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Ezekial Ansah in a rush to prove himself

Posted Apr 22, 2013

Most of the prospects in this year’s draft class grew up with dreams of playing in the NFL. Then there’s pass-rusher-come-lately Ezekial Ansah, who didn’t start playing the sport until 2010 – as a fourth option.


(The opinions and analysis contained in this feature are those of the author and others credited and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department)

When the 2012 college football season started, there was more novelty than notoriety to Ezekial Ansah’s game.

Born in Ghana, he found his way to Brigham Young University in 2009 to run track, with an eye on eventually getting a chance to play in the NBA. In his first two seasons for the BYU football team, Ansah looked like a soccer player who became a track athlete and was harboring hopes of a career in hoops: Eighteen games, zero starts; 10 tackles, zero sacks.

BEST OF THE BUNCH

A look at the position heading into the April 25-27 NFL Draft

Rank Player, School Ht Wt Projection
1/4 DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU 6-5 271 1st Round
1/5 DT Shariff Floyd, Florida 6-3 287 1st Round
2/8 DE Dion Jordan, Oregon 6-6 248 1st Round
3/9 DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State 6-3 266 1st Round
2/17 DT Star Lotulelei, Utah 6-3 311 1st Round

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com


ANALYZING THE DRAFT CLASS

The word: This is a good year to be in the market for a D-tackle. There is quality and quantity. “I’ve got six defensive tackles with first-round grades,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who adds Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams, Purdue’s Kawann Short and Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins to the list topped by Floyd and Lotulelei. Rang also has UCLA’s Datone Jones and Texas A&M’s Damonte Moore among his ends with first-round potential. But when you get to the ends, you also get into the debate over whether they’re best suited to be ends in a 4-3 or linebackers in a 3-4, starting with Jordan. That’s where need and style will dictate which end is best for which team.

What about: Margus Hunt. He is a 6-foot-8 former World Junior Champion in the discus and shot put from Estonia. That’s how he got to SMU. He got into football when SMU dropped its track and field program. That was in 2009. But his obvious athletic ability was on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, when Hunt did 38 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds at 277 pounds and also popped a 34½-inch vertical leap. He also blocked seven kicks in 2009 and three more in 2010. The question is: How long will it take Hunt to become a player in the NFL? Rang has him as the sixth-best end and No. 37 player overall. “He’s a big, impressive kid that I think down the road will be a heckuva player,” Mayock said.

Don’t forget about: T.J. Barnes. At 6-6, 369, he’s got the body of a run-stuffing defensive tackle. And that’s what he played at Georgia Tech. But mentally – or at least in his mind – Barnes feels he’s better suited for another position. “I could see myself at end, but the ideal position I see myself is quarterback,” joked before his Pro Day workout. “If I put effort into this, I could be the next Tom Brady, Peyton Manning.”

Seahawks situation: They loaded up in free agency, signing end Cliff Avril; Michael Bennett, who can play end in the base line and slide to tackle in the nickel line; and tackle Tony McDaniel. Of course, they also lost tackles Alan Branch and Jason Jones in free agency. So it will not be a surprise if new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and new line coach Travis Jones use the draft to supplement a group that also includes ends Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Bruce Irvin and Greg Scruggs and tackles Clinton McDonald and Jaye Howard.

But entering this week’s NFL Draft, Ansah has found his way to the fast lane. He will be drafted in Thursday’s first round; it’s just a matter of how high.

“He’s enjoyed as meteoric a rise up the board as any other players in my 35 years of covering the draft,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference-call interview last week.

Kiper can see Ansah going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2. Or the Detroit Lions at No. 5. Or the Buffalo Bills at No. 8.

“Which is amazing,” Kiper conceded, “considering he was off the radar, completely undrafted when the season began.”

It was Ansah’s 62-tackle, 4.5-sack, 13-tackles for losses season for the Cougars that ignited his ridiculously rapid ascent up draft boards around the league.

Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network, had Ansah at No. 3 among the defensive ends entering the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Now, Mayock lists him at No. 1 among the 4-3 defensive ends.

“He’s got as much upside as anyone in this draft,” Mayock said.

Offers Bucky Brooks, a former NFL receiver and scout for the Seahawks who now works for NFL.com, “Given the willingness of NFL coaches and scouts to gamble on athleticism, upside and potential, Ansah’s spectacular array of skills and versatility will prompt several teams to consider him early on Day 1 of the draft.”

Strip away the hype and connecting the dots between Ansah’s impressive numbers creates a picture of a pass-rusher worth waiting on to develop at the next level: a shade under 6 feet 6, 271 pounds; 35-inch arms; a time of 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, as well as times of 10.9 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.9 in the 200 on his track resume; a 34½-inch vertical leap and 21 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press at the combine.

Even Ansah has been surprised by what’s happened to him over the past eight months.

“It is crazy, to go from where I was a year ago to how many people are paying attention to me,” Ansah said the combine.

Yes it is, and it’s even crazier when you consider where Ansah comes from: Accra, Ghana’s capital city. His father, Edward, is a retired sales manager for a petroleum company. His mother, Betty, is a retired nurse. He also has four older siblings. None of them have seen him play football, yet.

The basic difference between Accra and Provo, Utah, is, well, day and night. “It’s pretty much the same as here, except it’s all Africans, black folks,” Ansah said. “And it’s all white people in Utah.”

So how is that Ansah – who also goes by “Ziggy” or just “Z” – got to BYU and his newest sport?

“I came to BYU in ’08,” said Ansah, who had been a soccer player since the age of 3. “Tried out for the basketball team a couple of years. I did track for a little bit. In 2010, I decided to try out for football.”

Why? “I was really athletic,” he explained. “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.”

The switch did not come without the expected growing pains.

“I never played the game so I didn’t know much about it,” he said. “I try to stay up late and watch NFL Network. I see some things. I have no idea who the players are. This is going to be my life, so I just try to suck it all in.”

Then there was breaking the news to his family.

“I had to explain to them what the game was all about,” he said. “For now, they’ve been reading about it and catching up on it.”

Now that Ansah has come this far, there’s no turning back – or turning to a fifth sport.

“Everything about it,” he said when asked what he loved about football. “I like the challenge a lot. I know most of you are here to talk to me, but then again there’s a lot of people who have doubts about me. And that’s what I love. I just want to prove you wrong.”