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Bills vs Falcons: Eli Ankou among the returning named on Buffalo’s practice squad protections

The Bills have a new player on their protection list this week

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills have adjusted their practice squad protections over the last month to coincide with injuries and COVID-positives on the roster. So looking at that list has given us some insight on where the team might think they are struggling. This week’s protections have shifted once again, so let’s read some tea leaves.

DT Eli Ankou

Ankou has become a trusted member of Buffalo’s defensive line and his protection this week doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about Star Lotulelei’s return. Ankou has been protected when both Harrison Phillips and Lotulelei were healthy and in the lineup. Ankou has played at least 22 percent of Buffalo’s defensive snaps in four of the last five games as a replacement for Lotulelei battling injury, COVID-19, and now personal issues. He wasn’t called up for the game against the Carolina Panthers where Lotulelei was active. The only time Lotulelei, Phillips, and Ankou saw the field in the same game was against the New England Patriots a few weeks ago on a wind-ravaged night for Monday Night Football.

WR Isaiah Hodgins

Hodgins was first added to the protected list last week when Cole Beasley went on the COVID-19 list and Emmanuel Sanders injured his knee. Gabe Davis followed on the COVID list later in the week and Hodgins was indeed called up to the game day roster against the New England Patriots in Week 16. He saw his first NFL game action, taking four snaps thanks to a healthy return to action from Sanders. With the changes to the COVID-19 protocols announced by the CDC, NFL, and NFLPA, both Beasley and Davis could be eligible to return this week, but that remains to be seen.

DB Nick McCloud & Josh Thomas

Oft-protected but not often utilized, Thomas and McCloud have been a constant on the practice squad protection list but the pair has only played in two games this season. Both of those games came when McCloud was on the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Bills on November 10. With Cam Lewis heading to the COVID list this week and already paper-thin depth at cornerback, these two are an eyelash away from being called up to the roster, especially with only two games remaining in the regular season. Thomas was not on the protected list last week leading up to the game against New England, but returns this week.

Every team has the option to protect up to four players from signing with another team’s active roster between Tuesday and the end of the game that weekend. The rule is in response to COVID-19, to make sure teams have at least 57 players to choose from on game day.

With fully vaccinated players able to come in and play on a day’s notice, the practice-squad protections have lost some of their luster from a year ago, when players would take almost a full week from entry into the league’s protocols to being able to play in a game.