The New York Jets have a winning streak heading into Week 6 — yes, you heard me correctly.
While it’s unclear if Gang Green has officially turned the corner and morphed into an AFC playoff contender, the more obvious observation is that this rookie class is something special. The Jets can build a powerhouse around this core but they still need impact veterans to step up along the way.
One that’s been doing so throughout the first five weeks of the 2022 season is defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins — despite getting very little fanfare.
Jets Analyst Credits Sheldon Rankins for Bounce-Back Year
Rankins is having a bit of a bounce-back campaign after cut rumors swirled around him throughout the offseason, and NFL film analyst Michael Nania is giving him his due.
During a recent article with Jets X-Factor, Nania featured Rankins for his “valiant return to form.” He continued: “He is popping off the screen in a positive way much more often than he did in 2021. I am particularly impressed with Rankins’ run defense. His turnaround in this phase is one of the primary reasons the Jets defense is surprisingly ranked fifth-best in the NFL with 4.0 yards allowed per rush attempt. Rankins has quietly turned into a very solid run defender for New York.”
Ironically, this critique was one of the main reasons that a contingent of fans wanted to release Rankins this spring. A cut could save the Jets some cap space and the former New Orleans Saints first-rounder couldn’t stop the run.
The theory was simple: Why not ditch his contract and sign a 4-3 run clogger in his place?
It was never revealed whether the Jets actually considered this or not, although there were reports that general manager Joe Douglas made a run at DT free agents B.J. Hill and D.J. Jones — who are both top-tier 4-3 run defenders.
In the end, the Jets stood by Rankins and it appears he’s rewarding them now. “Rankins’ gap discipline has been significantly better this year, and it’s allowing him to find the football for big stops on a consistent basis,” Nania detailed. “Through Week 5, Rankins is tied for fifth among defensive tackles with 10 run stops. That is only two shy of the total he had over 16 games last season (12). His run-stop rate of 13.0% is more than double his 2021 rate of 5.3%.”
It’s not just his run defense that has improved though, as Nania went on: “As a pass rusher, Rankins is back to winning his one-on-one reps at the frequency he did in New Orleans. Rankins has a 22.2% pass-rush win rate in ‘true pass set’ situations, which ranks 19th out of 109 qualified defensive tackles (83rd percentile). That is a massive improvement over his 15.6% rate from last year (51st percentile).”
Along with Quinnen Williams, Rankins is helping this defense form a strong interior D-line. The veteran’s best game came against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was in on two sacks and five defensive stops.
Jets D-Line Finally Living up to Camp Billing
For the past two years, the Jets’ defensive line has been hyped as this unstoppable force throughout both summers. In 2021, the unit crumbled after injuries to Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff, among others.
In 2022, it appears things are finally changing for the better. Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 5, the Jets’ pass rushers accounted for 32 quarterback pressures (per PFF). The grading site also gave them credit for 15 QB hits.
Against ball carriers, the defense accumulated 19 “stops,” or “tackles that constitute a failure for the offense,” and D-linemen made six of them. Rankins and Williams registered four out of the six.
If the Jets can continue their improved play up the gut, as well as their pressure rate off the edge, this defense should surge toward the top of the league behind a stout cornerback duo and improved safety and linebacker pairings. PFF ranks the Jets seventh in the NFL in defensive grading after the first five weeks of the season.