Jets’ High-Impact Free Agent Not Getting the Attention He Deserves

Sheldon Rankins

Getty New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins chases down Matt Ryan on November 22, 2018.

The New York Jets have plenty of fresh faces in the building in 2021.

After a two-win season in 2020, the franchise needed a shot in the arm this spring, and so far general manager Joe Douglas has delivered.

Some of those new names have gained a lot more attention than others though, like Carl Lawson and Corey Davis or rookies Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore. The total offseason haul has been so impressive that a few really impactful players have gotten lost in the shuffle.

We have already discussed two of those under-the-radar pick-ups in Vinny Curry and Lamarcus Joyner, but Sheldon Rankins has become a third-forgotten acquisition of this offseason.

Rankins’ Injury-Ravaged Past

Part of the reason the Jets were able to sign the defensive tackle to a team-friendly two-year, $11 million contract ($4.5 million guaranteed) was because of his extensive injury history.

The bug bit Rankins early in his career, as the former No. 12 overall pick in 2016 suffered a broken left fibula in training camp of his rookie season.

From there, the defensive lineman tore his Achilles during the 2018 postseason and sprained his ankle late in the 2019 campaign. In total, Rankins missed 17 games during his first five seasons in the NFL.

If you focus on the years he was healthy, however, the defensive tackle’s ability stood out. In 2017 and 2018, Rankins started all 16 games and totaled 10 sacks, 66 combined tackles (17 for a loss), 24 quarterback hits and three turnovers over the two-year span.

That was the height of the defensive tackle’s dominance, but he did muster a slight resurgence in 2020 in terms of his pressure rate. Rankins managed 12 pressures off seven quarterback knockdowns, three hurries and 1.5 sacks.

During his initial press conference with Jets media, Rankins told reporters that he’s “100% healthy.” He added that he feels he can “do all the things [he] could do before and more,” which he called a “blessing.”

Rankins Sees Robert Saleh as a ‘Leader of Men’

Rankins had plenty of good things to say about Robert Saleh’s defense, noting publicly that the head coach was a huge factor in his decision to join the Jets.

He told reporters that he likes the way Saleh’s schemes are “always attacking,” crediting the coach with “winning games with [his] front four” in San Francisco.

Later in the interview, Rankins told Jets media that he feels he has a good eye for determining “leaders of men,” and that Saleh has all the characteristics that he looks for in that regard. The defensive tackle added that when coaches “demand excellence” from their players, it has a “trickle-down effect.”

Saleh definitely appears to fit the mold through minicamp, so perhaps Rankins truly does have a sixth sense.

Rankins Joins Stacked Front Four

The best part of this acquisition is that there’s not too much pressure to perform. The Jets already flaunted a stout front four before Rankins came aboard, with Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers and Lawson topping the ranks.

The veteran was asked about Williams in particular, and he seemed to have great admiration for the young man who was recently ranked in Pro Football Focus’ top 25 players under the age of 25.

He told reporters that he followed Williams in college when he played for Alabama and predicted that the group could “do some damage” in 2021.

At Williams’ most recent media session after minicamp, he told the beat that he was excited to play alongside veterans like Lawson and Rankins, touting their “athletic ability and knowledge.” He specifically noted the former New Orleans Saints star for his “great twitchy moves,” saying he hopes to learn a lot from all the added experience.

In terms of scheme fit, Rankins didn’t seem to mind where the Jets decide to put him, explaining that he’s played both three-technique and nose tackle at different points in his career. He even mentioned that he played defensive end at times in New Orleans.

I still expect Williams to start as the three-technique DT with Fatukasi as the nose tackle on early downs. Rankins would then sub in for Fatukasi on most passing downs.

Whatever the Jets decide to do, the added versatility will help as Rankins can jump in wherever he’s needed. As the ex-Saint put it, you “can’t double everybody” in this Jets front four, meaning somebody is going to eat.

How many sacks and quarterback pressures do you think Sheldon Rankins can accumulate in 2021? Comment on Facebook @HeavyOnJets, or Twitter @obermuller_nyj and @BoyGreen25.

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