COMMENTARY | The Detroit Lions are putting a lot of eggs into Ezekiel Ansah's basket, but the rookie defensive end is fully capable of living up to expectations and possibly winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) award.
Detroit drafted Ansah No. 5 overall in April because of his raw athleticism and the team's desperate need for talent at the position. The departures of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch left gaping holes at defensive end and Ansah will be counted on to be an every-down player immediately and have a serious impact.
The Lions are a team predicated on a dominant front-four pass-rush. Linebackers rarely blitz because the front-four are so adept at getting to the quarterback in a hurry and wreaking havoc in the backfield, or at least they have been in recent seasons.
Vanden Bosch's loss may not actually translate to much on the field, as he was more of a clubhouse leader anyway, but Avril had accumulated 20.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Those departing sacking shoes will be expected to be filled by Ansah.
His production at BYU may not signal someone deserving of the No. 5 pick in the draft, as Ansah had just 4.5 career sacks, but he also only had one full season as a starter under his belt. The 6'5", 271-pound product of Ghana is still learning the game of football. However, early signs from the Lions coaching staff suggest that Ansah is picking up the speed of the pro game at an advanced rate.
Granted, he has not put on full pads and even played in a preseason game, but to see that such a raw athlete is understanding the fundamentals of the pro game is encouraging. What is less encouraging is the stiff competition that Ansah will face for DROY honors.
Ansah was one of four defensive players taken in the first 10 picks of the draft, with 18 total defensive players taken in the first round.
Another factor working against Ansah is that no defensive ends have won the award in the last 10 years (Julius Peppers won it in 2002) and teammate Ndamukong Suh is the only non-linebacker to win DROY in that time.
In other words, Ansah has a steep hill to climb to nab the honor. The good news here is that Ansah is walking into a better situation than most other first-round players. Most of these guys will be asked to contribute immediately, but no one else has Nick Fairley and Suh occupying consistent double teams and freeing up space.
Ansah is going to have rushing lanes available to him, especially early on, as teams focus on the proven standouts along Detroit's defensive line. If the BYU-product excels right away then teams will adjust and pay him more attention, but again, it will be a wait-and-see effort.
It will also be interesting to see how Ansah stacks up against the other defensive ends/linebackers taken in the top-10, Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo. Jordan enters a rotation where not much will be expected of him behind Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick in Miami, while Mingo heads to Cleveland to work alongside Paul Kruger.
The point here is that Ansah will certainly be in a position to compete for DROY. Recent history does not favor defensive ends, but Ansah is in a ready-made situation for instant production. This could all prove to be an aberration, as Ansah could easily be a work-in-progress that takes a few years to truly find his footing in the NFL.
But the fact remains that all signs are pointing towards a great rookie campaign. Detroit needs a dominant pass-rusher to fill the void left by Avril, and Ansah may do that and bring home some hardware in the process.
The prediction here is that Ansah narrowly edges out Star Lotulelei from the Carolina Panthers and wins Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Do you agree that Ansah will win DROY? Who else will be in the mix for the award? Share your thoughts and insight in the comments section below.
Nick Kostora lives in Michigan and has covered the Detroit Lions for 4 years. His work has appeared on CNN, the Detroit Free Press, Bleacher Report, Yahoo! and more. He is also the co-host of a Lions podcast @LionsCentralPFC
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickkostora
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