General manager Joe Douglas hasn’t had the best luck with his 2021 free-agent class.
The New York Jets inked 11 veterans during the initial signing frenzy in March and four of them suffered long-term injuries before the season reached Week 2. That list included Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry, Lamarcus Joyner and Jarrad Davis.
Of course, that doesn’t even mention minor the injuries that have befallen players like Tyler Kroft, Keelan Cole, Tevin Coleman and Justin Hardee. This crop of veterans has been through the wringer and outside of Corey Davis, the success has been minimal.
There is one other signing that has had an understated impact though, former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
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Match Made in Heaven
When he chose the Jets in free agency, Rankins was clear that head coach Robert Saleh had a lot to do with his decision. At the time, he told reporters that he’s a very good judge of character and that the new HC seemed to be a “leader of men.”
It’s no surprise that Rankins can spot that trait in Saleh because he has it in himself. “It starts with leadership,” the D-tackle told Otis Livingston during the final preseason game, and he’s quickly become one of the outspoken voices of this young Gang Green defense.
He’s also shown incredible foresight and patience. Rankins told Livingston that changing the culture in New York might take time. “That’s something that’s not easy… you got to have the right people involved and everyone has to buy-in. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight but over time with the right people, everyone buys in and eventually you start to see a shift. We’re hoping we can make that shift sooner rather than later and I think we’re on the right track to doing that.”
When things got off to a rocky start, Rankins was a calming presence during postgame interviews. He backed Zach Wilson and told reporters that “sometimes you got to stumble [and] trip in order to start walking and running.”
Coach Saleh couldn’t help but compliment the veteran during his press conference on October 6. “Sheldon, [I] just have so much respect for his game and he was available… and it was just a perfect match in terms of his style of play and the way we asked him to play… and he’s showing it, you could already see last year that he was getting back to what he was when he was drafted and his second year when he was so productive… when you talk to people around the league especially in that [Saints] building, [you learn] he’s an unbelievable leader, he’s got tremendous work ethic the way he takes care of his body, he’s meticulous in everything that he does and I’m just really excited for him and the success that he’s having so far.”
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Rankins’ Game Is Sneaky Good
The former first-round draft pick may be vocal off the field but he’s quiet on it — and not in a bad way. Rankins doesn’t always make the headlines playing alongside Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers, but his game is sneaky good.
We always throw around the term disruptor when discussing pass-rushers nowadays and Rankins is one. Through four games, the ex-Saint has four tackles (one for a loss), one sack, three quarterback hits and one fumble recovery. Those stats may not jump off the page but the veteran is one of those players that has an impact on every snap. Watch him get to Teddy Bridgewater here to destroy the play.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rankins already has eight quarterback pressures, five of which came in a breakout performance against the Tennessee Titans. He’s also accumulated four defensive “stops” with solid tackling grades on the season (70.9).
Rankins one weakness has been against the run, but he’s known to be more of a pass-rushing defensive tackle. That’s why he and Folorunso Fatukasi make the perfect tandem when switching on and off the field. Foley is the run-stuffer and Sheldon is the pass-rusher.
Despite that, the lineman is coming off his best performance of the season versus the run (and that was matched up with Derrick Henry), with a formidable 70.7 grade. On the season, he’s earned combined pass rush marks of 66.8 (73.6 in Week 4).
It’s easy to overlook Rankins on the field with the star-studded cast that surrounds him but I urge you not to. This integral member of the Jets D-line can help return us to the days of the New York Sack Exchange.