2013 NFL draft position preview: Pass rushers

This is the seventh in a series of 10 looks at the available prospects in the draft. Other installments: Safety | offensive line | cornerbacks | running backs | inside linebackers | wide receivers

Ziggy Ansah, Ryan Nassib

Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah of BYU impressed NFL scouts with a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Of all the prospects in this year’s NFL draft, BYU pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah has experienced the most meteoric rise. When the draft kicks off Thursday night, it’s expected that Ansah (pronounced “Ahn-saw”) will hear his name called among the first 10 picks, and possibly in the top five.

Going that high in the draft is a major accomplishment for any football player. But it’s even more remarkable for Ansah, who didn’t even know what football was until 2008.

Ansah, nicknamed “Ziggy,” arrived in the United States from Accra, Ghana, with an academic scholarship to Brigham Young, which he chose because of his Mormon faith. He grew up playing soccer and basketball and running track, and hoped to earn a spot on BYU’s basketball team. After failed attempts in 2008 and 2009, he joined the track team (he owned a personal best of 21.9 seconds in the 200-meter dash).

In 2010, Ansah decided to try out for football, believing he possibly could catch on as a tight end or outside linebacker.

“I was really athletic. I didn’t want to just sit around and go to school. I wanted to do something. Since basketball didn’t work out, I wanted to do football,” Ansah said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

He made the team as a sophomore, at outside linebacker in the Cougars’ 3-4 system. He played sparingly as an outside linebacker and special teamer his first two seasons. But when BYU switched to a 4-3 scheme for his senior year, Ansah flourished. He played in all 13 games, starting nine of them, and recorded 62 tackles (13 for losses) and 4.5 sacks.

Ansah received an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January, and after an average week of practice, he looked like a different player in the game, dominating with 3.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. NFL teams came away impressed, believing he could play either defensive end or outside linebacker.

At 6 feet 5 and 272 pounds with 35-inch-long arms, Ansah has a prototypical frame for a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker frame. He possesses great speed (4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and good strength (21 reps of 225 in the bench press). After his performances at the combine and in individual workouts, his stock has risen to the point where he could rank among the top players selected despite his limited experience.

“I think it’s the best story in the draft. I really do,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock says. “A year and a half ago, a year ago, he was not even on NFL team’s draft boards. Now we’re talking about him as a top 10 selection who has played minimal snaps.

“It scares me, and it scares teams how little he has played. There is this tantalizing upside that’s going to push him up pretty high. But I would tell you, [Giants defensive end] Jason Pierre-Paul is a guy a few years ago that had this unbelievable upside, but he wasn’t as raw. [Ansah is] really raw. But what I like about Ziggy is he plays hard. I think he played a little out of position at BYU, and I think he’s much more comfortable out wide from what I saw in the Senior Bowl.”

Ansah, 23, admittedly still has much to learn about football. He says he sits up late at night, watching NFL Network, trying to educate himself on the game.

“I see some things, I have no idea [what] they are. This is going to be my life so I just try to suck it all in,” he says.

“I don’t know if I should say it’s hard to believe,” he adds, speaking on his rising draft prospects. “Obviously it’s a blessing. It’s really humbling. I’m really privileged to be out here and I’m really grateful for the opportunity I have. I thank Heavenly Father for giving me my athletic abilities that I have. I just have to use it right.”

Jones’s top 10 pass rushers:

RANK, PLAYER, SCHOOL HT., WT. PROJ. RD.
1. Dion Jordan, Oregon 6-6, 248 1
2. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU 6-5, 271 1
3. Barkevious Mingo, LSU 6-4, 241 1
4. Jarvis Jones, Georgia 6-3, 245 1
5. Bjoern Werner, Florida State 6-3, 266 1
6. Alec Ogletree, Georgia 6-3, 242 1-2
7. Datone Jones, UCLA 6-4, 283 1-2
8. Cornellius Carradine, Florida State 6-4, 276 2
9. Margus Hunt, SMU 6-8, 277 2
10. Arthur Brown, Kansas State 6-0, 241 2

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