Ghanian native Ezekiel Ansah waits by the phone for the first time in his NFL career

He’s 6’6” and 275 pounds coming off the edge… think about that vision for a second.

Can you say intimidating?

And yet Ezekiel “Ziggy”Ansah is a free agent for the first time in his career and will probably be looking for a new home after spending six seasons with the Detroit Lions. However, that doesn’t faze “Ziggy”. He has been a consummate professional throughout his career and overcome adversity. This is no different. After all football was not even his sport before arriving at Brigham Young University, BYU, straight from his native Ghana. But he definitely made up for it after getting a late start playing the sport.

Growing up in Accra, Ghana Ansah played soccer and basketball at the Golden Sunbeam Montessori school which was known for its basketball facilities and which drew attention to the school. The facilities were built using materials donated by a foundation funded by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, a graduate of BYU. Ansah was befriended by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, including Ken Frei who was a missionary at the time for the church. The two became close and Frei would eventually baptize Ziggy into the church. Staying in touch with Ansah after returning to America, Frei suggested that if Ziggy were serious about a future in basketball that he should apply to BYU (the largest Mormon university in the US).

From basketball to football

After high school in Accra, where he excelled in track and basketball ,he spent a year back at the Montessori school as a teacher’s assistant and basketball coach. He applied and was accepted to BYU on an academic scholarship, unknowingly beginning what would eventually be a shift in his sports dreams. He actually was cut twice from the basketball team but ran track as a freshman before trying out as a walk on for the football team. His physique and raw abilities played in his favor and while being unfamiliar with the game he was worked in slowly as a sophomore. Even as a junior he was primarily used as a pass rusher sporadically on long down and distance situations. His senior season saw an injury occur to the starting defensive end and Ansah seized his opportunity. Over the final three quarters of the season, he ended up being third in tackles, second in sacks, and first in tackles for loss on his team. Following a solid senior year season with a big senior bowl game his draft stock went up, so high in fact the Detroit Lions selected him at number 5 in the first round of the 2013 draft.

Ziggy Ansah , Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

In his rookie season he led all rookies with 8 sacks. Although still raw in talent as far as the NFL level is concerned he had a tremendous season as a rotational player coming off the bench and eventually would be named a starter. He’d follow up his rookie campaign with 7.5 sacks in 2014 and then 14.5 in 2015 to go along with a pro bowl spot. He had a dip in 2016 missing three games an totaling 2 sacks but had a big bounce back in 2017, when the Lions exercised the 5th year option on him by posting 12 sacks and back to being considered one of the best pass rushers in the league. As a player on the franchise tag in 2018 Ansah saw the field very little as a shoulder injury in week 1 landed him on the injured reserve list and when he returned to the field he re-aggravated the injury, causing him to miss the majority of the year as well as post career lows in every category. So here he now waiting for the opportunity to bolster a team’s defensive line for more than likely a new team as he is a free agent.

Every year in March the NFL free agency period starts off with a bang and a wave of high dollar deals to players all across the league adding not only to the competitive balance but adds to the league’s parity. DE Trey Flowers, QB Nick Foles, FS Landon Collins, and LB CJ Mosley set the markets for their positions early on and the dominos of available players have begun to fall. Bringing in free agents is a tricky task as teams balance keeping homegrown talent they’ve drafted along with undrafted free agents. Every acquisition requires not only research of a players football pedigree but also a thorough review of his demeanor and abilities to get along with teammates. As the old expression goes “one bad apple spoils the bunch”, a bad free agent signing of a big contract can make locker rooms unsettled to say the least.

There’s teams like the Patriots, Packers, and Steelers who have remained competitive by drafting well and adding role players in free agency who fit not only a need but add to the camaraderie for years. Then there’s teams like the Redskins, Raiders, and Cardinals who try to buy championships and leadership with free agency while failing to constantly draft well. Often times the free agents brought in to those clubs never live up to expectations nor do they fit in well with the players that were already there, thus explaining their consistent inconsistencies.

One team who’s in the midst of a facelift, having hired a new coach last season is the Detroit Lions. Coached now by Matt Patricia, the former defensive coordinator of Super Bowl winning New England Patriots is no doubt a multiple front, hybrid defensive scheme minded coach who enjoys using most of the players on the defensive side of the ball during the course of a game depending on the lineup packages he calls. For this reason alone it’s surprising that Ansah hasn’t been re-signed by the team.

Ansah now healthy must convince teams his shoulder is in good standing and he’s ready to be as dominant as he was in ‘15 and ‘17. Often times players send teams work out videos through their agents to show they’re in football ready shape and the rehab of the previous injury is in the rear view, but for now it’s a waiting game and he may be a post draft signing by a team that couldn’t find a young pass rusher in the NFL draft. So at the moment it’s up in the air where he’ll play in 2019, but wherever he does end up is definitely going to get a fine football player. As hard as he’s worked to not only learn the game but become dominant, there’s no doubt he has what it takes to return to form and and be the type of threat coming from the edge that eats up preparation time by offensive coordinators around the league once again.

 

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