For 17 games, the Buffalo Bills played as one of the league’s best defensive units. There were some hiccups along the way, sure, but they finished the season second in points allowed and sixth in yards allowed. There were plenty of factors that went into that defensive success, but one underrated component was the health of their one-tech defensive tackle, DaQuan Jones.
With Jones in the middle of the line commanding regular double-teams and eating both blockers and gaps, other players were free to thrive in the defensive system. It wasn’t terribly surprising that the team’s worst defensive performance — in my opinion, anyway — came during the 27-10 loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Buffalo was without their linchpin on the line in Jones, and as a result, the pass rush lacked teeth and the run defense was essentially non-existent.
With that in mind, the team has made it clear that building depth behind Jones is a key task this offseason. Rarely is the question asked, “Who is the backup one-tech on the roster?” However, on a defensive line that relies on heavy rotation like Buffalo’s, the answer to that question could be much more important than many people realize.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile one of the players vying for the title of backup one-tech defensive tackle.
Name: Eli Ankou
Height/Weight: 6’3” 325 pounds
Age: 28 (29 on 6/8/2023)
Experience/Draft: 6; signed as UDFA with Houston Texans following the 2017 NFL Draft
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 6/22/2021, was waived on 8/15/2021, and re-signed on 11/16/2021. He then was released on 8/30/2022 and re-signed to the practice squad on 10/3/2022.
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Ankou signed a one-year deal worth a total of $1.08 million for this season, none of which is guaranteed. He carries a cap hit of $940,000 this year.
2022 Recap: Ankou spent most of the 2022 NFL season on Buffalo’s practice squad, but he didn’t appear in a regular-season game with the team. He did, however, play in both playoff games, notching four tackles across 46 defensive snaps. Thanks to an injury to DaQuan Jones, Ankou started alongside Ed Oliver in Buffalo’s 27-10 loss to the Bengals in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Positional outlook: Ankou is one of 11 defensive tackles on the current roster, signifying Buffalo’s desire to improve depth at the position. While players like Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Kendal Vickers, Kameron Cline, and Cortez Broughton fit more in the mold of a penetrating three-tech, Ankou is one of a host of gap-eating one-tech players. He’ll be competing more directly with DaQuan Jones, Poona Ford, Tim Settle (who can really do both), Brandin Bryant, and D.J. Dale.
2023 Offseason: Ankou is healthy and ready to participate in offseason activities.
2023 Season outlook: Ankou is a very, very long shot to make the roster — though he’d be a solid player to keep around on the practice squad if the team wants someone with familiarity in the defense to plug into emergency situations. Of this group, though, I don’t even think Ankou is the top “emergency” option, either. He’ll have his chance during the preseason to make his mark, but I think Ankou’s days with the team could be numbered given the competition here.