The 2013 NFL draft was terrible. The first overall pick was a middling tackle. Only four of the top 15 players selected have even made a Pro Bowl, and many of the highly heralded prospects from that draft class failed entirely in their NFL careers. Despite all of that, a Detroit Lions team that has historically had terrible luck drafting in the first round, landed an absolute star with the fifth overall pick.
Ezekiel Ansah was an interesting prospect out of BYU. The defensive end had not played the sport of football until 2010 and was brought from Ghana to Utah to play for the Cougars basketball team. His basketball career never really got going, but he was unstoppable on a football field. He had 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in his final college season and his incredible athletic profile made him a highly touted prospect.
He was a star early in his NFL career as well. Ansah had eight sacks in his rookie season and did not slow down much after that. He set a career high of 14.5 sacks in 2015. When his rookie contract came to a close in 2017, he already had 44 career sacks.
While his career looks great on paper, Detroit still did not give him a long-term deal last offseason and it is easy to see why. The defensive end was terribly inconsistent in 2017. He also has had trouble staying healthy, having only played two full seasons up to this point. In 2018, he was injured in the team’s season opener and only played seven games. He finished the season with four sacks and 11 combined tackles.
Ansah’s athletic profile gives him a huge advantage over his opposition. He uses his strength to power through opposing tackles and his speed to burst around them.
He is a great power rusher. Ansah has great bend and has the ability to get his pads low and just bulldoze through the offensive lineman across from him.
If he is not chipped at the line of scrimmage, or if the offensive tackle across from him does not get a good jump off the snap, Ansah will beat them:
Even when the defensive end cannot just out-athlete his opposition he can still beat them. Ansah has a variety of pass rushing moves in his arsenal and can execute them fairly well. He is strong and decisive in his pass rushing moves and is great with his hands.
His favorite move in 2018 seemed to be the long arm move. Ansah would use left arm to shove off the offensive tackle across from him and create space for himself. This move keeps his opponent from fully engaging him and it requires a great amount of strength to even try.
While Ansah seemingly prefers the reach block, he also will throw out a rip move or push-pull move if the offensive lineman across from him is able to engage. While they are not as entirely as effective as his reach move, he can find success with those as well.
Ansah is a great rusher on the edge, but he is not exactly consistent. Lions fans will remember is inconsistency in 2017, having three games with three sacks each and then three in the other 12 combined. While the discrepancies this year were not as drastic, Ansah did have a few absolutely silent games.
In Week 13 he was matched up against Los Angeles Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, one of the best in the league at his position. Ansah was stonewalled all day. He not only made little impact on the game as a whole but also barely looked like he was trying. He rarely tried to counter punch Whitworth and for the most part, seemed content getting blocked.
The defender has these games on occasion. It is hard to tell whether it is a lack of effort or a cause of his many injuries, but these games crop up more often than one may like.
Ansah also gets a lot of snaps as an interior rusher in the Lions pass rushing packages. He is much less effective inside. He cannot bulldoze through guards the way that he can tackles on the edge. He does not leverage his weight well and does not use all of the pass rushing moves he uses on the outside.
Pass rushing is not the only thing Ansah does, though. He is also a pretty good run defender off of the edge. For the most part, he does not bite too hard of play action and does not jump the gun on draw plays. He is great at holding his ground on the outside. Ansah sets the edge well and can force runs back inside towards the Lions interior run defenders.
Does Ansah have a future in Detroit?
It all depends on the price tag.
Despite only playing seven games last season, Ansah was far and away the most impactful edge defender on the roster. He clearly still has the raw talent to succeed and play in the NFL at a high level. He can still be an elite pass rusher, even.
Unfortunately, the best ability is availability and that is where he fails. Ansah only played in seven games in 2018, but one could argue that he only had a full workload in four of them. If Ansah cannot stay on the field, then none of his talent even matters.
Inconsistency is an issue, too. You never know which Ansah you are going to get on any given Sunday: A pass rusher who is going to dominate a game and strike fear into the opposing quarterback, or just a simple bystander.
If Detroit can sign Ansah to an incentive-based, below-market deal, then he could have a future with the Lions. This would potentially land Detroit a fringe-elite talent at a bargain price. This path is risky, though, because if Ansah does get injured again, then the Lions would be left without any quality edge talents... again.
Instead, Detroit could either spend their eighth overall draft pick and get a potentially elite pass rusher on a bargain. Another option would be splurging on a player like Jadeveon Clowney or Trey Flowers in free agency.
It is likely that Ansah will earn a huge payday elsewhere, though. As odd as it may sounds, the Lions longtime edge rusher may be in a color that is not Honolulu blue next year.