Ezekiel Ansah: His Rise to the Elite Tier of NFL Defensive Linemen
It’s not often that you find a college football player with just three years of football experience who gets selected in the top five of the NFL draft, but that’s what happened with BYU defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah in 2013. Ansah, who did not play football in high school nor receive an athletic scholarship to attend BYU, walked onto the Cougars’ football team in 2010. Ansah was so unfamiliar with football that he had to be taught how to put on football pads before his first practice. Unsurprisingly, Ansah played sparingly in his first two seasons, totaling just 10 tackles and recording zero sacks. After an “explosion” of 62 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his senior season, Ansah caught the attention of NFL scouts. But how does a defensive end with just 4.5 career sacks get selected fifth overall in the NFL draft?
Ansah’s draft stock skyrocketed during the pre-draft process. His senior season performance earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he tallied seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble against the nation’s top seniors. However, the combine is where Ziggy truly shined. With the top defensive lineman score in the 20-yard shuttle – 4.26 seconds – and an outrageous 40-yard dash time for a man with a 6’5” 271-pound stature – 4.63 seconds – Ansah left scouts drooling with his measurables and potential. Ziggy drew comparisons to then-Giants teammates Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck; to Pierre-Paul for his raw, athletic potential and to Tuck for his DE skill set.
The Lions were quickly rewarded for their risk in Ansah’s rookie year, as Ziggy led all rookies with 8 sacks. He has progressed quicker than most imagined, starting 28 games and recording 15.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley leaving in free agency, the spotlight is now solely on Ziggy and the expectations are sky-high. Will Ezekiel Ansah make the jump into the fantasy football elite defensive linemen tier in 2015?
Ansah’s Fantasy Progression
Although Ziggy Ansah totaled 8 sacks in his rookie year, he only finished as the number 50 DL in balanced scoring systems due to his poor tackle totals. Last year, the Lions entrusted Ansah with more snaps, and his tackle numbers followed, allowing him to finish 17th at his position.
Here’s a full look at Ansah’s fantasy numbers through his first two seasons:
It’s obvious that Ansah is on the upward trend, but that’s no secret. If you want to draft ZIggy this season, you’ll have to pay the price. With an ADP of DL9 in early MyFantasyLeague drafts, you’ll be passing on some big names to acquire his services:
Landscape of the Top Fantasy Defensive Linemen
The key to finding the next elite defensive lineman is looking at per-snap efficiency. When a DL compiles noticeable fantasy numbers in limited snaps, it leads to the possibility of fantasy stardom when that DL is given increased snaps.
Last season, Ansah only played 664 snaps, which equates to just 63.5% of his team’s total defensive snaps. However, Ansah had an elite fantasy points-per-snap number of 0.157.
|Name||Team||Fantasy Pts||# of Snaps||Snap %||Pts/Snap|
How does this compare to the top 12 fantasy DL of 2014?
2014 Top 12 Defensive Lineman in Balanced Scoring Systems*
|Name||Team||Fantasy Pts||# of Snaps||Snap %||Pts/Snap|
*Balanced scoring system points: Tackles = 1.5, Assists = 0.75, Sacks = 4, Forced fumbles = 3, Recovered fumbles = 3, Interceptions = 4, Passes Defensed = 1.5, Touchdowns = 6
There are two things to note here. One, J.J. Watt isn’t human. Two, Ansah’s point-per-snap number would rank him 4th on the above list. The reason Ansah finished outside the top-12 last season was because of his low snap total. On average, a top 12 DL from 2014 played 874 snaps, which is a whopping 210 more snaps than Ansah saw last season.
In 2015, if Ansah just breaks the 700 snap mark, he’ll move into the top 12 if his per-snap efficiency remains the same.
If Ansah can reach the top-12 average of of 874 snaps, combined with his per-snap efficiency, he would rank as the number 3 overall defensive lineman.
As fantasy owners, we can look at the stats and say “Ziggy should be getting more snaps!” But does the Detroit coaching staff feel comfortable with Ansah’s progression and skillset to make him the cornerstone of their defensive line in just his third NFL season?
Ziggy’s 2015 Outlook
Detroit Lions’ head coach Jim Caldwell has noticed the improvements in Ansah’s game, both mentally and physically.
“Since I’ve been here, because of the fact that his familiarity with the concepts that he’s dealing with, last year was new for him. Obviously, you can see growth and development in that area. Oftentimes you can see where players play a little more slowly when they don’t quite understand everything to a tee. You see that pick up over time. He’s one I certainly think you can see he’s not thinking nearly as much. He’s reacting, he’s playing and I think in the long run we’ll all benefit from that.”
You’ll often hear that the biggest improvements in an NFL player’s game comes between year one and year two, a time when they get the full off-season to hone their craft in a professional environment. Last year, Ansah wasn’t afforded that luxury as he missed most of the off-season rehabbing from shoulder surgery. When you consider the fact that a defensive lineman that’s only been playing the game for four years missed his first professional off-season, it’s incredibly impressive to see Ziggy finish the season as the number 17 fantasy DL. It’s a true testament to his natural athletic ability.
With the departure of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and George Johnson, Ansah will almost have to play more snaps this year by default. With a slew of unproven talents on the depth chart, Ziggy’s playing time should see a noticeable increase. The coaching staff has sung Ansah’s praises this offseason, and it looks like 2015 will be the season that Ansah finally eclipses 700 snaps, and that number will likely push closer to 800.
With less talent around him, it’s certainly possible that Ansah’s efficiency numbers drop with increased snaps, as he’ll likely face more double teams and be the focal point of opponents’ gameplans. How Ansah reacts to this newfound spotlight will determine his fantasy ceiling for 2015.
After the top three or four DL, it’s hard to find someone with the upside of Ezekiel Ansah. Given his snap count floor and off-season progression, Ziggy will find his way onto a lot of my rosters in 2015.
For more IDP and fantasy football talk, follow me on Twitter @BrianJesterFF.
Brian has been playing fantasy football for 16 years and commissioned his first fantasy league at age 12. When he’s not writing about sports, you can find him playing every daily fantasy sport and participating in high stakes fantasy football contests. Brian won more than 1,000 NFL contests on FanDuel last season and has won multiple league championships in the Footballguys Player Championship contest. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Brian usually spends his winters agonizing over Terrapins basketball. When the weather is warmer, Brian is known for his receiving prowess in flag football leagues on the National Mall in Washington, DC.