When Sheldon Rankins answered his phone during the offseason he received a quick introductory primer on the energy and passion of the Jets' first-year head coach Robert Saleh.
"He's literally the man who called my phone, trying to talk me through why I'd fit this organization and this scheme," Rankins told reporters after practice on Monday at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "He's been that man every day I've been here, and will continue to be. I always take pride in feeling the vibe and the energy, and he's been that man every day."
Rankins (No. 12 in 2016), who joined the Jets in free agency in March, is among a group of players general manager Joe Douglas signed this year -- WR Corey Davis (No. 5 in 2017) and LB Jarrad Davis (No. 21 in 2017) are two others -- who were high draft picks the Jets believe can still to reach their full potential. Rankins joins a defensive line that is talented and deep across the front.
"First and foremost, I'm going to speak about the elephant in the room -- Carl Lawson," Rankins said. "He hasn't been stopped yet. It's what I expect having known him dating back to high school." Rankins (Covington) and Lawson (Milton) each played their high school ball in Georgia, outside Atlanta.
"We have a lot of real dudes in the room," Rankins, 27, said. "Carl, Q [Quinnen Williams] once he gets out there, Foley [Fatukasi], JFM [John Franklin-Meyers], Shep [Nathan Sheppard]. We've got a room full of guys, all of us can hold our own and make plays and take over games."
As a rookie, Rankins, another Louisville alumnus along with OT Mekhi Becton (more on that later), joined a Saints defense that ranked 31st in points allowed. An injury limited him his first season, but Rankins played in all 16 regular-season games in 2017 (2 sacks, 16 solo tackles, 5 TFLs and 9 QB hits) and 2018 (8 sacks, 25 solo tackles, 12TFLs and 15 QB hits). His production was off the past two seasons as he dealt with Achilles tendon and knee injuries.
Now in a new defensive scheme, which he said feels liberating, Rankins is ready to "let it go, be explosive."
"For me I'd say there's a difference in that I have to tell myself to let it go, this defense lets you be you," he said. "For the last five years we attacked in New Orleans and were playing gap. It was sound football, make sure you're in your gap building a wall. Here the idea is to get yards into the backfield. Every day I find myself getting more comfortable and looking better and better.
"I expect this front to be damn good. I've played with some dudes, but the dudes I'm playing with now and in this scheme the sky's the limit. Whoever we roll out there, we're coming. When that group gets tired the next group is coming. And then we expect to do it for 60 minutes week-in and week-out, and dominate games."
Rankins, a self-professed film junkie and student of the game, said that he's familiar with his new teammates from rolling the videotape over and over. And he's impressed and excited.
"At end of day guys with the guys we have they [the opposition] can't key on one guy," he said. "If you double-team Carl, I'd say thank you gladly, we'll take those one on ones. It's going to be fun, exciting playing in this defense. Now we just have to go out and capitalize."
Asked about Becton, his fellow Louisville alumnus, Rankins said: "After leaving, I've watched Louisville a good bit and I've been impressed with him. For a guy his size to move the way he moves has always been impressive. The first thing you see is that he's a big dude. Then after 10 minutes thinking about how big he is you see him move, play football gracefully. There's potential he's tapping into. It's going to be a challenge, he's going to win some and lose some. That's the way this league works."