By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Football’s Ziggy stardust: I had the unofficial assignment in the media room at the NFL scouting combine of transcribing the 15-minute press conference of Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, the 6-5, 271-pound native of Africa who is swiftly becoming the talk of the NFL draft.
A few comments stood out to me and told me that Ansah is more than an athletic freak show and is committed to becoming a professional football player – and all that that entails.
Asked what he likes about football, which he never played until 2010, Ansah responded in his West Africa dialect, “Everything about it. I like the challenge a lot. I know most of you are here to talk to me, but then again there’s a lot of people have doubts about me and that’s what I love. I just want to prove you wrong.”
Asked about his expectations of how high he may go in the draft, he said, “I know that regardless of the fact that everybody is telling me that I’m raw, I’m pretty good at what I’m doing.”
Asked about his knowledge of the history of the NFL, which is nil, he said, “I try to stay up late and watch NFL Network. I see some things. I have no idea who they are. This is going to be my life so I just try to suck it all in.”
And the clincher, asked about who might be the toughest offensive lineman he’s comes across in his short career, Ansah said, “There’s a lot of tough offensive linemen that I played. I’m always hesitant to answer that question cuz I don’t think he was the toughest, but I give to the Oregon State right tackle cuz I got held a lot in that game and it was never called, so he did a good job.”
On Monday, Ansah, who is 23, clocked 4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash and performed well in the drills measuring skills for an outside linebacker.
“He’s got the most upside in the draft,” said former Browns GM Phil Savage.
The legend: Ansah’s story is quickly becoming well known. He was recruited in Ghana by a Mormon missionary to Brigham Young University. Ansah played soccer in his native land. He ran track initially at BYU and wanted to try basketball because he was 6-5 and a fan of LeBron James. He couldn’t shoot.
After two years he decided to try out for football. When he started, he didn’t know how to put on shoulder pads. By his senior season, Ansah was the best player on defense. He made nine starts and played various positions in BYU’s defensive front seven – stand-up linebacker, defensive end, even as a nose guard.
“He’s got unbelievable talent,” said long-time respected personnel guru Gil Brandt.
Ansah opened eyes considering where he came from, but his modest stats (13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks) didn’t scream “first round.” But then he had a huge game at the Senior Bowl (seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble), drawing comparisons to New York Giants pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, another late-developer.
Pierre-Paul, who is 6-5 and 278 pounds, was the 15th player taken in the 2010 draft. JPP had 16.5 sacks his second NFL season and is now considered one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. But at least Pierre-Paul played football his senior year in high school.
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz coached the South team at the Senior Bowl and saw Ansah up close all week. In a press conference at the combine, Schwartz said that Ansah “went a long way to answer a lot of questions about his background and his aptitude.”
I followed Schwartz out of the media room and asked him to expand on Ansah. How raw are his skills? How much of a risk is he to take high in the draft?
“Yeah … not really,” Schwartz said, not taking the bait. “We’re certainly not in the business of wanting to share that information with 31 other teams.”
The Lions own the fifth pick in the first round of the draft. The Browns pick sixth.
Is he a viable option at No. 6?: You bet he is.
Savage firmly believes Ansah will be taken in the top 10.
“You’re probably not going to find the elite pass rusher in free agency, so you better find him in the draft,” Savage said.
Every one of the projected 3-4 rush linebackers the Browns are considering have question marks. Oregon's Dion Jordan – another athletic freak who ran a 4.60 40 at 6-6 and 248 pounds – will have surgery to repair a torn labrum. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, whose 28 sacks the last two college seasons led the nation, has a spinal stenosis condition that could shorten his career. LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is tall and lean and fast, but is not a consensus high pick.
Ansah surely is a risk, too. But when you listen to Browns CEO Joe Banner talk about his expectations on defense, Ansah seems to fit the profile.
“Almost all the teams that get to the Super Bowl are teams that get a lot of sacks,” Banner said. “So in our mind we have to build a team that gets a lot of sacks and pressures quarterbacks.
“We want to have a more aggressive, attacking defense. We want to bring in more aggressive players. We want to be risk-takers. We want the other team to be on the defensive. We want our opponents to be worried about where we’re coming from, what we’re going to do next.”
Where would Ansah line up in the Browns’ 3-4? If you’re coordinator Ray Horton, you will find a place.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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