If you hadn’t heard of Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah a few months ago, you’re not alone.
He wasn’t even on the radar of NFL scouts entering last season.
In his previous two years as a football player at Brigham Young, Ansah (pronounced “Ahn-saw”) recorded a total of 10 tackles, no sacks, no tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup in 18 games, none of them as a starter.
And now, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s emerged as one of the top prospects in the NFL Draft and a definite possibility for the Detroit Lions with the No. 5 pick overall.
This is not your normal path to the draft.
Ansah was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, in Africa. He enrolled at BYU in 2008, tried out for the basketball team, spent a year on the track squad and finally decided to take up football for the first time in his life in 2010. They had to show him how to put on his pads.
“I never thought about playing football,” Ansah told reporters during the NFL Scouting Combine. “I never played the game. I didn’t know much about it.
“But I was really athletic. I didn’t want to just sit around and (only) go to school. I wanted to do something. Since basketball didn’t work out, I decided to go do it in football.”
His college coach, Bronco Mendenhall, never expected him to even make it to his first fall camp because Ansah “couldn’t get enough oxygen to finish a drill.”
But Ansah’s stamina and knowledge of the game improved to the point that his freakish athleticism eventually emerged. He was finally awarded a scholarship before last season and worked his way into the starting lineup at defensive end by the fifth game.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock recently elevated Ansah to the top 4-3 defensive end in his player rankings for the draft. It’s a position of need for the Lions, who must replace starters Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Charley Casserly, a former NFL general manager, is currently projecting Ansah to the Lions in his mock draft posted on NFL.com.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects Ansah to go even higher at No. 2 to Jacksonville.
“It’s an amazing, meteoric rise,” Kiper said. “To go from off the radar completely, didn’t even become a starter until after the first few games, not a lot of sacks but yet he’s going to be a top-5 pick. That’s an amazing story for as far as he’s come just in a very, very short period of time.”
In his final year, Ansah had 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 1/2 sacks, one interception, nine pass breakups, six quarterback hurries and one forced fumble in 13 games. Good but not great.
His chances of becoming an early first-round pick appeared to be lost at the Senior Bowl when he was unimpressive during the week of practice.
But Ansah ended up dominating the Senior Bowl game and followed that up at the Combine with an extraordinary display of athleticism for his size.
Ansah, who is 6-foot-5, 271 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds. He tested off the charts in other drills, too.
“There are a lot of questions about the guy, but you can’t question his movement skills, his size and his motor,” Mayock said. “He has a phenomenal upside. It’s just going to take a little time.”