With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#13: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
We continue this year's series with BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, the former track sttar from Ghana who came to the United States on an academic scholarship in 2008, and tried out for the Cougars' football team in 2010. He played mostly special teams for two seasons, amassing just four solo tackles and no sacks, but everything changed in 2012. That's when he was given an opportunity at multiple defensive line positions and responded with a breakout campaign in which he logged 35 solo tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. What makes him such a compelling prospect for NFL teams, despite his relative football experience, is a size/speed combination that's very hard to find. He proved that when he ran a 4.62 official 40-yard dash at the scouting combine -- at 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds.
Before the combine, however, Ansah showed the good and bad of his current experience level during the Senior Bowl week. During practices, he was frequently overwhelmed by some of the best blockers in this draft class, but he went nuclear in the game itself with six solo tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss.
"It was a little bit crazy this week, with all the GMs and coaches all over the hotel getting hold of you," Ansah told me after the game. "Now, it's time to stay focused -- today will be gone, and tomorrow, I've just got to start training again. In life, no matter what you do, there's going to be something that will take your focus away. But I will stay focused. I came here to work hard with a bunch of great players -- everyone here is an MVP; that's why we all came together to play here. I came here to learn and to be better."
It's about to get crazier for Ansah. Projected by many to be the best pure defensive end in this draft class, he has a collection of athletic skills that will have NFL teams putting him at or near the top of their boards -- football experience be damned.
Pros: Doesn't have the immediate burst off the snap you might expect, but that could be a function of technique. Outstanding chase defender upfield and to either sideline -- disengages quickly from blocks to move and make plays away from his original spot. Will grind through the play, sift through bodies, and continue to move to the ballcarrier. Gets in the backfield and makes things happen, as evidenced by improved tackle for loss totals. Has the reverse speed to become an excellent zone-dropper over time. Ability to engage double teams consistently increases his play-to-play value. Is developing an impressive ability to shoot through gaps, and will occasionally flash scary speed through blockers and into the pocket.
For all the talk about Ansah's athleticism, perhaps the most intriguing (and most immediately NFL-transferable) aspect of his play is his power inline when he wins the leverage battle, and sometimes when he doesn't -- there's enough pure upper-body strength to push through technique flaws at times. Will pinch inside from end to take on slanting guards and tackles, and has effective velocity to get through blocks as a passing-down tackle. Can stunt inside from end effectively with a great in-cut move, and then, it's off to the races. Possesses interesting positional versatility -- has made plays with his hand off the ground in a LEO role, as a pure pass-rushing end, and even as a tackle on pass-rushing downs. Would occasionally slip inside to one-tech shade on three-man wide fronts and took up double teams pretty well. Intriguing ability to stand back and bat passes at the line of scrimmage.
Cons: Has some pretty serious issues with leverage -- this showed up on his game tape, and was very obvious in Senior Bowl practices against dominant blockers. Comes off the snap too high far too often and loses a great deal of his forward power and momentum as a result. Can be bulled back and walled off in ways he shouldn't, given his size and athleticism. Doesn't yet have an array of useful and consistent hand moves, which leads to him wrestling with blockers at times when he should be disengaging. Falls for fake snap counts far too easily and will burst forward and back pre-snap. Still learning to diagnose more advanced run keys and gets in his own way sometimes. Has the capability to outrun some of his mistakes, but will also shoot his way right out of developing plays. Limited sack production matched with sporadic pass pressure on a game-to-game basis makes him a very expensive projection as a pure edge rusher -- will be best-utilized by a team that will move him around.
Conclusion: As with most athletic marvels who still struggle with the finer points of the game, Ansah will need the help of his NFL team to make that transition smoothly and over time. He is frequently compared to New York Giants pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul -- not just because he has a similar build and potential explosive ability, but because Pierre-Paul was also a raw prospect coming out of South Florida. He spent one year there after two seasons in junior college, and the Giants worked him into one of the NFL's best defensive lines after selecting him with the 15th overall pick in 2010. Pierre-Paul played in all 16 games that first season, but didn't start a game until his second year, when he blew up with 16.5 sacks and his current well-deserved reputation as one of the toughest matchups in the game. Under a wise and patient coaching staff, Ansah could have the same career curve ... but the potential for overdrafting, and the inflated expectations that could result, make him a slightly dangerous concept.