Ziggy Ansah doesn’t carry himself like a 279-pound bruiser.
Ansah talks with a quiet tenor, maintains his manners when speaking and portrays more of a reserved personality than a rugged one.
That’s the thing with the 26-year-old Accra, Ghana native, he’s not someone where what you see on the surface tells the whole story.
In his third year in the NFL, the former No. 5 overall pick has become a force. He’s overpowering the competition and punishing quarterbacks to such success that he’s currently tied for the league lead with 11.5 sacks.
“To lead the NFL, you know, in the beginning everyone sets their own goals,” Ansah said after he and the Detroit Lions blew out the Philadelphia Eagles 45-14. “I just came out here to play. The whole team came out here to play. Defensively, we stopped them on the run, offense moved the ball, special teams gave us great position. Overall I think it’s a great team win and I’m just grateful I was able to put the quarterback down.”
Put the quarterback down? Such competitive words uttered in such a soft spoken and humble way. But that’s Ansah, he’s more competitive – he has more fire – than he lets on.
Take this game for instance. Ansah was already relishing the challenge of lining up against the Eagles’ outstanding left tackle Jason Peters. But, when Peter got hurt early and Lane Johnson moved over to left tackle, Ansah had something to prove.
Of course, Johnson was drafted No. 4 overall in 2013 – one spot ahead of Ansah. The Eagles kicked the tires on Ansah – taking him in for a visit. But, ultimately, they ended up being one of the four teams that passed on the pass rusher.
Ziggy didn’t forget.
“I was looking forward to playing against Peters and then he got hurt, they moved Lane over there,” said Ansah, pausing with a smirk and small laugh. “Yeah, I think I took it personal.”
Ansah has easily outperformed the players selected in front of him – Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars), Dion Jordan (Oregon) and Johnson. But how did these teams all miss out on Ansah – who, in hindsight, should have been the first player off the board?
Simple – he was a player with limited football experience (having only three years of football under his belt, two of which he didn’t see the field an awful lot). With a limited body of work coupled with his polite – if not passive – demeanor, it would be hard to see past the surface and invest so highly in him.
The Lions head coach at the time, Jim Schwartz, had a unique perspective having coached Ansah in that year’s Senior Bowl. So, the team with the most intimate look at him were the ones that saw beyond the surface and realized how dominant he could be – a realization that is still in the making.
“I think he’s really just kind of scratching the surface. I don’t think anybody knows exactly how good he can be with the limited amount of football that he’s played in comparison to most guys his age,” said Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. “His growth and development, I mean, every single year you look at his body physically. We have all the body comps and just kind of looking at his strength, he’s still developing, getting stronger, getting faster. He’s a pretty unusual guy.
You think about a guy that size – I think, if I’m not mistaken, this time when we checked his body comp, he had the second-lowest fat percentage on our football team. You think about that when he’s a 200-almost-80 pounder.”
The Lions were the team that saw more than just the surface with Ansah and now – as he is scratching the surface of his potential – the Lions are rewarded while those that passed on him are reminded of the mistake they made.