Can Ziggy Ansah Bounce Back From His Disappointing 2016 Season?
One year ago, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah had established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. He had finished the first three seasons of his NFL career, racking up 30 sacks, and was coming off of a 2015 campaign in which he had 14.5 sacks. He had seemed to be on a big upward trajectory. Then, in 2016, he had an extremely down season that was marred by injuries – he suffered an ankle injury in week two against the Titans that caused him to miss three games, and later in the season he suffered a shoulder injury in week 14 against the Bears that he played through. Ansah finished the season with just two sacks. Here are the reasons why Ansah can re-establish himself as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL in 2017.
Ziggy Ansah stands at 6’5″ and weighs 271 pounds. He has long arms at 35 inches. He ran a 4.63 second 40 yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and led all defensive lineman with a 4.26 second 20 yard shuttle. The one thing that was never in question about Ziggy Ansah was whether or not he was athletically gifted. The Lions took him with the fifth pick of the 2013 NFL Draft because of his talent, knowing that Ansah was a very raw player. Kris Kocurek, the defensive line coach for the Detroit Lions since 2009, has done an excellent job of helping Ansah to translate this freak athleticism onto the football field. Here is an examples:
On this play against the Minnesota Vikings, Ziggy Ansah is the Detroit Lions lined up furthest to the right. Adrian Peterson breaks off a long run on the opposite side of the field from Ansah. It appears that Peterson is going to score a touchdown, until at the very end Ansah comes from nowhere to bring him down short of the goal line. Ansah chased Adrian Peterson for 75 yards across the entire field and was able to save a touchdown. There are not many defensive linemen who are faster than Adrian Peterson, but Ziggy Ansah is one of them.
Strong Finish To 2016
Although Ziggy Ansah had a very disappointing season last year, he did finally start to look like his old self towards the end of the season. He didn’t have a single sack all season until week 15 against the New York Giants, but then he started to catch on fire as he finished the season with four sacks in the last four games. This could be a sign that he really was injured for most of the 2016 season, and when he finally started to recover later in the season, he picked up right where he left off in 2015.
Wreaking Havoc In 2013-2015
Ziggy Ansah came into the league as a very fast, quick and powerful pass rusher. Over the course of the first three seasons of his career, we have seen him develop his pass rushing moves a lot. He has the ability to use his power with bull rushes, or can mix it up and is very effective with finesse moves. He averaged 10 sacks per season from 2013 and 2015, and looked to be quickly becoming the best player on the entire Lions defense.
Here, Ziggy uses a combination of finesse and power to get through his blocker. Ansah is lined up at the top of the offensive line against the left tackle. He initially fakes like he is going to go inside, but then decides to engage the offensive tackle and has no problem powering right over him. Ansah gets a free shot on Jay Cutler, and forces a bad pass, resulting in a Lions interception.
On this play, Ansah sees an opportunity to go for the inside of the offensive line, and he takes it. The offensive tackle, Lane Johnson, tries to stop Ansah, but at that point Johnson can do nothing but slow him down. Ansah easily plows through Johnson and brings down the quarterback for the sack.
Ansah also has developed a knack for forcing fumbles. Between the 2013 and 2015 seasons, he forced nine fumbles. Here is an example of his ability to rip the ball out of quarterback’s hands. On this play against the Seattle Seahawks, Ansah gets a free rush on Russell Wilson on the read option play. Ansah does a great job of wrapping up Wilson, and he pokes the ball out of his hands as they are going to the ground. Ansah becomes aware of this, and does a tremendous job of recovering the ball all by himself.
At this point, we know that Ziggy Ansah is capable of being a top pass rusher in the NFL when healthy. The issue last year was staying healthy enough to have an impact. This is worrisome in itself, but it also wasn’t the first time that Ansah has been hurt. This is a log of every time Ziggy Ansah has been listed on the injury report, and as you can see, he has played through a lot of pain in his career. He has had a concussion and injuries to his ankles, elbow, abdomen, shoulder, back, knees, hamstring and toes in his NFL career. In 2014, Ziggy Ansah had a surgery on one of his shoulders. At this point, by far the biggest concern for Ansah is going to be availability.
If Ziggy Ansah stays healthy in 2017, there’s no doubt in my mind that he will go back to being the player that he was over the first three seasons of his career. He is too much of an athletic freak not to be wreaking havoc in opposing teams’ backfields. Although he has been injured several times throughout his NFL career, he has only missed a total of five games in his first four NFL seasons. I doubt that Ziggy will play up to as high of a level as he did in 2015 (14.5 sacks will be very hard to beat, especially with the weaknesses on the rest of Detroit’s defense), but I think he will be a lot closer to the player he was that season in 2017.
2017 Statistics Project: 40 tackles, 10 sacks, 4 forced fumbles