Former Ravens coach Brian Billick has a quote he often recites (particularly to underachieving players): “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.”
The irony is Billick’s fate in Baltimore was tied to Kyle Boller, who was drafted early on, yes, potential.
So with that backdrop, we present Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah — perhaps the most intriguing prospect in a draft that is star-deficient.
Ansah, a Ghanaian-born former basketball player, either could be the next coming of Lawrence Taylor or he could be a complete bust.
That’s what happens when you’re a 6-5 defensive end, run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, can vertically jump nearly three feet — but only started playing organized football in 2010.
If he’s still on the board when the Dolphins pick at No. 12, Ansah could stir up some internal conflict for Jeff Ireland, as two of his bedrock philosophies could come into conflict.
Ireland likes to draft for need (Ansah would fill one), particularly at what he calls “core” positions (a pass-rushing end is on that list). But the Dolphins’ general manager also doesn’t like risks. Ireland historically prefers solid, established talents over raw prospects with great degrees of uncertainty.
And with Ansah, the upside is the moon. But what’s his floor?
At the beginning of the season, Ansah wasn’t on most draft boards. Seven months later, he could be the second player taken Thursday night.
“He’s enjoyed as meteoric a rise up the board as any player in my 35 years covering the draft,” said Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN’s draft expert.
Bill Polian — the longtime general manager-turned-ESPN analyst — said Ansah has “exceptional athletic ability and exceptional ability to turn speed into power.”
But can he play football?
Whichever team drafts Ansah will be doing so on faith, betting that his on-field performance will catch up to his limitless ability. In his three years of football at any level — played at BYU — Ansah has just 4 1/2 career sacks.
“In comparison to other people that are out there, and I have been playing only a few years. I still have a lot to do just to catch up to them,” Ansah said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “I’m going to put everything I got to do my best.”
The fact he’s even at this stage is remarkable. His past is the stuff of storybooks. Born in Accra, Ghana, in 1990, Ansah was one of five siblings. Dad is a retired petroleum sales manager; Mom is a nurse. Ansah played soccer and basketball growing up and became a Mormon as a teenager.
Missionaries visiting Africa were impressed by his athletic ability and encouraged him to play basketball at Brigham Young University — which he attended on an academic scholarship.
Culture shock? You could say that.
“It’s pretty much the same as here except it’s all Africans, black folks [there], and all white people in Utah,” Ansah joked.
At least he spoke the language. Ansah learned English before any other tongue, although he does speak some local African dialects. At BYU, he studied actuarial science.
His basketball career was stuck in neutral after two years, but he wanted to remain in sports. So he walked on to the football team — despite knowing next to nothing about the game. At first he considered playing tight end, but Cougars coaches saw him more suited as a pass rusher.
“It was frustrating in the beginning,” Ansah said. “I wasn’t treated like a starter. I wasn’t treated like Ziggy hasn’t played football at all. It was like … they were pushing me like I was playing football for 25 years. It was crazy. But it’s been easier now.”
After seeing the field on a part-time basis in 2010 and 2011, he was a force in 2012, even if his numbers don’t reflect it. Scouts marveled at his natural ability, likening him to the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul.
Still, he admits the learning curve is steep.
“I try to stay up late and watch NFL Network,” Ansah said. “I see some things. I have no idea who they are. This is going to be my life so I just try to suck it all in.”