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BYU end Ansah should go in top 15-20

BYU defensive end Ezekiel ‘‘Ziggy’’ Ansah ran 4.63 40-yard dash had 341/2-inch vertical leap scouting combine. | Michael Conroy~AP

BYU defensive end Ezekiel ‘‘Ziggy’’ Ansah ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and had a 341/2-inch vertical leap at the scouting combine. | Michael Conroy~AP

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Updated: May 21, 2013 6:27AM



Ezekiel ‘‘Ziggy’’ Ansah might be the biggest hit-or-miss prospect in the draft. He could be the next Jason Pierre-Paul . . . or the latest athletic but raw prospect who fooled the experts because he looked like the next Jason Pierre-Paul.

A 6-5, 271-pound defensive end from Brigham Young, Ansah is the ultimate late bloomer. A soccer player in his native Ghana, he came to the United States in 2008 and had never seen a football game, let alone played in one, when he stepped foot on the BYU campus. He went to BYU for college because he’s Mormon.

Ansah tried to make the basketball team as a walk-on and was rejected. He ran track, but his size and speed eventually earned him a chance at football.

The ultimate raw prospect, Ansah struggled at first, but his potential was too obvious to ignore. He played as a backup in 2010 and 2011 and didn’t become a starter until after his senior year began last fall.

‘‘It was frustrating at the beginning,’’ Ansah said. ‘‘I wasn’t treated like, ‘Ziggy hasn’t played football at all.’ They were pushing me like I was playing football for 25 years. It was crazy. But it’s been easier now.’’

Once he became a starter, he started making big plays and quickly became a pro prospect. Despite starting only nine games, he was invited to the Senior Bowl and was named the defensive MVP of the game.

Ansah came to the scouting combine as a potential first-round pick. After an exceptional performance — he ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and had a 341/2-inch vertical — he has become the No. 1 defensive lineman for many draft experts.

‘‘Ansah has gone from being completely off the radar to a potential early first-round pick in as meteoric a rise as I can remember in my 35 years of evaluating draft talent,’’ ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said in his 2013 draft report.

Ansah is being compared to Pierre-Paul, who had a similarly humble football background — from College of the Canyons to Fort Scott Community College to South Florida to the 10th pick in the 2010 draft and the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012. Ansah shows the same athleticism but is even more raw than Pierre-Paul.

Ansah has all the qualities the NFL is looking for in a dominant defensive end or pass-rushing outside linebacker — long arms, big hands, speed, quickness off the snap. The assumption is that he can be taught the techniques and nuances of the game that will allow him to be successful at the NFL level. He’ll be too good for somebody in the top 15 or 20 to pass up.

‘‘It’s a blessing; it’s really humbling,’’ he said when asked about being a potential first-round pick after not having played football until 2010. ‘‘I’m really privileged to be out there, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity I have. I thank the heavenly Father for giving me the athletic abilities that I have. I just have to use it right.’’

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

After taking Shea McClellin in the first round last year, the Bears have other priorities at No. 20. Julius Peppers still was one of the best defensive ends in the NFL at 32 last year. Corey Wootton had a breakout year with seven sacks. And McClellin showed enough promise as a rookie to warrant a bigger look in 2013. Israel Idonije, an unsigned free agent, still could return.

But every NFL team is always in need of a quality defensive end, and if the value is right, there’s no doubt Phil Emery would jump at the opportunity. One player to keep an eye on is Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner, who was considered a top-five pick before the scouting combine but has dropped in the eyes of draft analysts through the draft evaluation process.

The 6-3, 266-pound Werner is an intriguing prospect because he shows great instincts for football but grew up playing soccer in Germany. He came to the United States as a high school exchange student and became a star at Florida State. He learns quickly — he picked up English in ‘‘two or three months, just being in America,’’ he said. And he fell in love with the brutality of football as soon as he started playing it.

‘‘Just the physicality of it,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s such a man’s sport. You line up against another guy and [see] who’s going to be stronger.’’

Five of interest

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Has the athleticism and explosiveness teams are looking for in a three-technique tackle. He had 14 tackles and a sack against Alabama.

Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Relentless pass rusher who parlayed a big week at the Senior Bowl into mid-first-round status.

Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: Has versatility to play several roles in different schemes and has a knack for making big plays.

Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: One of the strongest players in the draft — he did 30 reps of 225 pounds at the combine — Williams has the athleticism and relentless drive to wreak havoc inside.

Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State: On the comeback trail after suffering a knee injury in the season finale against Florida.

The three best

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Consistent playmaker is rated the top defensive lineman in the draft. Not only a great athlete, but a great football player who has the versatility to be a force in any system.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: Late bloomer who is being compared to Jason Pierre-Paul.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: After being diagnosed with a heart irregularity at the combine, he was later cleared by doctors and put up impressive numbers at his pro day — including 38 reps of 225 and a 30-inch vertical.

Three sleepers

Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson: Long arms, big hands — with the right coaching in the right system, he could be a bargain.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE, Notre Dame: Torn ACL in the national title game hurt his draft status, but NFL teams know he’s out there.

Joe Kruger, DE, Utah: The brother of former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger, Joe is a 6-6, 265-pound lineman with long arms.



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