Is Ezekiel Ansah a bigger risk than Jason Pierre-Paul?
|02.23.13 at 1:52 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone wants to grab the next Jason-Pierre Paul, and the popular player for such comparisons this year is the ultra-raw, ultra-athletic Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah out of BYU.
Such comparisons make sense as far as their talent as pass-rushers, but the uncertainty surrounding Ansah, who has only known how to play football for three years, should be much greater than it was for Pierre-Paul three years ago.
Pierre-Paul declared for the draft in 2010 after his first season at South Florida, which was his only year facing FBS competition after spending his freshman and sophomore years at Canyons Junior College and Fort Scott Community College, respectively.. The reason he was so raw was because he weighed around 170 pounds coming out of high school, thus going largely unrecruited. He put on over 100 pounds over a three-year span, and by the time he made it to South Florida, he was a 6-foot-4 4/8, 270-pound sack machine. There were questions about whether the raw pass-rusher was too big a risk, but he’s answered those by being one of the best in the business since the Giants drafted him 15th overall.
The story’s a bit different for Ansah. Unlike Pierre-Paul, who had been playing football since his junior year of high school, Ansah spent his upbringing in Ghana playing soccer and basketball and admittedly watched no football. When a Mormon missionary spotted him and recruited him to BYU, Ansah went and majored in statistics, but he didn’t go straight to the field.
Instead, he tried out for the basketball team in 2008 and 2009. After not making it, he went out for and made the track team. Eventually, friends and family got him to play football.
“I never thought of playing football because I had never played the game so I didn’t know much about it, so that’s why I tried out for basketball [in the first] two years,” he admitted Saturday.
Ansah said the transition was tough — not only did he not know how to play the game, but he said he was pushed in practice as though he had been playing the game all his life. He didn’t do much at first, totaling 10 tackles over his first two seasons, but as a senior he had 62 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 13 games. An impressive showing at the Senior Bowl boosted his stock, and now the 6-foot-5, 271-pound defensive end is viewed as a major risk/reward prospect that could go in the first round despite his admitted unfamiliarity with the game.
“Obviously, in comparison to all the people that are out here, I’ve been playing for only a few years,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot to do just to catch up with them and I’m going to put everything I’ve got in and just do my best.”
As far as learning and coach ability goes, Ansah seems to have a good head on his shoulders, as he was well-spoken with the media Saturday. Additionally, English is his first language and he said his home in Ghana was very similar to an American culture.
“It was pretty much the same as out here, except it’s all Africans, black folks, and there’s a lot of white people in Utah,” he said with a smile.
Ansah is highly raw, but he has the body, strength and speed to make him an electric pass-rusher. He only figures to get better, but there’s just so much uncertainty to expect someone to learn things that the rest of the league already knows. Questions will remain until he proves he can do it, but Ansah believes he’s worth the risk.
“I like the challenge a lot,” he said. “I know most of you are here to talk to me, but then again, there’s a lot of people that have doubts in me. That’s what I love. I just want to prove you all wrong.”
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