A Statistician in the NFL
Jeffrey A. Myers, ASA Public Relations Coordinator
Statisticians in the National Football League (NFL) is old news, you say. You’re right, but a statistician in the NFL is new news! Confused? Let me help.
Perhaps for the first time ever, a statistician was selected in the top five picks in the annual NFL player entry draft. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, a star defensive end at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, was chosen with the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions April 25.
Ansah was a statistics major at BYU and a strong student, as well. And, coincidentally, the same day he was selected in the NFL draft, he graduated from BYU—an accomplishment that means as much to him and his family as being drafted by an NFL team.
So, instead of calculating an opponent’s play-calling tendencies for the Lions like the typical statistician in the NFL, Ansah will be trying to blow up his opponent’s plays using the physical attributes and skills that propelled him to the top of most NFL teams’ draft board.
Definitely not the nerdy, pen-in-pocket image (incorrect!) that most people hold of statisticians, Ansah’s rise to premier football talent is a fairytale story. Raised in Accra, Ghana, he never played American football before attending BYU on an academic scholarship after joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his home country.
Once he arrived in Provo, Ansah tried out for the BYU basketball team and was on the school’s track team before he walked into football Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s office and asked to play football. The coach agreed, giving the 6-foot-5, 271-pound Ansah a tryout during the team’s 2010 spring practice.
“I didn’t know how to put on my pads; I had to have one of my teammates help me out,” Ansah said in a press release issued by the school’s sports information department.
As a newcomer to football, Ansah spent a lot of time on his back during those first spring practices, but he didn’t give up. “That’s when he kind of captured my heart,” said Mendenhall in the same press release, “because he was resilient and because he kept getting up and kept coming back.”
Ansah’s attitude, intelligence, physical ability, and resilience allowed him to progress in short order to an elite player and a first-round NFL draft pick. “I’m not sure that’s ever happened in college football before,” said Mendenhall.
Understandably, Ansah’s rise to a first-round NFL draft pick was slow. In his sophomore season in 2010, he made his debut in a game against the University of Wyoming and recorded a tackle. He played in six games his first season, compiling three tackles and a pass breakup. In his junior year, he was a third-down specialist and recorded just seven tackles. Nothing he had accomplished on the field to date had predicted the season to come.
It was during his senior season in 2012 that Ansah’s meteoric rise began. After an injury to a teammate in the fourth game pressed him into full-time playing status, Ansah finished third in tackles (48), second in sacks (4.5), and led the team in tackles for loss (13) while starting only the last nine games of the season. His production helped the BYU defense lead the nation in red-zone defense (opponent average of .62) and place second in rushing defense (84.25 yards per game).
His breakout season combined with stellar play at the Senior Bowl—a college football all-star game, where he was presented the Outstanding Defensive Player award in recognition of his outstanding play—and an incredible performance at the NFL Scouting Combine boosted him to the top of the first round of the NFL Draft.
“Regardless of the fact that everybody is telling me that I’m raw, I’m pretty good at what I’m doing,” Ansah said in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “… I’m going to be dedicated and do everything I can just to be the best player. I want to be the best player at this position. Even with the little experience I have. That is the challenge that I have.”
Knowing what he has accomplished as a football neophyte and a statistics graduate, you have to like Ansah’s chances to be successful in the NFL.