Sheldon Rankins, signed by the Jets as an unrestricted free agent last week, is a quiet but confident defensive lineman whose goal on the field is "to dominate." Here are five things you may not have known about the newest addition to head coach Robert Saleh's refurbished four-man defensive line.
The Louisville Cardinals had a superb 2014 season and sent 10 players into the next spring's draft. Rankins, then a junior, said he was "extremely close" to making it 11, but he decided to remain in college for his senior season, not only to play one more season of college ball but also to finish his course work and receive his degree in exercise science.
And his senior season secured his first-round status as New Orleans grabbed him 12th overall in the 2016 draft.
The Quiet Man
In a nola.com feature on Rankins after the Saints drafted him, it was said he never seemed to leave the weightroom in high school and could always be found in the filmroom in college. This all led to predraft media coverage focusing on how "boring" he was.
"I'm a quiet kid and I'm really reserved," Rankins said after the draft. "I'm pretty much laid-back and keep to myself. I've always been that way. I have always been a very observant kind of guy. I'm just a hard worker and I come from a hard-working family. My mom is a teacher, my grandparents work hard. That's just what I've been built on. Work hard and good things will follow."
One Large Measurable
Yet Rankins' confidence can shine through when he's talking about his passion. Louisville listed him as a DE but he played strong end, 4-3 tackle, 3-4 nose and even wide end on the weak side. "I play everything," Many snaps, the coaches would run in a new D-lineman with a specific role, who would then tell Rankins what position he was playing that down. Rankins then shifted to a different position for that play.
He was so confident in his versatility that in 2015 he lobbied then-Cardinals HC Bobby Petrino to line him up at QB on the goal line and run a power keeper. "Every time, 10 of out 10, there's no stopping me," he said in the Louisville Courier-Journal. "A yard? I'm a yard myself."
Rankins didn't get any carries in college, and he hasn't played an offensive snap in his pro career. Yet.
See the Best Photos of the Former Saints Defensive Tackle and Jets Free Agency Signing
Fighting Through Injuries
Rankins has powered through several football injuries. Two in 2018-19 were related as they involved both of his Achilles tendons due to a condition known as Haglund's deformity, a bony bump that develops on the back of the heel bone where the tendon attaches to the heel.
He tore his left Achilles in the Saints' 2018 home playoff win over the Eagles. Nine months of hard rehab later, he returned to action on MNF against Dallas.
"I wreaked havoc all last year," Rankins said after his return. "To finally be able to put it together in the NFL, what we all dream of as kids, is being able to get to this level and dominate, have your peers recognize that you dominate, have your peers recognize the level of player you are. To finally be able to do that was special.
"When it all came crashing down, it hurt."
He played 10 games in 2019 but Haglund's painfully reappeared, this time in his right Achilles. He ended his comeback season three games early for surgery to repair the right ankle before he suffered another tear.
Rankins' Achilles didn't bother him last season but he did miss four midseason games with an MCL injury.
Flock of Cards
Rankins becomes the 11th Louisville Cardinal to appear on a Jets roster since 2000. The list includes Jets LT Mekhi Becton, drafted in Round 1 last year, and four more offensive players — RB Bilal Powell, T Breno Giacomini, QBs Teddy Bridgewater (with the Jets for the 2018 offseason/preseason only) and Matt Simms (at Louisville in 2008), and WR Josh Bellamy. On defense: Jets safeties Kerry Rhodes and Calvin Pryor and LBs James Burgess and Lorenzo Mauldin also played at Louisville.