Breaking Down Ziggy Ansah's Progress Early in His Rookie Season

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor ISeptember 24, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 15:  Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah #94 of the Detroit Lions during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Carindals defeated the Lions 25-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Many eyebrows were raised when the Detroit Lions selected Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah with their first-round pick in the NFL draft last April. Even though his athletic abilities are tantalizing, using the fifth overall pick on a player with Ansah's limited football experience was a very risky proposition.

A lot of pundits expected Ansah to struggle early in his career. After all, he started just one season at BYU and did not play one down of football until 2010.

I was one of those skeptical of how quickly he could make a positive splash in the NFL. In fact, I noted his shortcomings in a RealGM Football predraft column just after his Senior Bowl practice session wrapped.

As he showed on film, Ansah is quite literally clueless on the field. His hands are all over the place. I’ve not seen any actual viable pass rush moves all week, save for one freakishly quick rip move where he torched the tackle to the inside and closed on the QB before he had a chance to react.

Still, Ansah dominated the Senior Bowl game itself despite an uninspiring week of practices.

His ability to make impact plays was readily evident. Ansah racked up 1.5 sacks, two other tackles for loss and forced a fumble in the premier college All-Star Game. 

Not coincidentally, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and his coaching staff helmed the South squad during Senior Bowl week. They got to see his potential up close. More importantly, they noticed his quick learning curve and instant ability to impact games.

Ansah has certainly made those impact plays at the NFL level right away.

In the first drive of the first preseason game against the Jets, Ansah quickly shed a weak block attempt and picked off a Mark Sanchez pass. The big rookie sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown.

He was just getting started. 

In the season opener against Minnesota, Ansah flashed his speed around the edge. Late in the third quarter, he flew off the line and slammed into Christian Ponder, forcing a fumble as he sacked the Vikings quarterback. It was the kind of play that Lions fans haven't seen for far too long from their defensive ends. 

Alas, Ziggy was half a second too early off the snap and the play was nullified. Still, it announced his presence with authority.

There was another play earlier in the game which allayed a lot of fears. 

The Vikings are aligned in an I-formation, while Ansah is set up in between tackle Matt Kalil (No. 75) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (No. 82), with wideout Greg Jennings motioning in as an extra blocker. 

Ansah quickly processes that this is a run play. Kalil anticipates Ansah trying to go around his outside shoulder, but the rookie instead uses a quick shoulder-over move and crosses his face inside.

Ziggy shows great discipline in sticking in the hole instead of charging up the field. Once he sees a chance to attack the ball-carrier, Ansah shows incredible burst and power. He crashes into Adrian Peterson and buries him into the turf at the line of scrimmage. 

That is a play which shows real savvy and incredible quickness for his position. 

In Week 2 against Arizona, we got another taste of his talents.

Ansah once again recorded a strip sack, this time knocking the ball away from Carson Palmer as he sacked him to the ground. Unfortunately, the play was wiped out by a penalty on Willie Young. 

Ziggy still turned in an excellent performance. He hit Palmer two other times and also forced a false start penalty. In this game, he effectively used the bull rush, overpowering offensive linemen to generate pressure. 

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated Ansah highly, giving him a 2.4 rating. When I wrote the team report card, I assigned him a B. That's a solid mark for a greenhorn in just his second NFL game. 

Week 3 took the Lions to Washington and Ansah impressed once again. He is quickly becoming the master of the strip sack, as we see on this play.

Ansah starts off the play by trying a bull rush from a Wide-9 alignment on left tackle Trent Williams, but the veteran stymies him. Still, Ansah's strength pushes him well into the backfield. 

A quick downward rip creates some separation from Williams. With Robert Griffin III flushed in his direction, Ansah shows good vision and catlike reaction time. 

He pounces and extricates the ball from Griffin like a feline pawing at a clump of yarn. Griffin ultimately recovers the ball, but a stupid penalty by Nick Fairley negated the eight-yard loss anyway. 

That was not Ansah's only impact play. He whipped Williams on an earlier rush, forcing a panicked Griffin to throw the ball into the turf as Ansah got his paws on him. As I noted in the game report card that awarded Ansah an A, he also chased down a run from behind.

Thus far, Ansah has been everything the Lions hoped when they made him the fifth overall pick last April. Detroit wanted him to make impact plays, and he has delivered. 

However, the rookie has also proven better than advertised at the more rudimentary aspects of the game. He's already showing real progress at things like edge containment, using his hands to break free from a block and anticipating the ball. 

If his progress continues, the Lions have a major star in their den with Ansah. He's already well on his way.