Ziggy Ansah: A Gamble That Must Pay off for the Detroit Lions

Eric Vincent@@IAmEricVincentCorrespondent IApril 26, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  Ezekiel Ansah of the BYU Cougars greets NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after Ansah was picked #5 overall by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 25, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

With a top-five NFL draft selection, a team should be looking for an instant impact player. A guy with Pro Bowl capability and franchise longevity. 

Unfortunately, very few players fit that bill in the 2013 draft class. 

So with a pool lacking stars, what can the Detroit Lions aim for with the No. 5 pick?

With the top three offensive tackles off the board, the Lions were forced in a different direction. General manager Martin Mayhew was forced to take a gamble on defense, resulting in the selection of BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

Looking at the roster, drafting an edge rusher makes plenty of sense. Former starter Kyle Vanden Bosch was cut in February, and Cliff Avril found a new home with the Seattle Seahawks during free agency. The Lions also decided not to re-sign veteran Lawrence Jackson, who just recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

It makes sense to bring in another pass-rusher, but is Ziggy the Ansah?

There's plenty to like about a 6'5", 271-pound athlete like Ansah. After failing to make the BYU basketball team he took up football instead, utilizing his athletic prowess. He only racked up 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss in his senior season.  

Ansah was born in Ghana, Africa and moved to the United States at a young age. He came to America, as well as the Detroit Lions, with very little football experience—three short years to be exact. 

With that little experience and numbers that small, why would Ansah be the player to gamble on?

The Lions missed out on the top offensive tackles to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford, but there were plenty other pro-ready prospects available. They might not be immediate stars similar to Ansah, but they made much more sense with Detroit's first-round pick.

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner was the other popular choice for the Lions. With Detroit's shaky defensive backs, Milliner could've helped the long-plagued secondary. Milliner would be a starter across from veteran Chris Houston, along with safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin.

The Lions reloaded their secondary in last year's draft, selecting small-school corners like Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green. Given their injuries and inexperience, Milliner could have started while sliding Bentley to nickel, preserving his health.

If the Lions didn't want Milliner, the Lions could've traded down for either guard Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper. Neither are a sexy pick that sells tickets, but would have filled a big need at right guard.

Instead, the Lions took a huge gamble on an extremely raw defensive end who could turn out to be a bust or a star. Ansah has all the upside in the world, but is potential enough to sell on a top-five pick?

I understand it's a weak class and the Lions had a major need at defensive end. What's forgotten is the Lions already have three edge rushers who are projects themselves.

Young defensive end Willie Young was a seventh-round pick in 2010 and is coming off of a disappointing season with zero sacks. Detroit also just acquired Jason Jones via free agency in March, but he has played defensive tackle the majority of his NFL career. Second-year end Ronnell Lewis is a former college outside linebacker converting to defensive end. Lewis also has legal matters to deal with after three misdemeanor charges in Oklahoma.

History also isn't in the favor of Ansah or the Lions. The last foreign-born project athlete selected in the first round was offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, who greatly underachieved in Detroit. 

Also in the past ten years, the last Pro Bowl defensive end selected in the top five was Buffalo Bill Mario Williams, who went No. 1 to the Houston Texans in 2006. 

Lucky for Ansah, he gets to line up next to budding tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Both tackles draw major attention and constant double teams from opposing offensive linemen. The Lions need a playmaking edge rusher who can take advantage of one-on-one opportunities. With all of Ansah's upside, his transition should be easier next to Suh and Fairley.

Ansah has drawn many comparisons to New York Giant Jason Pierre-Paul, who also was drafted with raw potential. Pierre-Paul had a quiet rookie season with only 4.5 sacks, but made his presence felt in 2011, corralling 16.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul took a step backwards last year with only 6.5 sacks. The up-and-down numbers don't give much hope for Ansah, and they won't be accepted, either.

Mayhew's draft history has been in question, and taking a risk this high puts him on a much hotter seat. Ansah could turn into a Pro Bowl defensive end in a few years, but how much time do the Lions and Mayhew have? Perhaps Ansah will progress smoothly on Sundays, but only time will tell with his future.