With just a week left before the start of the NFL Draft, it’s important to start gauging these football prospects through a fair evaluation. This year, more than compared to years past, offers a multitude of intriguing players that have high athletic upside despite having limited experience. In this two part series, I will examine four players who have demonstrated world class athleticism outside of football, but despite their natural ability, offer several concerns surrounding their ability to play the game they’ll be drafted to play: football.
In the 1st part of this series, I examine two defensive end prospects that have tantalizing athletic ability. Both of these players are foreigners who have were guided to college football as a way to continue their athletic careers after separate stumbling blocks. Both of these players are considered 1st round prospects, but both could ultimately become busts due to their inexperience.
Ezekiel Ansah, BYU -6’5, 271 lbs, Arm Length: 35⅛ inches, Hand Size: 10¼ inches
Career Stats: 31 games played – 72 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks
Combine Results: 40 Yard Dash: 4.63 Bench: 21 repetitions
Hailing from Ghana, Ansah dreamed of joining the BYU basketball team upon enrolling in the university in 2008. Though he failed to make the team in either his freshman or sophomore season, he continue his athletic career and joined their track team as a sprinter. He soon left that program and joined the football team under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Though Zeke contributed little as a sophomore or junior, his athleticism was constantly on display during practice and many whispered about his potential once he were to understand the game. Zeke added bulk to his skinny frame and eventually emerged as a special teams player, contributing a modest 10 tackles through his first 18 games as a Cougar.
Before his Senior year, Ansah primarily focused on playing defensive end and outside linebacker in order to focus on improving his skill set, with the hope of eventually making a professional team. Showing his versatility in his final collegiate season, Ansah played defensive end, outside linebacker, and occasional nose tackle, Ansah produced a strong stat line: 62 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 9 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception.
Athletically, there is very little Ansah can’t do. He’s proven his track speed by running a blazing 4.63 40-yard dash and demonstrated adequate strength by reaching 21 reps on the bench press. Due to his limited experience, he can be molded into a better football player with the introduction of proper technique. He also can be an interest to teams that play either in a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment as either a defensive end or an outside linebacker. Through his senior game tape, he demonstrated a strong ability to stop opposing ball carriers and even jolt them backwards, often negating a positive play by offenses. He demonstrated a strong ability to adapt and learn on the fly; there shouldn’t be questions surrounding his ability to improve as a football player.
However, there are various concerns surrounding his ability. Despite having top notch athleticism, he’s not the most aggressive tackler and doesn’t blow up plays as often as you would hope. He also showed poor stamina, which is a big concern considering he’ll be playing against the best competition and teams will be drafting him to play all three downs as a top-10 pick. He’s a poor run defender and could become a problem if he doesn’t penetrate the line on run plays as he needs to disrupt offensive lines to be effective.
Ansah, like it or not, will end up being a top 10 pick, even as high as 2nd overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. His upside is as high as any player in this draft, but I’m more concerned with his weakness than impressed by his strengths. Though athleticism is needed in the NFL, this isn’t the NBA; you have to have great technique to become a force. In my opinion, he’d be a great late 1st round pick due to his high upside, but I ultimately believed he’ll be over drafted and forced to play early and often. The most common comparison is to current New York Giant Jason Pierre-Paul, who was also new to football as a 1st round pick in 2010. However, for every Pierre-Paul, there’s countless highly athletic defensive ends that turn out to be busts. I’m not saying he can’t become a future All-Pro, but for where he’s being projected, he brings too much risk for my tastes.
courtesy of nfl.si.com
Margus Hunt, SMU -6’8, 277 lbs, Arm Length: 33¾ inches, Hand Size: 10 inches
Career Stats: 53 games played, 112 tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss, 15.5 sacks, 14 career blocked kicks
Combine Results: 40 yard dash: 4.60 Bench: 38 repetitions
Hunt originally came to United States to further his track career, which included two gold medals at the 2006 World Junior Champions. After taking first in both the shot put & discus, Hunt enrolled at Southern Methodist, a school which had recently lost their track program due to budget cuts. Unable to continue his training, Hunt turned his attention to the gridiron as he tried out for the Mustangs’ football team despite lacking any experience or training in the American sport.
Originally Hunt played on special teams, where as a Freshman, he blocked seven kicks (one short of the NCAA single season record). Hunt progressed as a sophomore and started all 13 games and recorded 6.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, and 3 more blocked punts. Though he started just two games as a Junior, he obliterated the strong Pittsburgh offensive line in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Hunt added to his legacy as a Senior when he earned 1st team Conference-USA as he produced 8 more sacks and ultimately fell two short of the NCAA record for most career blocked kicks.
As a prospect, Hunt is highly intriguing due to his freak athleticism. At the combine this past February, he recorded 38 reps on the bench and was the fastest defensive end with a 4.6 40-yard dash. While everyone talks about the insane natural ability of Ansah, Hunt ran faster and recorded 17 more reps than the probably top-10 pick. His ability to block kicks shows strong hand-eye coordination, and he could become a huge benefactor for any special teams unit. Outside of his special teams play, he showed great closing speed when sacking quarterbacks as well as great ability to properly use his long arms to keep blockers at bay. He could develop into a strong run defender if he adds more size. He can also line up as a 3-tech defensive end in a 3-4 allignment, but has the motor to play as an end in a 4-3 scheme as well.
While his athleticism is eye popping, there are a lot of flaws in his game that will need to be fixed in order for him to become an effective defensive player. His inexperience is obvious when watching film; he’s prone to losing leverage due to his height and is prone to bending at his hips. As a former track athlete, he also displays poor ability to change directions and was easily evadable by the Conference USA quarterbacks– not a good sign when he’s playing against better talent in the NFL. He’s also an arm tackler; good running backs with strong stiff arms should be able to avoid him on the outside. He’s also older than most of the prospects in this draft, he only started playing at age 21 and is now midway through his twenties.
Overall, Hunt could be selected anywhere from the late 1st round to the early 3rd. People might compare him to the Texan’s JJ Watt, but that’s unfair because Watt displays great technique and has experience playing both sides of the ball. His overall football IQ will have to develop, but that only comes with experience and time. It’s easy to fall in love with his workout numbers, but his game tape left a lot to be desired. For him to have a successful career, he’ll have to be picked by a team that has patience and a strong defensive line coach in order to further his technique. I personally see him excelling in a 3-4 defensive scheme, but no matter what, he should be a strong contributor on special teams due to his long arms and strong upper body.
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