Ansah's raw talent could bring big reward

Ansah's raw talent could bring big reward
February 23, 2013, 2:15 pm
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INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- Ezekial "Ziggy" Ansah could be one of those big risk-big reward players for the Patriots.

The 23-year old defensive lineman is raw. Really raw.

Asked at the NFL combine how much football he played before going to Brigham Young University: "Zero." How much had he watched, then? "Zero."

Ansah was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. A Latter-Day Saints missionary named Ken Frei discovered him there (then, a basketball player) and pushed the Mormon athlete toward Utah.

BYU seemed a natural fit. Football did not not.

"I never thought of playing football because I had never played the game so I didn't know much about it, so that's why I tried out for basketball [in the first] two years."

He got cut from the hoops team and tried track. Football ended up being his third choice. Clearly, as he took the podium at the combine, something clicked.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock ranked Ansah as the No. 3 defensive end in the draft. Several analysts have compared his talent to Giants All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

"I put in the time to watch him," Ansah said. "I like his style of play."

The 6-4, 274-pounder has only three years of football experience but natural athletic gifts. In track, he once ran 200 meters in 21.9 seconds. His vertical leap during his short NCAA basketball tenure was measured at 39 inches.

His mind is equally impressive. Ansah studied actuarial science and statistics in college. Considering his impressive physical standing, his reputation as a quick study as the leap to the NFL will be mostly mental.

"Obviously, in comparison to all the people that are out here, I've been playing for only a few years," he admitted. "I've still got a lot to do just to catch up with them and I'm going to put everything I've got in and just do my best."

Could his best be good enough for New England? There are a few things working in his favor. With Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at end, Ansah wouldn't be under detrimental pressure to elevate his general football IQ and pass rushing ability.

The Patriots want their defense to be multiple and Ansah played two years at outside linebacker before switching to defensive end. That versatility is huge for when New England goes between the 4-3 and 3-4.

And for all the talk of "rawness," which isn't unfair, there's still something to be said for instinct. Ansah's 10 deflected passes in 2012 are tied for the most among all combine participants.

"I'm going to be dedicated and do everything I can just to be the best player. I want to be the best player at this position.