John Minchillo, AP Images for NIKE
NEW YORK — To the blue-collar, lunch-pail success-starved fans of the Motor City:
After years of inept front office moves, selecting wide receivers in the top five year-after-year, the Lions have hit home-runs on their first-round picks in recent years. From Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on the offensive side and Ndomukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the defensive side of the ball, the Lions are slowly adding cornerstones to what has been one of the worst franchises to take the field over the past decade (if not longer).
Their 2013 first-round selection has the potential to add not only a God-given natural talent to a pass rush that has been inconsistent at best and non-existent at worse, but Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah will also bring much needed character to a maligned defense that has been labeled as dirty by pundits and fans alike. The fifth overall selection has a story that only Hollywood could write and fans in D-Town can breath easy and not worry he will be busted for pot or suspended for stomping on the arm of the nearest Packer.
The Ghana native met missionaries from the Mormon Church and after joining, he was urged to go to Brigham Young University and try his hand (or legs) at track and field. After failing at that, not finding his niche in multiple events and being cut from the basketball team after multiple tryouts, head football coach Bronco Mendenhall crossed his path in the Student Athletic Building, and it was love at first sight.
Mendenhall asked if he had ever considered football, and having never played a down, Ziggy decided to give it a whirl and see what happened. His raw athletic ability and physical gifts were a mixed bag for the Cougars at first. It was boom or bust as Ansah either blew past or through offensive linemen or he'd look completely lost at times.
Ziggy improved each year, and despite only playing three years of any football, organized or sandlot, his skills sharpened and became more productive each season. Even with improved play and his dominating physical abilities, Ansah did not begin his senior year as a starter. He only occupied a starting role due after the player ahead of him suffered injury, but he made the most of it. His meteoric rise reached a fever-pitch around the midway point of this past year as BYU was featured on ESPN and the national analysts became enamored with his flashes of brilliance.
After a mediocre week of practice at the Senior Bowl, he showed why he's been the epitome of a "gamer," racking up six solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for a loss and forced a fumble to earn the Most Outstanding Player Award. Ansah's stock continued to rise in the postseason after a strong showing at the combine and successful interviews with members of the front office — only endearing him to GM's even more.
Having lost Cliff Avril to the Seahawks and having released veteran Kyle Vanden Bosche, Detroit is not only in need of a pass rushing defensive end, but could also benefit greatly from a guy in the mold of Jason Pierre-Paul that can stand up and rush or drop into coverage from the linebacker position.
At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, his size can make up for a lot of inexperience, and his 4.6 speed aids in recovery in case of bad decisions. Despite his immaturity as a player, his character and easy-going nature bodes well for a team lacking maturity on a personal level. His love for the game and willingness to learn is contagious, and for this Lions team, that just might be what it needs to take that next step as an organization.
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