April 26, 2013 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky

Lions gamble with Ziggy Ansah, but not by much

Allen Park — Can we please hold up for a minute? Can we please just let this kid go through rookie minicamp, OTAs and a full training camp before we put labels on him, before we consign him to Darko status?

There isn't one of us who can say for sure what kind of NFL pass rusher Ziggy Ansah will turn out to be. Is it a risk to take a guy this raw with the No. 5 pick? Sure. But ask yourself this: Other than maybe the top two offensive tackles, how many no-risk players were taken in the first round Thursday?

All this angst about a freakishly gifted athlete, a guy who is 6-foot-5, weighs 270 pounds, has a long reach (35-inch arm span), a good vertical leap (34.5 inches), huge hands (10.4 inches) and at the combine ran the 40-yard dash in 4,52, 4.56 and 4.68 seconds.

You know who this guy is, physically? He's LeBron James without basketball skills.

You say, "Yeah, but he didn't even know how to put his pads on three years ago. He was a special teams guy for two years and started only nine games at BYU last year. He's too raw. It's going to take at least two years to develop him."

I might agree with that if he played quarterback, or defensive back or, really, any position other than defensive end. The vagaries of playing defensive end, especially in the Lions' system, aren't very daunting.

Just attack, baby

The Lions defensive linemen like to joke their playbook is one page long and consists of one phrase — attack the quarterback. That's oversimplifying it, of course, but not by much. Ansah isn't going to be bogged down by any intricate Xs and Os. Most of his time in the film room will be spent on polishing his own technique and maybe scouting opposing offensive tackles.

He's already shown an instinctive understanding of reading keys on reverses and screens, and that might be about as complicated as it needs to get. What you need to be successful as a defensive end is be bigger, stronger and faster than the people trying to block you.

I like Ansah's chances with that.

The Lions are going to line him up on the edge, alongside either Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley, and they are going to instruct him to get off the line quickly and with bad intent and get after the ball — whether it's in the hands of the quarterback or a running back.

It doesn't take 10 years of football training to grasp that. It takes size and speed and strength and relentless effort. There isn't a scout or talent evaluator across the league who doesn't think Ansah brings all of that and more to the table.

To play the inexperience card on a defensive lineman is a reach. If he was inexperienced and had some physical deficiencies, then you worry. But Ansah's measureable, tangible athletic skills are elite.

Plus, there are advantages to players whose bodies haven't been battered their entire lives, whose heads haven't been subjected to constant pounding.

Fighting expectations

I know it's good sport to chide the Lions for every first round-draft pick they make. I know all the faith was burned by Matt Millen with the franchise-killing picks of Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams, etc.

I know the expectation is whoever the Lions take in the first round will be a bust.

There's no fighting that around here. But I will just point out the last six first-rounders drafted by Martin Mayhew are or were starters — Riley Reiff (23rd overall pick), Nick Fairley (13th), Ndamukong Suh (second), Jahvid Best (30th), Matthew Stafford (first) and Brandon Pettigrew (20th).

Question the Best pick if you want — it's easy to do now after the concussions — but Mayhew typically gets it right on Day 1 of the draft. And with everything that's at stake after the team's 4-12 slide last season, he wasn't about to take some reckless risk with the No. 5 pick.

Like I said, there isn't one of us who knows for sure how this will play out, but given Ansah's rare physical attributes, his unflagging work ethic, his intelligence and the seriousness with which he has pursued this occupation, he's worth the risk.


Twitter: @cmccosky

Top Lions draft pick Ziggy Ansah, left, is greeted by team president Tom Lewand at the team's training facility in Allen Park on Friday. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, left, was at the airport to greet new ... (Twitter: @DetroitLionsNFL)
Physically, Lions draft pick Ziggy Ansah is LeBron James without the ... (John Minchillo/Associated Press)
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