Ezekiel Ansah: Big swing with game on line
April, 25, 2013
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
And so, in the end, the Detroit Lions never got a chance to tell us how they feel about their left tackle situation. When their No. 5 overall pick arrived Thursday night, all three of the 2013 draft's elite left tackles were already off the board in unprecedented fashion.
My understanding is that the Lions worked hard to trade down after Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Lane Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) were among the top four selections. When no suitable trade arose, the Lions pivoted to Plan B: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a potentially dominant pass-rusher whose story is one of the most amazing in recent draft history.
Almost unknown in NFL draft circles when the college season began, Ansah recorded a grand total of 4.5 sacks last season at BYU. But he had an eye-popping performance in the Senior Bowl, in front of the Lions' coaching staff, and his raw physical skills left talent evaluators drooling at the NFL scouting combine.
I started leaning away from Ansah as a possibility for the Lions last week when general manager Martin Mayhew suggested he might not make a "Dave Kingman" choice in the first round. In other words, Mayhew seemed to acknowledge the shaky position the franchise is in after a 4-12 season. This year might not have been the right time to swing for the fences. A safer pick -- a left tackle or perhaps Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner -- seemed in order.
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesEzekiel Ansah compares physically to stud pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith.
Ultimately, we should have relied on a discussion from earlier this month. Under Mayhew, the Lions haven't shied away from drafting players who don't fit the profile we're expecting. He was most certainly willing to take a big swing in this draft, as in any other.
At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Ansah is built like some of the NFL's top pass-rushers, having drawn favorable comparisons to the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul and the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith. His athletic skills, documented in the Sport Science video we posted recently, are freakish, and it's hard to imagine him getting much attention from opposing offenses who also have to deal with Lions defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
But Ansah essentially has one year of successful college pass rushing to his name. NFL draft history is littered with freakish athletes who couldn't play football. The truth is we don't know if Ezekiel Ansah can play. ESPN's Mel Kiper, for instance, said Ansah had the most meteoric rise of any player he's evaluated in 35 years of working the draft.
Even if Ansah realizes the potential of his physical skills, will he do it in time to save this edition of the Lions? It's optimistic at least, and a reach at worst, to think Ansah will be ready to make the kind of immediate impact you hope for from a No. 5 overall pick.
I would understand if Lions fans are a little skittish with how things worked out. Riley Reiff, a player seemingly destined to play right guard, will most likely be the Lions' left tackle. Milliner won't arrive to help a long-suffering secondary. Ansah, to be fair, has some work to do before he can help the 2013 team in the way that Johnson or Milliner could have.
For that reason, I give Mayhew much credit. He didn't panic. He didn't take the easiest and safest way out. He went Dave Kingman on the deal. It'll be a home run or a strikeout with the game on the line. Love it.
Earlier: The Ansah scenario picked up steam Thursday morning.