ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He was drafted three years ago in the first round as a raw prospect. The potential -- oh, it was there. But whether Ezekiel Ansah would ever realize it was an unknown. He hadn't started playing football until midway through his time at BYU.
He entered the NFL equipped with athleticism and power, but with little of the refinement that comes with years of experience. Yet three years into his career, he's emerging as a star. He made his first Pro Bowl. He finished third in the NFL in sacks with 14.5. And he was the unanimous choice for ESPN.com's NFC North Defensive Player of the Year.
He hit one of his biggest individual goals this season -- double-digit sacks. He adjusted his midseason plan, wanting to become "unstoppable."
"I just got to make sure that I'm unstoppable,” Ansah told ESPN.com in November. "I just got to find a way where tackles are unable to stop me from getting to the quarterback. That is where the next thing is."
He had 7.5 sacks the second half of the season. There were points in games where he completely annihilated opposing offensive tackles. He had at least a half-sack in four straight games over the second half of the season.
Considering the Lions didn't know how he'd fare once he saw the attention of double teams instead of the departed Ndamukong Suh, Ansah showed he was more than capable. He showed he could thrive.
He has 128 tackles and 30 sacks in his first three seasons. Those are good numbers. The thought is -- and the concern for the rest of the NFC North -- is Ansah still has a lot of room to make improvement and grow between his rising technical level and unquestioned athleticism.
"That's the way God made him. He got all the Draw Four cards in the deck,” defensive end Darryl Tapp told ESPN.com recently. "Man, he's a freakish type of athlete. He's probably the one guy in this locker room you could put in any sport and he'll probably dominate it. Hand-eye coordination, violence, agility, speed, explosion.
"He's the real deal, man.”
NFC North Defensive Player of the Year voting (four voters; three points for a first place vote, two for a second place vote and one for a third place vote):