Physical freaks are exciting. When you read about them, you begin to imagine how good they’d look in your team’s uniform with just a bit of NFL coaching and refinement. On an annual basis, CBS reporter Bruce Feldman puts out his “Freaks List”. Some of these players are actually on the field forces, and some are simply putting up legendary numbers at their school’s weight room. Regardless, it’s something that generates discussion, fuels the imagination, and it at least piques the interest of even the most staunch “all I care about is the tape” evaluators. Most of these guys won’t live up to the dreams we all have for them, but for every prospect that doesn’t quite live up to expectations, another one rises to prominence.
Enter Ezekiel Ansah. The 6’6 270 pound Senior DE from BYU who goes by “Ziggy” seems to be making a tremendous push up draft boards as the season progresses. His story is one you will hear many times before the conclusion of the draft process, so I won’t go through it again. However, if you haven’t heard it yet, this article does a good job of explaining it. Essentially, he’s a former basketball player that at his size has clocked times of 10.9 seconds for 100 meters and 21.9 seconds for the 200. I think he’s got the “freak” thing covered.
However, this is the year the Ansah has really begun to emerge as a potential first round prospect, and it’s not just because of his “freak athlete” reputation. Here’s a quote from BYU’s Offensive line coach, Mark Weber:
“Ziggy is an incredible athlete, a big athlete who has an incredible upside, and he’s improving,” Weber said. “I see him improve every day out here. He does freakish things and in games you catch him doing incredible things and he’s learning this game very fast.
It’s not just flash plays, or Ansah using his incredible speed either. For a guy that didn’t even know what football was 3 years ago, he’s showing some refined tools. Based on body type and projection, it would appear that Ansah’s best fit in the pro ranks would be at 43 LDE. Currently at BYU, he doesn’t even spend the majority of his time lined up outside of the of the offensive tackle. While this might make a it a bit more difficult to gauge just how good he will be in a typical pass rushing alignment, I’ve theorized before that playing inside is potentially extremely valuable for defensive end prospects in their development and future success. My thought is that working in compressed areas forces the defensive end prospect to improve their hand usage and actively engage in an attempt to gain a leverage advantage, or face being mauled by much bigger guards on a routine basis. I think that the time Aldon Smith spent inside at Missouri has helped him out tremendously, and I think similar dividends will be paid for Texas DE Alex Okafor, who I feel is the most complete DE in college football.
Continuing on this theme, the thing that has stood out to me is how active Ansah is with his hands. This is often a skill that doesn’t get refined much by college coaching staffs, as athletes of Ansah’s athletic caliber can often get away with solely their athletic ability.
One critical component in hand usage is a hitting your aiming point and this is a spot where Ansah shows a remarkable amount of consistency. The defensive lineman should be seeking to thrust his hands into the chest plate of the offensive lineman. The index finger through the pinky finger should be grabbing and holding the inside of the chest pad, while the thumbs remain outside and pointed up. This will allow the defensive lineman to “steer” his blocker, give him the ability to shed his blocker, and then flow to the ball carrier. Ansah showcases this technique perfectly below:
After Ansah hits his aiming point, the natural tools take over. He is able to generates enough power on contact to jolt the offensive lineman backwards. This allows Ansah to extend his arms, gain a positional advantage on the blocker engaged with him, and then use his length to extend his right arm and make the play on the ball carrier. This is another trait of Ansah’s that is surprisingly refined. He shows good ball awareness after performing the stack and shed, and takes good angles when attempting to make a tackle.
Another thing I’ve seen Ansah do on a few occasions is display proper technique when taking on the double, as pictured below:
When observing Ansah do things like this on the football field, it doesn’t surprise me to hear things like what BYU OLB coach Kelly Poppinga said when asked about Ansah’s remarkable play:
“He has picked up just the knowledge of the game faster than anyone that I have ever been around…”
His advanced hand usage also carries itself over to the pass rushing department, which is extremely important for someone who potentially might make the rise to a first round pick. Ansah’s violence in his initial contact frequently pushes the blocker backwards, giving Ansah a massive leverage advantage, and the potential to get after the quarterback.
From this point in the play forward is where Ansah must continue to improve. For as refined as he is in his hand usage, Ansah struggles with putting together an adequate counter move or finishing the pass rushing sequence of disengaging with/evading the blocker. Too frequently as a pass rusher Ansah will find himself locked up with his opponent. However, as the season has progressed, he’s been showing a little spin move to get off blocks, and he’s also shown the ability to simply throw his blocker off of him as pictured below:
One other thing I’ve noticed that may manifest itself into a potential issue is that Ansah can sometimes fall into the habit of “winding up” before hitting the blocker. By this, I mean that he will swing his arms back in an exaggerated manner, in an effort to create more momentum on the initial pop. While this issue can somewhat be hidden in the college game, NFL offensive linemen will use this to get delay to get into his chest, and negate his biggest strength. Still, I think it’s really just getting the feel for putting everything together for Ansah at this point. This is easier said than done, but considering his “freak status” along with his surprisingly advanced skill set, I’m willing to be there’s going to be a team that will take a first round chance on it all coming together.