Our 2016 Detroit Lions roster review continues now with defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
Expectations before 2016
The sky was the limit for Ziggy heading into 2016. Ansah had 14.5 sacks the previous season, the third most of any player in the NFL. During the entire offseason, Lions fans mocked sites like Pro Football Focus, who dared to diminish Ansah’s accomplishments.
Despite his Pro Bowl season in 2015, teammates and coaches alike believed we had just seen the beginning of Ansah’s potential. "He’s scratching the surface now," Haloti Ngata said back in January 2016. Here’s what head coach Jim Caldwell had to say about Ansah just before the 2016 season began:
"I think you'll see that if he stays healthy, you'll see an even better version of him because he's just really starting to scratch the surface of all of the things he's capable of doing within the context of our overall scheme from a defensive standpoint."
To say expectations were high for Ansah would be a severe understatement.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 13 games (13 starts) | 21 tackles, 2.0 sacks
It turns out the most significant part of Jim Caldwell’s quote above was the qualifier "if he stays healthy." Ansah suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2 against the Titans and missed three straight games. Because that is the kind of injury that tends to linger, we didn’t see Ansah return to his normal portion of playing time until Week 8.
But even when Ansah was seeing significant playing time, he wasn’t anywhere near as disruptive as his 2015 self. He didn’t tally his first sack until Week 15 and only had three games in which he had five or more tackles.
There is no doubt that 2016 was a massive disappointment for Ezekiel Ansah. Instead of cementing himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game, Ansah fell back into obscurity.
Outlook for 2017
The biggest questions for Ansah going forward are what caused 2016’s decline and will he be able to recover in 2017? Was the high ankle sprain the sole reason why Ansah struggled or was there some truth to PFF’s warnings from last offseason? Or is something else going on? Was Ansah hindered by poor play from his linemates?
There is one very promising sign for Ansah’s future: the way he finished 2016. In his final four games of the season, including his playoff game, Ansah totaled 24 tackles and 4.0 sacks. Still, Ansah’s sky-high expectations coming off of 2015's impressive campaign have cooled off considerably after a rough 2016 season.
Ansah is entering a contract year, although he may earn an extension this offseason. If he wants to remain a mainstay of the Lions defensive line, he’ll have to return to form in 2017.
Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Kerry Hyder, Jon Bostic, Marvin Jones, Alex Carter, Tim Wright, Armonty Bryant, Clay Harbor, Crezdon Butler, Matthew Mulligan, Asa Jackson, Tyrunn Walker, Josh Bynes, Stefan Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Steve Longa, Joique Bell, Taylor Decker, Garrett Reynolds, Jake Rudock, Tavon Wilson, Ameer Abdullah