The first stages of an NFL Draft that had been derided by some as substandard and considered an absolute snooze-fest by others provided compelling theater for the state’s football fans on Thursday night.
Nobody around here needed a bunch of sweet-faced quarterbacks and fanciful wide receivers to dress this thing out. A couple of ugly homegrown linemen added beauty and glamour enough.
Two highly prized prospects, each with memorable names and promising games, each coming from rival schools and on completely different trajectories, sat 2,000 miles apart, waiting for their extraordinary names to be called.
Ziggy and Star. Star and Ziggy.
One was a question, the other an Ansah.
One a defensive tackle, the other a defensive end.
One had been on the radar for a number of years, the other a bolt out of the blue.
One was surrounded by family and friends here in Utah, the other with his parents, flown in from Ghana, and his college coach in the belly of the beast on the draft’s center stage.
Both were projected as top picks, but each carried enough mystery for specific guesses regarding which team would actually step up and take him with which selection varied from No. 2 to No. 26.
Everybody was guessing. Nobody was quite sure.
Fanning the ever-burning flames of the rivalry, popcorn-eaters and pennant-wavers wondered: Who would go first … the Cougar or the Ute?
All anyone around here could do, though, whether his or her preference was BYU or Utah, was sit and wait and see, just like the athletes themselves, what would happen in New York City.
The Kansas City Chiefs picked first. They took … offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
The Jacksonville Jaguars picked second. They took … offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.
The Oakland Raiders traded the third pick to the Dolphins, who took … defensive end Dion Jordan.
The Philadelphia Eagles picked fourth. They took … offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
The Detroit Lions picked fifth. They took … defensive end Ziggy Ansah.
What this means is that the Lions figured D-line guru Jim Washburn could work with Ziggy and that Detroit coaches already were encouraged by his dynamic football growth in such a short time by way of that athletic frame and keen mind. Ansah had learned the rudiments of football at BYU, where he ascended from a neophyte and stranger to this particular station now.
Detroit is a team that needed an edge rusher, having lost Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Ansah will join a frightening defensive front that includes Ndamukong Suh, who welcomed Ziggy via Twitter, and Nick Fairley.
Ansah seemed thrilled at the notion of playing alongside those guys, if he had, in fact, ever heard of them. It was just a few years ago he had asked someone to explain to him what the letters AFC and NFC stood for. He had no clue. Now, he has many.
“This is a great feeling,” he said Thursday night.
As for Lotulelei, the Ute wide-body who had been seen for the better part of a year as a top-five pick, maybe, early on, the top overall selection — until a heart anomaly was detected during recent tests — was forced to wait longer.
The Cleveland Browns took defensive end Barkevious Mingo. The Cardinals … offensive guard Jonathan Cooper. The Bills traded the eighth pick to the Rams, who took … wide receiver Tavon Austin. The Jets … cornerback Dee Milliner. The Titans … offensive guard Chance Warmack. The Chargers … offensive tackle D.J. Fluker. The Dolphins traded the 12th pick to the Raiders, who selected … cornerback D.J. Hayden. The Jets took … defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. And the Panthers took … defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
Ultimately, Carolina couldn’t pass on the Ute defender, a man born and built to stop the run. Apparently, his heart isn’t an issue, after all, and his performance never was.
The Panthers are now in fantastic shape on their defensive front with Star in the middle and pass rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson making life miserable for quarterbacks. Behind Lotulelei will be middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. It was a dream pick for Carolina.
All told, there were 13 offensive and defensive linemen and defenders of other ilks taken in the first 14 picks. Those pretty boys — quarterbacks, running backs and receivers — that determine, at least in shallow minds, the quality of a draft were mostly vapor. In that vein, Ansah and Lotulelei were the embodiment of the draft’s early selections.
Some considered them and those like them ruling the night an exercise in boredom.
Not anybody around here.
This draft, the first with a Cougar and a Ute going in the initial round, was a thrill a minute, especially at pick Nos. 5 and 14.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts on 97.5 FM, 1280 AM and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.