DT Eli Ankou (Photo by Steve Cheng)

30 Most Important Bruins for 2016: No. 12 Eli Ankou

July 20 -- Coming in at No. 12 in our rankings is the player filling in for the MVP of last year's defense...

With under one month to go until the start of fall camp, we're going to count down our 30 most important UCLA players for the 2016 season. These are the players we think are going to have the most significant impact for UCLA this year, so don't take this to mean that these are the players we think are the best long-term prospects, or even necessarily the most talented. Every BRO staffer has ranked his top 30 UCLA players, and from that we've drawn an aggregate list.

Today we'll continue with No. 12.

12. Eli Ankou, RS Senior Nose Tackle

2015 Statistics: 47 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks.

Why He's Important: If you were paying attention last year, the most important player on the defense was easily Kenny Clark, UCLA's starting nose tackle, and there wasn't even a very close second. Clark was extraordinary at times, and it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that he was basically the entirety of UCLA's run defense last year. Replacing him is not going to be easy.

While UCLA does get Eddie Vanderdoes back this year, based on spring it looks like he's going to go back to playing the three-technique, much like he did last year, which will free up Eli Ankou to replace Clark as the nose tackle. While the responsibilities are going to be a bit different this year with the switch to a 4-3 front from a 3-4 front, Ankou is going to be taking on more of Clark's responsibilities than Vanderdoes, so he's effectively Clark's replacement. 

Ankou is that rarest of players, one who has improved literally every season he's been at UCLA. When he first arrived at UCLA, he was a relatively unheralded prospect who looked a bit stiff and out of sorts -- we weren't expecting much. Then, after his redshirt year, he started to look a little bit more comfortable, but still like nothing more than a career backup. Then, his sophomore season, he once again improved a good deal, and last year, his junior season, he looked like a legitimate Pac-12 starting-caliber defensive tackle. He's a big, strong dude, probably one of the strongest guys on the team, but he's also increased his flexibility and athleticism while he's been at UCLA. He's not Clark by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a high-quality defensive tackle. If he shows the same sort of incremental improvement this year that he has showed every other year at UCLA, he could be a key piece for UCLA indeed.

The Bruins are counting on a better run defense and a better pass rush this year. So much of that is going to be dependent on the play of the defensive front without Clark. Vanderdoes returning is key, and the improvement of Takkarist McKinley will obviously help as well, but Ankou's ability to hold the point of attack will likely prove critical for any significant improvement in the defensive front this year.

What's Been Said About Him:

"Eli Ankou, we moved him from tackle to nose, he's about 315, he's a natural nose. He's extremely bright and can anchor the position. Had over 500 reps in games." -- DL Coach Angus McClure, April 8, 2016

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30 Most Important Bruins for 2016

RankNameHighest RankLowest Rank
12 Eli Ankou 10 (2-way tie) 21 (Dave Woods)
13 Isaako Savaiinaea 11 (John Evergreen) 27 (Dave Woods)
14 Eldridge Massington 8 (Blair Angulo) 26 (Tracy Pierson)
15 J.J. Molson 9 (Blair Angulo) 21 (2-way tie)
16 Nate Starks 14 (Dave Woods) 22 (Blair Angulo)
17 Jaleel Wadood 6 (John Evergreen) 30 (Tracy Pierson)
18 Kenny Young 13 (Tracy Pierson) Unranked (Blair Angulo)
19 Theo Howard 14 (John Evergreen) 24 (2-way tie)
20 Matt Dickerson 15 (John Evergreen) 29 (Tracy Pierson)
21 Randall Goforth 12 (John Evergreen) 29 (Blair Angulo)
22 Austin Kent 17 (Blair Angulo) 30 (John Evergreen)
23 Bolu Olorunfunmi 13 (Dave Woods) Unranked (Blair Angulo)
24 Deon Hollins 15 (Tracy Pierson) Unranked (Dave Woods)
25 Darren Andrews 12 (Tracy Pierson) Unranked (2-way tie)
26 Kenny Walker 13 (Blair Angulo) Unranked (2-way tie)
27 Mike Fafaul 11 (Tracy Pierson) Unranked (3-way tie)
28 Josh Woods 23 (Blair Angulo) Unranked (2-way tie)
29 Keisean Lucier-South 14 (Tracy Pierson) Unranked (3-way tie)
30 Nate Meadors 20 (John Evergreen) Unranked (2-way tie)

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