In Defense of Ziggy

Detroit Lions fans are understandably quite weary of the team’s most recent draft pick: Ziggy Ansah (DE, BYU), the 5th overall pick in the 2013 Draft. Well call me the contrarian, because I think Ansah will be a great player for the Lions. Pollyanish? Actually, I think that if you take a closer look at his background, and his combination of size, speed, and athleticism you just might come away from this a bit more optimistic. But before I go on fawning over the guy, it’s important to understand context here: the nature of the NFL Draft.

Take a look at where the most elite players in the NFL were drafted and you’ll see that no one can predict with any real precision, how great a player will turn out. For every Peyton Manning there’s a Tom Brady; for every Jason Witten, there’s a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski; for every….well, you get the point. Often times, it can be tough to project how well a player’s skills will translate to the next level; especially in a year when many consider the top-level talent to be thin.

Compounding the issue of top-level depth was the issue of need. With the top 3 offensive tackles going first, second and 4th, respectively, the Lions missed out on addressing their most glaring need- offensive tackle. Thus, they were only left with the choice of either trading down for more picks, or drafting most likely LSU DE Barkevius Mingo, Alabama corner Dee Milliner, or Ansah. While I would have equally endorsed the Milliner pick, given his speed, size and pedigree, I don’t think I would have chosen Mingo over Ansah. At 6’4”, 248 lbs., he wouldn’t have been a great fit for the Lions 4-3 wide 9 scheme. Sure he’s played against superior competition, but the metrics here just don’t work as well. And anyway, Ansah has a higher ceiling. Maybe trading down would have helped, but then who would they have taken, at which pick, in exchange for what? Given those choices, I like Ansah as the pick the most. If anything, the kid has the sort of attributes that make great players, just look at his background.

Ansah came to the US from Ghana on an academic scholarship hoping to walk on to the basketball team. As a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, he chose to do so at BYU. Having failed to make the basketball team, Ansah was encouraged to move over to football where he finally flourished in his 3rd season. Ansah knew very little about football before he came here. Yet he was able to walk on to the football team (and track team where he ran a 10.91 in the 100m).

As a senior, he played every position on the defensive line, including nose tackle, registering 4.5 sacks and 62 tackles. Is that enough to merit first round consideration in the draft? Well, no. For one, 4.5 sacks isn’t all that impressive. But keep in mind, he played 5 different positions at BYU. He wasn’t merely a rush end so his numbers are a bit skewed. What was impressive however was how Ansah managed to dominate at the Senior Bowl. Under the guidance of the Lions coaching staff, Ansah led the South defense with seven tackles (3.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, raising the eyebrows of NFL brass everywhere. From there, he went on and ran a 4.6 at the NFL combine; for a 6’5” 271 lbs end that’s pretty impressive.

As a Lion, he will play for a head coach in Jim Schwartz that has coached his share of great defensive players in the NFL (Haynesworth, Suh, Vanden Bosch), and he will again be able to have an impact in different ways. The Lions will likely move the newly acquired Jason Jones around on the defensive line, as they have done with Ndamukong Suh. Down the road, they could use Ansah in a similar capacity.

Nevertheless, Ansah’s success will likely turn on his character, and this is where I think the Lions may benefit the most. This is a kid that is living a real-life fantasy. A few years ago he emigrated here from Ghana in pursuit of a dream to play basketball. Today he’s an NFL player and a millionaire. He’s worked hard to learn the game.  He’s smart, and he seems humble. Considering Ansah’s journey, he might realize, more so than his fellow players, that playing in the NFL is a privilege. Just one more reason why I think Ansah will be an excellent addition to the Lions.

Nick Fairley: My Quick Take

I find myself conflicted by the Lions’ selection of Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. On one hand, Fairley is quite a force. He’s big, fast, physical, and plays with great technique. With these physical tools in tow, Fairley wreaked havoc on opposing offenses as a member of the 2010 National Champion Auburn Tigers. After his performance in the BCS National Championship game there was speculation that he may be the #1 player taken overall in the draft. However, some of Fairley’s recent actions allowed his value to drop precipitously. For one, he missed his flight to the combine. He was also late to several pre-draft interviews. Finally, many wondered if Fairley might be a one-year wonder, as he had not done much before last year. Nevertheless, nabbing Fairley at #13 was a steal, given his talent.

On the other hand, the Lions have tons of other needs. As I outlined yesterday, the Lions are in need of a corner, an outside linebacker, a defensive end, and also an offensive tackle. Defensive tackle is a position of strength for them. So it came as a shock to me that they would pass up the top corner on the board (Prince Amukamara) in favor of Fairley, despite the value they got with the pick. I guess the decision comes down to the age-old question of whether teams should take the best player on the board, or try to fill needs. My thought is that when you’re a team like the Lions, that has so many other needs, why draft a position of strength? Here’s what Lions head coach Jim Schwartz had to say about the matter:

“The philosophy here was we’re drafting to our strength,” Schwartz said. “Defensive line is a strength of what we do. When we won our last four last year, you can have probably a quiz show to find out who our corners were in those games. But we’re good up front and being good up front is what drives our defense. So we had a player that could be an impact player at a position.”

While I find this logic curious, I’m willing to give the Lions’ braintrust the benefit of the doubt. After all, they’ve drafted fairly well the last few years, and they got tremendous value with Fairley. I just hope that it all works out. If it does, the Lions could have the best defensive line in the league.

Grade: B

NFL Draft Recap

Although it’s not readily apparent from my usual posts, I am a huge sports fan.  And I’m an especially big fan of the Detroit Lions (I know sad right?).  For those of you that share my passion for the Lions, it has no doubt been a rough last few years.  Thankfully, GM Martin Mayhew – a disciple of former Pres/GM Matt Millen – has taken a series of steps to put my beloved Lions on the right track.  Continue reading