told, the Detroit Lions may have passed on former BYU defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah with their No. 5 pick in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft if one of the top three offensive tackles would have been available.

The Lions entered draft weekend with three primary needs–offensive tackle, defensive secondary and defensive end. Either Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M or Lane Johnson from Oklahoma could have provided Detroit’s franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford with much needed security on his blind side.

With those three players already off the board after the first four picks, the selection likely came down to either Ziggy or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Detroit struggled in pass defense during last season’s disappointing 4-12 campaign.

Part of the problem was a lack of talent in the secondary, but a big part of it had to do with a lack of outside pass rush as well. The sack totals for the Lions have steadily declined over the past three seasons. In 2012, they finished 20th in the league with just 34 sacks.

Milliner’s injury history (he has a metal rod in one of his lower legs and is coming off shoulder surgery, the fifth operation of his career) and Ansah’s immense athletic ability likely tipped the scales in favor of Ghana’s new favorite son. In the end, it became an issue of talent meeting need.

“He was the best player available,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Ziggy on Thursday night. “And he fills a need.”

The Lions’ staff coached Ansah’s South squad in this year’s Senior Bowl, so they were able to get an up-close and personal look at Ziggy’s abilities, and get a good feel for who is as a person. They were first-hand witnesses as he become a one-man wrecking crew during the game.

“He can play anywhere across the front,” said Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. “Ziggy’s played nose, he’s played five technique, he’s played 4-I, he had never played nine before our game. It was an adjustment period for him. I mean, he didn’t know very much at all in the beginning of the week. But every practice you saw him get better, and then the game came and he dominated the game.

“We’ve seen everything that we need to see from him and we think he’s a very good fit for us. You know, he can play right defensive end, he can play left defensive end. We can move him around a little bit. He has that kind of skill set.”

The addition of Ansah’s off-the-charts athleticism to a defensive line that already fields Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at the tackle positions should give the Lions one nasty front four.

Although Ziggy has the ability to play a number of positions on defense, he’s likely to see most of his time at right end, lined up extra wide in the team’s nine-wide technique. It’s an alignment that will give Ansah the chance to get on the outside shoulder of would-be blockers and allow him to use his speed and quickness to wreak havoc in the pocket.

The other side of the line is expected to be manned by Jason Jones, a free agent who signed with the Lions after posting 18.5 sacks during the first five years of his career in Tennessee and Seattle. Jones and Asnah are expected to replace last season’s starters Kyle Vanden Bosh and Cliff Avril. Vanden Bosh was released by the team, while Avril signed as a free agent with the Seahawks last month.

With offenses having to worry about double teaming the likes of Suh and Fairley on the inside, Ansah will also likely be able to work one-on-one against opposing left tackles. His addition to the Lions defense seemed to be warmly approved by his future teammate Suh, who tweeted out: “From Ghana to Detroit, welcome my African brother! Lets do work!”

Ziggy, as any BYU fans knows, is not afraid of work.

His strong work ethic and ability to pick things up quickly contributed greatly to his meteoric rise into the top 5 of this year’s draft. Those qualities, along with his incredible God-given talent are the reason many NFL teams did not view him as a typical risk-versus-reward kind of player.

“We didn’t draft him as a project,” Schwartz explained to the Detroit media. “Again, we saw everything that we needed. He’s got the speed of some of the players that we’ve had in the past, but you’re also talking about a 270-plus-pound guy. (He is) 6-5, he’s got great length … it really is amazing when you consider that he’s been playing football for just a couple years.”

Excerpts from Detroit’s press conference

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