The NFL draft provides fans of every team with a powerful feeling: hope. Whether you suffered through the 2012 season as a Chiefs fan or are relishing in the success of being a Ravens fan, on one weekend, every year, the NFL draft gives you hope.
A new name to scream. A new jersey to purchase. A new "face of the franchise."
But one of the best aspects of the NFL draft is waiting to see if your team lands "that" player who has managed to overcome the most odds or who has had the longest journey to reach the league. The player with the most interesting bio, or the most dreaded past, will give you that much more to cheer for...or in some instances, to cheer against.
Let's take a look at the 2013 NFL Draft and the most interesting player stories this year.
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, the 6'5", 271-pound native of Accra, Ghana, has taken the NFL draft community by storm. Since roughly midway through the 2012 college football season, the BYU defensive end has steadily climbed NFL draft projections and positional rankings, and is now considered a likely candidate to be selected in the top 10 of the 2013 NFL Draft.
His journey to the NFL draft is even more impressive than his talent.
Ziggy Ansah was born and raised in Accra, Ghana; a 14-hour, 7,000-mile flight from BYU. He never played football before coming to the United States, and if it wasn't for his inability to play the sport he grew up loving (basketball), he might have never put on the pads. After running track for the Cougars in 2008 and 2009, Ansah decided to walk on the football team in 2010.
Before 2010, Ansah didn't know how to play football. He didn't even know how to put on his pads. Now he's one of the top prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Ansah will be a polarizing player in war rooms because of his inexperience. He is the kind of player that can make a GM's career...or get him fired. He's a prospect that is littered with dreaded scouting jargon: potential; upside; projection; high ceiling.
Whether Ansah becomes a star or just "a guy" in the NFL, the fact that he went from the playground basketball courts of Accra to the first round of the NFL draft is nothing short of astonishing. He's a player to root for...especially if he lands on your team.
On October 27, 2012, Marcus Lattimore suffered one of the most gruesome injuries any football player, coach or fan had ever seen. In South Carolina's game vs. Tennessee, Lattimore was hit low by defensive back Eric Gordon, which caused his knee to bend in ways that nature never intended. Three ligaments were torn. Reconstructive surgery would be required. Two words came to mind: career over.
But that would be underestimating Marcus Lattimore.
Lattimore has been down this road before. This wasn't the first time he faced a long, painstaking rehab process. Almost exactly one year earlier, Lattimore tore the ACL in his other knee during an October 15, 2011 contest vs. Mississippi State. Prior to this season's Tennessee game, he was just starting to look like his pre-injury self. He had proven that he could rehab a knee and make a comeback.
There's no way he could do it again, right? Not with the way his leg looked. He can't possibly rehab a knee that was bent in a 90 degree angle...the wrong way. Could he?
If you believe the most recent reports from Lattimore's doctors, then he might just be making what would have to be considered one of the most miraculous comebacks in recent history. According to Dr. James Andrews, Lattimore is way ahead of schedule in his recovery, and has a chance to play in 2013.
It would be nothing short of a miracle.
I, for one, will be cheering for Lattimore every step of the way. The realistic expectation is for Lattimore to be selected sometime during day three of the 2013 NFL Draft and to spend his rookie season on injured reserve.
Marcus Lattimore, however, might beg to differ.
Dion Jordan just wowed at the NFL Scouting Combine. But it's far from his greatest personal accomplishment.
In October of 2007, as a senior in high school, Jordan suffered second- and third-degree burns throughout most of his body after an attempt to siphon gasoline ultimately led to a devastating and life-altering explosion. At the time of the fire, Dion was considered one of the best high school wide receivers in the country. But the accident left his ability to walk, let alone play football, very much in question.
But this is Dion Jordan. He's a player that does things that are so rare, that his amazing physical recovery shouldn't surprise you. Jordan, at 6'6" and 248 pounds, can line up in the slot and flash flexibility, range and a backpedal like a defensive back. With his hand in the dirt, he can explode off the snap and become a quarterback's worst nightmare. He can physically do almost anything he wants, and it was proven when only a month after the fire, he managed to take steps without a walker.
Dion Jordan's performance in Indianapolis was nothing short of spectacular. He wowed all of the NFL brass in attendance with his ability to move like a player half his size. Jordan's tape showcases a rare athlete who will be able to play in multiple schemes and at multiple positions in the NFL. He's a lock to be selected in the top 10.
When you combine Jordan's athleticism with the inner strength he so obviously possesses, the end result is not only a player that you want to see succeed, but that you want to see succeed on your team.
It seems like a lifetime ago when Tyrann Mathieu (AKA "The Honey Badger") was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the hottest name in all of college football. The diminutive, playmaking defensive back appeared on his way to be an early-round NFL draft pick with the potential to become a first day selection.
But when it came to Mathieu's NFL future, the Honey Badger really didn't care.
In August of 2011, Tyrann was kicked off the LSU football team after multiple violations of the team's substance abuse policy. In an attempt to rehabilitate both his life and his professional football aspirations, the Honey Badger decided not to play the game in 2012 and instead focused on getting well. He attended a drug rehab facility in Houston, Texas and, by all indications, has made progress in his personal life.
Whether you like him or not, the Honey Badger is good for the NFL draft. He's a storyline, a player that will be followed with cameras on draft day, and whose career will be closely monitored and criticized by the media and fans.
Can he be trusted? Would you want your team to invest a high pick (or any pick for that matter) on a player with such a volatile history? The reward for getting it "right" with Mathieu could be that you are getting one of the most exciting, game-changing defensive prospects in the NFL draft.
He creates turnovers, and when he has the ball in his hands, he can directly impact the outcome of a game. But the risk for getting it "wrong" is steep. He has the potential to stain your team's draft class while becoming a distraction and creating a media circus.
Stay tuned. The Honey Badger is back.
One of the most exciting offensive linemen available for the 2013 NFL Draft is Menelik Watson (OT, Florida State). He's a gifted athlete who has as much upside as any other first-round offensive tackle.
But selecting Watson isn't necessarily "elementary." It will come with some risk, as he will be a 25-year-old rookie and is a converted basketball player originating from across the pond in Manchester, England. Not exactly the prototype prospect profile.
After starting his athletic career as a basketball player at Marist College, Watson decided to play football at 23 years old and only after being exposed to the game by watching it on television. His football career started at Saddleback College before he ultimately transferred to Florida State. He started every game in 2012 for the Seminoles and declared for the NFL draft at the conclusion of the season.
Much like Ziggy Ansah (DE, BYU), Watson is largely a "projection." In other words, a risky pick.
With the influx of athletic pass-rushers entering the NFL, Watson is going to be in high demand in April. He could end up being one of the lesser-known names to be picked in the top 20 of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Obviously, this list would not be complete if it didn't include the biggest storyline of the 2013 NFL Draft. Manti Te'o and his catfish saga is one of the most bizarre and distracting stories to ever reveal itself during the NFL draft process.
And it's not going away.
After a very disappointing NFL Scouting Combine performance, Te'o, rather than own up to his pedestrian results, decided to actually use the circus that he created as an excuse. He just camouflaged it by saying he was exhausted.
Yes, really. And while I'd like to say that I'm pulling for the Golden Domer, I have a sense that this is still only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Manti and his tall tales.
Many have applauded Te'o and his performance when he met the media at the Scouting Combine. Apparently, I'm in the minority for thinking the opposite. Te'o left a sour taste in my mouth when he answered a reporter's question regarding whether he had ever made plans to meet his imaginary girlfriend with a "yes" and that it just "never worked out." Again, really? He used the word, "we." As if there was a "we?" It's still bizarre, and it's still not over.
An NFL team, and its fan base, will have to be awfully confident in Te'o's character (assuming you believe in his talent) to want him on your team.
And while this won't be filed under the category of "bold predictions," it's a safe bet to assume that we're going to get a whole lot of Te'o on NFL draft weekend.