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From Ghana and Estonia, with potential
When you consider where Ezekiel Ansah and Margus Hunt have come from, it’s amazing where they find themselves.
And that would be as rising prospects in this year’s NFL draft class.
Ansah, a defensive end from BYU who also goes by “Ziggy,” already was considered a first-round selection in April’s NFL Draft. The 6-foot-8, but also 26-year-old Hunt, a defensive lineman from SMU, continued to grow on people during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week.
Impressive stuff under any circumstances, but off-the-chart status when you take into accountant that the 6-5, 271-pound Ansah grew up playing soccer and basketball and participating in track in Ghana, while Hunt is a discus thrower and shot-putter from Estonia.
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Ansah jumped from No. 19 to No. 12 on the Big Board of ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. after his performance at the Combine, prompting Kiper to offer, “His eventual position is a question; his raw athleticism is not. A player with a track background and major athletic gifts, his draft value could be defined by whether teams think he can help immediately. This is a track star in a 271-pound frame, a guy who blazed the 40 and shows decent power. A lot of value is in his burst, the ability to jolt a defender with that initial punch. The question is whether he can add a repertoire.”
Hunt, meanwhile, found his way into Todd McShay’s five “risers” from the Combine.
“Like Ansah, Hunt is a raw prospect from another country who has limited football experience but has shown improvement over time,” the ESPN analyst wrote at ESPN.com. “We're still watching tape on Hunt and other scouts have mentioned that he played his best near the end of the season, including the Hawai'i Bowl against Fresno State. At 6-8¼ and 277 pounds, we knew he was a freak physically, but he surpassed our expectations with 38 reps on the bench, and was one of the five D-linemen to run under 4.6 in the 40-yard dash. He's stiff, mechanical when he moves, and he's not polished, but he'll immediately contribute on special teams. A team will look at him and see a lot to work with. I'd be surprised if he gets out of Day 2.”
How raw are these prospects? Just how new to the game are they? Ansah used the NFL Network and Hunt leaned on the Madden video game as part of their crash courses in trying to decipher the game.
“I try to stay up late and watch NFL Network,” Ansah said at the Combine when asked about his knowledge of the history of the league. “I see some things. I have no idea who they are. This is going to be my life, so I just try to suck it all in.”
Of the madness to his Madden method, Hunt said, “I played a lot of Madden and tried to figure out what’s going on on the field; how many people are on the field at one time. But I can’t tell you I knew who any of the players were.”
So, why football?
Said Hunt, who won the discus and shot put at the 2006 World Junior Championships: “We had a really unique situation back in Estonia. It would be really tough to go and compete with the adults because we already had as a country three top discus throwers. So I was like No. 4 or No. 5. That was one of the biggest reasons why I chose football over track eventually.”
Offered Ansah, who tried basketball and track at BYU before moving to football: “I was really athletic. I didn’t want to just sit around and go to school. I wanted to do something. Since basketball didn’t work out, I wanted to do football.”
And why would a team draft one of these relative neophytes? Production, and especially potential.
Ansah played only three seasons at BYU, and didn’t collect his first sack until last season, when he had 4.5 among his 65 tackles. In addition to his obvious athletic skills, he also possesses the versatility that allowed the BYU coaches to play him as a stand-up rush linebacker, on either side; as well as end – again, on either side – and even nose guard.
He has drawn comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.
“That’s good,” Ansah said. “I’ve actually put in the time to watch his tapes and stuff.”
Hunt, whose last name means wolf in Estonian, had 16.5 sacks in four seasons at SMU and eight came last season. He checked in at just over 6-8 and weighing 277 pounds at the Combine. He obviously has length, as well as strength (with those 38 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press). Hunt said he could gain 20 more pounds without diminishing his quickness. He also blocked seven kicks in 2009 and three more in 2010. As for his age, he spent two years in the military before being recruited to SMU as a discus thrower and shot-putter.
“When I first started going to (football) games at SMU I was at a loss. I had no idea what was going on,” Hunt said. “It took a while. I think I really started developing fast my senior and half of my junior year.”
Strangers in a strange land, not to mention playing a really strange game.