With The Lions Looking At The Final Year Of Ansah’s Contract, Let’s Review His Time With Detroit.
This coming year is the final of Ziggy Ansah’s contract. We’ve seen a wide range of performances from Ziggy. He has flashed performances suggesting that he is everything that we had hoped. We have also seen games where he disappears completely. As with most contract years in the NFL, it is important that a player steps up and perform at the highest level. Ansah is no exception. With Ansah’s contract year looming, let’s take a look at the expectations, and how he has measured up.
The Detroit Lions selected Ziggy Ansah as the fifth pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Lions were coming off a 2012 year that saw them sink to a 4-12 record. Things were looking pretty dismal for Lions fans, and we wanted to see an impact player in the draft. The previous two drafts had yielded Riley Reiff and Nick Fairly in the first round, neither of whom had lived up to expectations. Our second round picks had given us the disasters of Ryan Broyles, Titus Young, and Mikel Leshoure. Confidence in Martin Mayhew was at an all-time low.
Around the time of the draft, many experts were comparing Ziggy Ansah to Jason Pierre-Paul. He hadn’t played football very long, but the athleticism was impressive. He appeared to be a project-player with immense upside, which made sense for a Lions team that appeared to be in a rebuild. The expectation was that Ziggy would be a player that would need some time to develop, and may not be ready to play right away, but was somebody who could be a game-changer for the Lions down the road. Scouts often cited his size and athleticism as his obvious strengths but didn’t always agree on his weaknesses. They varied from report to report. However, these weaknesses all related to his technique.
The expected path to success for Ansah in the NFL was to utilize his athleticism to beat offensive linemen and refine his technique in the meantime. This isn’t always an ideal path, but it was one that the Lions were confident enough in to spend a top pick. The Detroit Lions and their fans hoped that Ansah would be a refined pass-rusher by the end of his rookie contract. That rookie contract is soon coming to an end.
Ansah started off his career with a strong, if not dominate, rookie campaign. He collected 30 tackles with eight sacks, and he added seven tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles, and he batted down a pass. According to pro-football-reference, he did all of this while playing only 53.68% of the snaps. This was a very productive first year for a guy who was off the field for a large portion of snaps. One of the knocks against Ansah in college was that he wasn’t conditioned to play a lot of snaps and that his performances would fade as games went on. The lower snap count was likely a product of both his inexperience and his conditioning. Despite this, he out-produced all of the first-round edge players.
The second year of Ansah’s contract offered him a significant increase in playing time. Teryl Austin loves rotating his defensive linemen, so the increase in playing time showed a significant step forward for Ziggy. While he didn’t improve upon his rookie sack totals, he made strides in other areas. He doubled his tackles for loss, racking up 14 over the course of the season. Ansah became a more well-rounded defensive end, and his improvement in the run game was evident. It was exactly the type of improvement that we were looking for in the second year of Ansah’s contract.
Breakout Season and Injuries
2015 was Ansah’s breakout year. It was the year that Ansah became the guy he was drafted to be. Ansah posted 14.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and he forced three fumbles. He developed into a playmaker for a Detroit defense that was starving for impact players after the loss of Suh. Fans got a glimpse of the potential that Ansah offered going forward. He earned his first trip to the pro bowl, and the future looked bright.
2016 was a lost year for Ansah. He injured his ankle against the Titans in week two, and he missed the following three weeks. When Ansah returned, he didn’t look the same. He never really looked fully healthy at any point last year. He lacked explosion off the ball, and he gave ground in the run game. Ziggy looked like a shell of the player we saw in 2015.
Expectations Going Forward
Going into the final year of Ansah’s contract, a lot of questions remain. Many of his sacks in 2015 were considered “clean-up” sacks. Can we expect him to match his 14.5 sacks again? Or is he closer to the player we saw in 2014? His 2016 production was limited by an early season ankle injury. These injuries don’t generally carry over into the next year, but how will he rebound going into next year? For someone who still is limited in his football experience, the lost year of development might be a concern. A good season last year could have put a lot of these questions away, but thus far we have only seen one year of impressive production from a top five pick. So what should we expect going forward?
Ankle injuries tend to linger in the NFL. They are the type of injury that can derail an entire season. For a defensive end, they are especially limiting. Defensive ends need to launch off the line of scrimmage with an explosion. They need to get low and bend to gain leverage. Ends need to have the lower body drive to fight through blocks from teams best pass blockers. I think that it is a given that Ansah’s ankle limited his ability to do all of these things in the 2016 season. We shouldn’t see another two-sack season from Ziggy. If that happens, something has gone horribly wrong. His problem wasn’t a regression. It was his health. With the full offseason to heal up, we should at least expect a return to the form we saw in his first two years.
In terms of his ceiling, we may have seen it from a production standpoint. 14.5 sacks are impressive, and I don’t think we should be disappointed in him if he doesn’t match that again. If he can find a way to reach double-digit sack totals, a long-term extension will we worth every penny. If he is in the five to ten range, we may have to think about what we will be paying him. He will be 28 years old when the season starts. With the late start of his development, he likely is beginning the prime of his career, and 2017 needs to showcase that.
Ansah’s Contract Extension
2017 is going to be an important year for both Ansah and the Detroit Lions. The Lions have not yet begun discussions on Ansah’s contract, and Levy is a very recent reminder of the risk involved in extending a player long-term. That being said, Lions fans should fully expect those discussions to begin soon. With that in mind, 2017 is going to be a crucial year for Ansah. The Lions, and we as fans need to see that Ansah can reach the level that we saw only a couple of years ago. The Lions desperately need to improve their pass rush. A healthy Ansah should do that immediately. If Ansah can give us that extra push on the defensive line, he will be a vital piece of this defense moving forward.