In Part 3 of our defensive line preview for training camp, we will look at the remaining defensive tackles on the back end of the roster competing for a roster spot: Eli Ankou, Daniel Ekuale, Justin Zimmer, and Jeffery Whatley.
9. Eli Ankou - Backup DT
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 325 lbs | Age: 26
Experience: 4 years | College: UCLA
Eli Ankou was an undrafted free agent in 2017 who caught on with the Jacksonville Jaguars for parts of three seasons. He served as a rotational player for depth in his first two seasons, but was down to the practice squad last year. In October, the Browns signed him off the Jaguars’ practice squad to their active roster.
In 9 games with the Browns, Ankou registered 7 tackles in 183 snaps (which was 17% of the team’s defensive snaps on the year). You can read an article here about him growing up in Canada and now giving back to the community. Cleveland’s depth at defensive tackle was upgraded this offseason with Andrew Billings and Jordan Elliott, so whether the team keeps a fifth defensive tackle on the active roster remains to be seen. Ankou will be in the mix — one good thing for him is that for the chances he had, PFF says he had the second-best tackling grade on the Browns’ defensive line last year.
Final Roster Odds: 20%
10. Daniel Ekuale - Backup DT
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 300 lbs | Age: 26
Experience: 2 years | College: Washington
Daniel Ekuale signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2018, so he’ll be entering his third season with the Browns. He spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad, and in 2019, he made the team as a depth player on the back end of the depth chart.
In 7 games last year, Ekuale registered 4 tackles. He played 110 defensive snaps on the year, which was 10.6% of the team’s snaps. He suffered a calf injury in Week 8 against the Patriots, and was placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Even though Ekuale and Ankou had pretty similar overall grades, Ekuale’s tackling grade of a 29.5 by PFF was the worst on the team. It would be a nice feel-good story if Ekuale kept working his way up from practice squad to contributor, but this year might be the end of the road for him in Cleveland.
Final Roster Odds: 15%
11. Justin Zimmer - Backup DT
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 300 lbs | Age: 27
Experience: 2 years | College: Ferris State
An undrafted free agent in 2016, Justin Zimmer has bounced between the Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, the CFL, the Atlanta Falcons, and now the Browns. Zimmer was signed off the Falcons’ practice squad last December by the Browns to serve as depth. In 2 games with the Browns, he logged 5 tackles, the first regular season action of his career.
It’s pretty unusual to say that a player is entering his 5th year since he first entered the league, and has barely played. In 30 snaps last year with Cleveland, Pro Football Focus credited him with 2 missed tackles. Zimmer had a good showing in one preseason game with the Falcons last year, but as we start thinking about these types of fringe players in 2020, they won’t have those opportunities to shine because of the pandemic.
Final Roster Odds: 5%
12. Jeffery Whatley - Undrafted Rookie DT
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 291 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: Rookie | College: South Alabama
Jeffery Whatley was the team’s only undrafted free agent defensive tackle signed this season following the draft. Dane Brugler had Whatley as the 58th-ranked defensive tackle in this year’s class. He had 4.5 sacks in his senior season and played some defensive end, so Cleveland could try him out at either position. The problem with him is that he is too much of a tweener — he’s not big or strong enough to play the interior in the NFL, and he’s not athletic enough to be an edge rusher at this level. It’s easy to imagine Whatley getting lost in the shuffle unless he’s committed the offseason to transforming his body one way or the other.
Final Roster Odds: <5%
Which of these four defensive tackles do you like the most?
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