The Buffalo Bills had trouble maintaining solid play along the defensive line last year, especially as it relates to the defensive tackles. The team has very specific things that they want their interior defensive linemen to do, so when one of those spots doesn’t perform as expected, the rest of the defense suffers.
In particular, Buffalo did not have the strength at the “1-tech” spot that they expected with the return of veteran Star Lotulelei. He was often overmatched or out of the lineup, which led the Bills to experiment with some other players at that spot. Some of those players, like Ed Oliver, weren’t really suited to the gig as the two-gap defender. Other players, like Harrison Phillips, played well enough, but the team still needed some depth along the interior line.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we talk about one of those depth players—a practice squad call-up who overperformed expectations.
Name: Eli Ankou
Height/Weight: 6’3” 325 lbs
Age: 28 (29 on 6/8/2023)
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 11/16/2021
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Ankou re-signed in February, agreeing to a one-year deal worth a total of $1.035 million. Thanks to the veteran’s minimum cap exception, his cap number should he make the roster is $895,000. None of the money in the contract is guaranteed.
2021 Recap: Ankou began training camp with the Atlanta Falcons, the team with whom he’d finished the 2020 season. Ankou was waived in June, and he signed with Buffalo a few days later. He didn’t quite make it through the preseason with Buffalo, as he was released in August. The Falcons re-signed him, but they waived him on August 31 as part of final cut-downs. Ankou then signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad on October 5, only to be released a week later. He signed with the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad on October 26, but he was released less than a week later after starting in a regular-season game. He made three tackles on 18 snaps in Tennessee’s 34-31 win over the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills signed him to their practice squad on November 16, and he ended up playing in five games for the Bills. He was credited with nine tackles and a sack of Tom Brady on 91 defensive snaps.
Positional outlook: Ankou is one of the few holdovers from last year’s defensive tackle group, as Buffalo has gone with a full-scale makeover at the position. Ed Oliver and Brandin Bryant remain from last year, and the Bills also brought in old friend Jordan Phillips. Veterans DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle join undrafted rookies Prince Emili and C.J. Brewer in rounding out the group.
2022 Offseason: Ankou is healthy and he has participated in all OTAs to date.
2022 Season outlook: On paper, the top four here looks pretty settled (no pun intended), as Oliver, Jones, Settle, and Phillips are a reasonably safe bet to be the group that makes the final roster. Given the flexibility among some of Buffalo’s defensive ends, like Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa, who can both kick inside on passing downs, I don’t see a scenario where more than four defensive tackles are on the roster. That puts Ankou on the outside looking in, but as a 1-tech who knows the defense and who performed reasonably well last year, I imagine that he’ll be a priority practice squad signing for Buffalo once the team makes its final cuts.