Ziggy Ansah has one thing in common with his new NFL team post-Matt Millen: Neither started playing football until 2010.
Ansah’s is a tale that, in the past 48 hours, has been re-told more than a bedtime story.
Ansah, the defensive end from BYU whom the Lions selected with the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night, is the kid you’ve been hearing about who has only played organized football for three years. He failed at basketball so turned his 6’5", 271-pound body to the gridiron.
Now, this is a decision that is typically made while in public school, not in college—and not with the idea of playing in the NFL. And definitely not with the idea of being drafted after just four names have been called.
Ever since Lawrence Taylor did to the outside linebacker position in football what Bobby Orr did to the defenseman position in hockey—that is, transform it forever—NFL teams have been looking for those pass-rushing specialists flying at quarterbacks from the left and the right.
Nowadays, it’s not good enough to just have linebackers doing what Taylor did so famously for so many years. Defensive coaches want the ends on the line to be athletic monsters who can stuff an off-tackle run, drop back into pass coverage if necessary and, of course, rush the passer.
Ziggy Ansah may be able to do all these things, or he may be able to do none of them. He’ll be a jack of all trades or a master of none. There doesn’t seem to be any gray area here. The kid will either get it at the pro level, or he won’t.
And don’t say the p-word—project—around Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.
The coach had better be right, because Ansah has a first name that could fit Schwartz like a glove if this goes wrong.
Before the drafting of Ansah, Ziggy was a word—a Detroit word—used to describe the firing of a coach. And it was originated by a Lions coach, as a matter of fact.
It was Joe Schmidt, Hall of Fame linebacker-turned-Lions head coach, who used “ziggy” when he resigned in a huff after the 1972 season, tired of the power struggle with GM Russ Thomas.
The word caught on, and giving a coach the ziggy has been used around these parts ever since.
Schwartz, along with GM Marty Mayhew, is banking on a kid who played as much football as me, through 2009, to not only replace DE Cliff Avril (free agent who jumped to Seattle), but to be better than Avril. Frankly, there are some who think Ansah, a big block of clay, with the right molding can be one of the greatest Lions pass rushers of all time.
Or he’ll be a bust.
That’s pretty much the consensus among football people when it comes to Ansah’s future in the NFL. He’ll either be great, or he’ll be out of the game in a couple of years.
First, Ansah, from Ghana, doesn’t look like anyone capable of squashing an ant, let alone a quarterback.
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When the ESPN cameras flashed Ansah’s face for the first time after being drafted, I thought, “My goodness, the Lions have drafted Urkel on steroids.”
There Ansah was, with those big horn-rimmed glasses that didn’t even look like they had lenses in the frames. He looked as mild-mannered as Clark Kent. You’d have thought he was being drafted into the Army, not the NFL.
But apparently Ansah has an insatiable appetite for quarterbacks, which is what defensive coordinators love. The coaches want their pass rushers to run QBs down like a cheetah with its prey. You can thank Lawrence Taylor for that.
So how can the Lions expect a kid from Ghana with no football on his resume before 2010 to be worthy of the fifth overall draft pick?
This is where you’re allowed to roll your eyes and say, “Only the Lions.”
Schwartz and Mayhew are betting against the house with this one. All the chips are going on 47, which was Ansah’s number at BYU.
Boom or bust.
Now, this isn’t to say that no one had Ansah rated this high in the days leading to the draft. The Lions didn’t just find Ziggy like Jed Clampett found “Texas Tea.”
Ansah’s stock rose throughout the 2012 season, and the Lions coaching staff ended up guiding the West in the Senior Bowl, so they got a chance to see Ansah, up close and personal, for about a week.
It must have been a whirlwind courtship, because sitting there for the taking along with Ansah was Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, and if the Lions need anything, it’s help in the secondary, which hasn’t been good for about 20 years.
The talking heads on ESPN, once it was the Lions’ turn to pick, theorized with all their wisdom and savvy that Milliner would go to Detroit.
“I think you gotta go Dee Milliner here if you’re the Lions,” Jon Gruden said with his trademark, smiling scowl.
Mel Kiper Jr., supposed draft guru, concurred.
Milliner to the Lions!
Naturally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell strode to the podium along with former Lions great Barry Sanders, and Barry spoke Ansah’s name into the microphone.
The mock drafters mocked once again!
Of course, there are no sure bets in the NFL Draft. The greats of today often become the busts of tomorrow. And the ignored and overlooked can turn into Hall of Famers.
It’s the ultimate crapshoot.
The whole idea of the draft is volatile enough. You hardly need to add to its propensity for being tenuous.
Yet that’s what the Lions have done, by picking hugely talented but terribly raw DE Ziggy Ansah, fifth off the board. This kid could become the best pass rusher to wear Honolulu Blue since Bubba Baker.
Or he may flat-out stink.
Boom or bust. Star or dud. Genius or folly.
Pretty much describes the NFL Draft as a whole, I’d say.