The scouting community and NFL player personnel departments love potential. It’s easy to project a player with elite combination of size and athleticism to future stardom. But the gap between potential and production is not trivial in the NFL. Jene Bramel explores this potential versus polish debate through the lens of defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
By Jene Bramel
Ezekiel Ansah is the latest prospect to spark a “potential vs. polish” scouting debate. Listed at 6’6”, 270 pounds, Ansah burst onto the college football scene this year with an athletic style of play that prompted comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul. In the days leading up to the Senior Bowl, some were suggested that Ansah could be considered in the top half of the first round with a strong performance in pre-draft evaluations.
Such is the ebb and flow of evaluating draft prospects in January. That isn’t to say that Ansah won’t prove worthy of a mid-first round (or better) draft slot by the end of April, but there are multiple reasons to suggest caution.
On tape, Ansah’s athleticism is notable. He was used in multiple roles at BYU after quickly earning more playing time at the start of the 2012 season. That versatility – he was used in a standup edge rushing role and as an interior rusher in addition to more traditional defensive end roles – and his consistent effort to the whistle is endearing to defensive coordinators who need adaptable players in the huddle. Ansah also shows an ability to use his hands to control offensive linemen when playing the run far beyond what’s normally seen in a player who has taken so few college repetitions.
But there are holes in Ansah’s game. He doesn’t show an explosive first step or consistent edge rushing talent. That hurts him against better competition. It’s been evident during Senior Bowl practices and he’ll face much better than the offensive tackles he’s facing in Mobile in the NFL. He also has a maddening habit of turning his back to the line of scrimmage when engaged by an offensive lineman on run plays.
Some of that can be corrected with coaching and further development, but it’s the lack of an elite pass rush (edge rush, bull rush or array of counter moves) and questionable football speed in small spaces that worries me. If I’m looking at a defensive end in the top half of the first round, I want to see at least one elite skill.
Athleticism and versatility are valuable, but they must translate into regular instances of dominance against college competition to warrant such a high draft pick. Scouting is far from an exact science, but it’s critical to avoid an Aaron Maybin while mining for a Jason Pierre-Paul. I think Ansah will be worthy of a late first – early second round pick come April, but it’s not time to jump on the runaway bandwagon just yet.