It wasn’t long ago when the name Ezekiel Ansah was a name that none of us had ever heard of. The story of Ansah’s rise from a kid in Ghana that wanted to play basketball, to a Pro Bowl defensive end in the NFL was an infectious one.
In 2013, the Detroit Lions made what many of us believed to be a beyond risky move. Ezekiel Ansah was a prospect who had only started one year of football in his entire life, had questions about how old he actually was and was coming off a Senior Bowl performance that launched him from undrafted status to first round status. Picking him fifth overall seemed like the most Martin Mayhew decision ever.
But Ansah quickly showed what he could do. Eight sacks in his rookie year. Another 7.5 in 2014 and a 14 in 2015. Ansah was a Pro Bowl defensive end, the heart of the Lions defense and a player that was well on his way to making big time money. What happened?
Was it injuries? The first thing that has to come to mind is that Ansah suddenly has a trouble staying healthy. He missed three games in 2016 with an ankle injury. And here in 2017, he missed Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns with a back injury.
#Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah is inactive for Detroit today— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) November 12, 2017
It’s not just this past week. That just happens to be the game that Ansah actually missed. Ansah had found himself on the Lions injury report every single week of this season. Add on that he missed most of camp, and you have an ongoing issue. Last year it was a lingering ankle injury. This year, it’s his knee.
Is it just an injury problem or have NFL offenses simply figured him out? Despite the injuries, Ansah has only missed four games in these two years. Yet over the last 21 games, he’s putting up some of the worst numbers of his career. A stark contrast from the previous 21.
Last 21 games (2016-2017): 37 tackles, 6.0 sacks
Previous 21 games (2014-2015): 49 tackles, 16.5 sacks
That’s quite a difference, especially when you consider that three of Ziggy’s sacks in the past 21 games all came in Week 2 against the Giants. That means he only has three sacks in the other 20 games.
How much of that has to do with the Lions defensive line being awful? Make no mistake, Ansah isn’t the only problem here. Football Outsiders has the Lions defensive line ranked 26th in adjusted line yards. How bad is that? This is the lowest the Lions have ranked since the 0-16 season when they ranked at 29th.
In Ansah’s first three years, the line ranked second, first and fifth. Now is this a product of Ansah or was Ansah a product of a strong line? It seems to be the latter. Since Ansah has had to fully helm the line, they’ve dropped down to the aforementioned 26th in 2017 and 21st in 2016.
So now comes the question: do you cut ties with Ansah after this season? It wasn’t long ago when all the talk was about getting Ansah paid after Stafford got his deal. The Lions needed to be able to hold onto a such an impact player.
This, of course, was all under the assumption that Ansah’s lack of production in 2016 was merely a fluke. Ansah’s was fully expected to bounce back. After his three sack performance in Week 2, it looked like we may have gotten Old Ziggy back. But now seven weeks later, I can’t tell you he’s even going to play this week, and if he does, I can’t say for certain he’ll make any sort of impact.
This is the sad part of the business that is football. Ansah is a fan favorite, and if the Lions held on to him for a much smaller contract than originally thought up, I doubt anyone would complain. But the Lions have an opportunity for much more this coming offseason.
As it stands, the Lions have the will have the seventh most cap space in the league this offseason, per Sportac. With just over $42 million in spending money, that opens up a lot of options for this team, chief among their priorities should be building a brand new line around A’Shawn Robinson.
The Lions can try for players like Dontari Poe, Demarcus Lawrence, Adrian Clayborn or a variation of two of them. They can then try to scoop up players like Bradley Chubb, Dorance Armstrong Jr. or Da’Ron Payne in the draft. There’s a lot of options for the Lions.
I’d hate to see Ansah go. I’m a fan. My dog is named Ziggy, for crying out loud. But Ansah will be 29 years old just two months after the opening of free agency in March. He’s not getting any younger. The Lions can ill afford to make the wrong move here. Especially considering Detroit will have so much cap room to work with.
With that being said, pending a complete turnaround, my position on the matter is that the Lions should be looking to move on from Ansah after the conclusion of the 2017 season.