The NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 25, and one of the many topics related to the draft is BYU defensive sensation Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
The athletic defensive end became a national story with the news of his inexperience with the game of football and his natural athleticism and relentless motor. Many comparisons have been made to current NFL players, and predictions as to Ansah’s potential of being “the steal” of the draft or possibly “the bust” of the draft are not in short supply. How will Ansah’s game transition to the more talented, faster style of play in the professional league?
The NFL has been in a constant state of flux, as offensive styles begin to change, and defensive styles adjust in a never-ending game of chess on the gridiron. The League is at it again, and it’s the defense’s turn to make a move. Offense made its strategic move over the last couple of years with a read-option style of offense that begins with a scrambling quarterback and culminates with an option pitch, a quarterback keeper or a pass downfield.
This offensive style really began to take shape back in 2001 as Michael Vick debuted with the Atlanta Falcons. This style has now developed and turned into what it is today with Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.
These styles of offense require a defensive change of philosophy that incorporates the type of athleticism Ansah brings to the field — a hybrid defensive player who has the speed to drop into coverage, chase down the bootleg and cover the option but also possesses the power to bullrush the offensive linemen, sack the quarterback and stuff the run.
The most-heard comparison made with Ansah is to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. While they do have comparisons in terms of athleticism, Pierre-Paul rarely drops into coverage, focusing on rushing the passer. There’s no problem with this, since it works for the Giants. But the defensive shift in the game may force other comparisons that could be more on-point.
These comparisons could be made to hybrid players like the Miami Dolphins’ Cameron Wake, the Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs, the Dallas Cowboys’ Demarcus Ware and the 49ers’ Aldon Smith. All of these defensive stars have played both the linebacker and the defensive end positions and have done so with success.
This type of defensive player is why athletes like Ansah are in high demand and is probably the reason the Ghanaian native has skyrocketed so high in the draft board so quickly. It’s also why players like Jarvis Jones from Georgia, Barkevious Mingo of LSU and Dion Jordan of Oregon are picked to go so high in Thursday’s opening round.
Those who think Ansah may not have this ability need only rewatch highlights of the game against Georgia Tech from BYU’s 2012 season. Ansah and the rest of the BYU defense shut down the read option the Yellow Jackets use on offense. Although Georgia Tech is in the college ranks, it really shows the natural ability Ansah has to disrupt offenses.
With all of this said, will Ansah transition to the NFL and make the kind of impact these defenses need and expect?
Given Ansah’s natural ability and the rawness he brings to the field, there is no ceiling for this player. The only weakness the draft experts dwell on is his inexperience. But experience, unlike intelligence or athleticism, can be coached and taught. That’s why Ansah will be a top-five pick in Thursday’s draft. Because he has the potential to spearhead this whole movement of defensive prowess and force the offense to make the next move to reach that lofty goal of checkmate on the field.