NFL Draft with some international standouts
As proof that, yes, NFL teams really would scour the world for premium pass rushers, the 2013 NFL Draft presents one from Ghana and another from Estonia.
Neither knew football just a few years ago. Both could go in the first round of Thursday night's draft.
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah of BYU and Margus Hunt of SMU are very different players, but they present similar tantalizing yet puzzling situations for prospective NFL suitors. Both are older prospects, yet might have their best football in front of them. And though both need polish and might not yet fully grasp the game at its highest level, both possess rare qualities and potentially game-changing ability.
In today's NFL, players who can get to the quarterback are as in demand as ever.
FROM THE BLOC TO BLOCKING KICKS
"Nothing, really," is what Hunt knew about football when he came to American in 2006. "No rules or anything."
An accomplished discus thrower, Hunt came from Estonia to Dallas to train with SMU's renowned track program. When that program was dropped in 2009, the 6'8 Hunt was encouraged to give football a shot. He wasn't an immediate star, but once he got comfortable he was hard to miss on tape, and his coaches pushed him hard because of his tremendous untapped potential.
He knew the NFL was something that captivated people, and that the Dallas Cowboys were a big deal "in the way Manchester United is in soccer. I'd seen football in movies and on TV."
"Deep down, I kind of had a dream about getting an NFL shot," Hunt said in an interview at the Senior Bowl in January. "Once I started to learn the basics and the football language, I quit looking at people funny and started catching on."
In a draft short on 3-4 defensive ends, Hunt's frame and raw skills are captivating. His 17 blocked kicks in college are an NCAA record, and he had 8 sacks last season. He'll turn 26 this summer and measured during pre-draft activities at 6'8 and 275 pounds.
HE'S A FREAK
Ansah is 6'5, 271 and has the kind of long arms, big hands and natural explosion that NFL scouts crave.
There's some question as to what will be his best NFL position and how quickly he'll take to the NFL game, but there's little question he'll be a top-10 pick on Thursday -- and maybe a top-five selection.
He came to BYU in 2008 to study statistics. He had hoped to be a basketball player - his favorite American athlete was LeBron James - and he took up track and field after he unsuccessfully tried out for BYU basketball team. He gave football a try in 2010 despite knowing "zero" about the game.
Ansah wasn't even a starter for BYU in training camp last August. He'd spent two years learning linebacker and showing off his speed on special teams before being moved to defensive end.
He ended up playing a little of everywhere in his breakout season, and nobody could block him. He had 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season.
Now, it's up to an NFL team to decide which position and scheme fits him best and how quickly he can adapt. During Senior Bowl practices in January, Ansah seemed to be doing a lot of thinking and trying to catch up. When the Senior Bowl started, he did a lot of tossing offensive tackles out of his way and making plays in the backfield.
He posted times in the neighborhood of 4.5 in the 40-yard dash despite weighing over 270 pounds during pre-draft activities.
Ansah told reporters that multiple teams requested a copy of his passport during the pre-draft process to confirm his age, 24. Though there's still uncertainty at the top, even on the eve of the draft, it's hard to imagine Ansah slipping out of the top 10. Some team may even trade up into the top four to get him.
"I donít know if I should say itís hard to believe," Ansah said. "Obviously itís a blessing. Itís really humbling. Iím really privileged to beout here and Iím really grateful for the opportunity I have. I thank the Heavenly Father for giving me my athletic abilities that I have. I just have to use it right."