Pass Rusher Profile: Ezekiel Ansah
When the Detroit Lions took Ezekiel Ansah with the fifth pick in the 2013 draft they were taking more than a little bit of a gamble on his future production. Ansah was a raw athlete without a wealth of football experience in him, but the Lions saw the potential of a quality pass rusher and after a reasonable rookie season learning the ropes, Ansah started to repay their vision with some spectacular displays and a productive second season.
Ansah’s 2014 was a glimpse of what is possible from him, showing both his startling raw potential and also the distance he has yet to cover to become a truly top-line pass rusher. His production and performance throughout the season went through peaks and troughs with big games against Minnesota (Week 6, nine pressures) and Chicago (Week 13, 12 pressures) accounting for 30% of his pressures in 11% of his games. However, he also had underwhelming displays, recording a pass rush grade of -1.0 or lower in five games this season.
That inconsistency is further illustrated when you chart how he beats opposing blockers to generate his pressure. High quantities of pressure to the outside and via bullrush highlight his terrific raw ability, while 27 pressures either unblocked, via clean up or in pursuit demonstrate his hunger and desire to chase down the quarterback. However, only eight pressures to the inside of opposing blockers gives a hint as to the work he has to do to make his game more polished and reach the heights as one of the league’s truly elite pass rushers.
Another breakdown of Ansah’s production that highlights his development as both a football player and a pass rusher is how he gets after the quarterback when the opposing team uses play action. Per snap, the average edge defender in the NFL is marginally more productive when the offense uses play action than when they don’t. Ansah, however, is far more productive with no play action giving him a clearer read on his assignment. Ansah is also active against the run, though, and this willingness to get involved against the run could be as much a factor in his marked dip in production against play action as his relative inexperience.
What Ansah doesn’t need is an invitation or the most advantageous scenario to bring heat on the quarterback. On average, an NFL edge rusher is far more productive, unsurprisingly, rushing against a seven-step drop in comparison to a five-step drop. Ansah, however, is so productive against five-step drops that his above-average production against seven-step drops is only a small improvement by comparison. Among edge defenders only Brandon Graham (18.4) and Justin Houston (16.9) had higher Pass Rushing Productivity scores rushing against five-step drops than Ansah.
Another way to try and limit the impact of a pass rusher is by releasing the ball quickly, but while Ansah feasted on quarterbacks when they held the ball for more than 2.5 seconds, he wasn’t limited as much as others when they did try to get the ball out quickly. On quick throws, Ansah’s Pass Rushing Productivity score was twice that of the average edge defender in the NFL with his 11 hits bettered by only J.J. Watt and Pernell McPhee on quick releases.
Ansah’s potential was always lauded entering the NFL but in 2014 we started to see that potential being realized and if he can continue that development path in 2015 then the sky is the limit for this former top-five selection.
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