I took part in a segment on ESPN's "NFL 32" this week, one that focused on the top five draft positions for 2013. My job was to suggest the Detroit Lions' likeliest pick at that spot, and I took the safest route by naming Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
Afterward, ESPN's Chris Mortensen said he had heard buzz about the Lions and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, perhaps the top pass-rusher in the draft. We've noted the inherent risk in drafting Jones, who has a potentially career-shortening condition known as spinal stenosis.
So for the fun on of it on this Saturday morning, let's throw another pass-rusher into the mix: BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, who is known as "Ziggy."
Ansah has a similar build to some of the new-wave pass-rushers that have dominated the NFL in recent years, including Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants. After lighting up the Senior Bowl with 1.5 sacks and two other tackles for loss, Ansah measured 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds with long arms (35 1/8th inches) at the NFL scouting combine. He ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds and is rocketing up the draft boards of media analysts.
The No. 5 overall spot in the draft is reserved for elite, blue-chip players. But if the Lions think Ansah will follow in the footsteps of Smith, Pierre-Paul and others, isn't that an elite level?
I've seen several explanations for Ansah's quick ascendance, but here is a thorough take from ESPN's Bill Polian:
Ansah is an outstanding, gifted, physical specimen whose play improved as the season went on. It's hard to believe he only made it onto the field due to injuries ahead of him. He had what some would call an average week at the Senior Bowl, then came in the ballgame and lit it up. He has a real football temperament. He's in the Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis range in terms of his 40 and what makes it more impressive is that he's a big man (6-5 with 35 1/8-inch arms). He lacks football instincts because he simply hasn't played a lot, and his technique is raw, but you don't find players with those kinds of gifts rushing the passer that often. His body of work is limited, but those physical qualities he showed off in Indy and what he has shown on film makes me think someone will take a chance on him in the first round. While offense in the NFL is dictated by strategy and dictating action, defense is defined by reaction and athleticism pays big dividends on that side of the ball. Ansah has plenty of athleticism, and the physical gifts to match.
Just something to consider on a chilly March weekend here in the NFC North.