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Potential of BYU Pass Rusher Has Caught Raiders' Interest

Ziggy Ansah has played football for just three years, but former track athlete has size, speed and athleticism to be an elite pass rusher

By Doug Williams
|  Thursday, Apr 11, 2013  |  Updated 8:47 AM PDT
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BYU defender Ezekiel Ansah gets his hands on Georgia Teach QB Tevin Washington. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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When BYU held its pro day workouts in late March, scouts from at least 18 teams showed up, most to get a look at defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.

But it was Raiders defensive line coach Terrell Williams who was the most high-profile NFL rep there, as he put Ansah through an intense drill to test his fitness. When it was all over, Ansah reportedly cut loose with a loud yell aimed right at Williams.

“I know what he was trying to do to me,” Ansah told USA Today’s Lindsay Jones after the workouts. “He was trying to break me.”

With the No. 3 overall choice in the draft, the Raiders’ interest in Ansah is understandable. So is Williams’ attempt to see what the former Cougars standout is made of.

Oakland can’t afford to make a costly mistake with its first-round choice, and Ansah is a bit of a boom-or-bust pick who in the last few weeks has climbed the draft boards.

Though drafts analysts have long figured Oakland will go for a defensive lineman with its top choice, the names most often mentioned have been defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd of Florida and Star Lotulelei of Utah.

Lately, though, Ansah has slipped into the picture.

In his latest mock draft, released Wednesday, Todd McShay of ESPN predicts the Raiders will take Ansah – if it keeps the No. 3 pick.

“There is a lot of speculation that Florida DL Shariff Floyd is going to be the pick here, but I see defensive end as a bigger need,” wrote McShay. “Floyd’s lack of pass-rush production on the interior is a bit of a concern as well, and if I’m going to take a chance on potential I’d rather bet on Ansah and his rare physical gifts.”

Ansah, who grew up in Ghana, indeed has special gifts.

Though he’s played football for just three years, he is 6-foot-5 and 274 pounds and switched to football only after trying his hand at basketball and track. He put up a strong 40-yard dash time (4.63 seconds) and impressed everyone at the NFL Combine with his agility.

Some have questioned whether Ansah is older than his listed age of 23, and also whether his performance and college stats justify being taken so high, especially because BYU doesn’t play the level of competition that Florida does, for instance.

In his one season as a starter, Ansah had 62 tackles, including 13 for loss, and 4½ sacks, and lined up as a defensive end, tackle and outside linebacker.

Some have likened his physical tools and potential as a pass rusher to the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, the son of Haitian immigrants who also came late to football and played at the University of South Florida.

NFL.com draft analyst Josh Norris rates Ansah the best pass-rushing defensive end available and projects him as a top-10 pick. His take: “He has the best closing speed of any end and shows natural movements to go along with dependable run defense.”

Bill Williamson, who covers the AFC West for ESPN.com, lists Ansah among 10 options for the Raiders’ No. 1 pick, including Lotulelei and Floyd. The others: offensive tackles  Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, outside linebackers Jarvis Jones of Georgia and Dion Joran of Oregon, defensive end Barkevious Mingo of LSU, cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama and quarterback Geno Smith of West Virginia. 

“He’d probably be considered a surprise,” wrote Williamson of Ansah as the Raiders’ choice. “He is looked at more as a top-10 selection, not a top-three choice. But if the Raiders think he is the best defensive end, he could be the pick.”

 

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