No one knows who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to draft at number one, so draftniks are getting creative .We've seen Jack Conklin pop up lately, and Pewter Report has been banging the Sheldon Rankins drum for months. The latest to join the chorus is Cris Collinsworth, who gives the Buccaneers Rankins in his latest mock draft.
I think Rankins has the chance to be one of the stars of this draft. His lack of prototypical size at the D-tackle position is going to scare some people off, but as we've seen recently from the likes of Geno Atkins, Aaron Donald and Malik Jackson, elite quickness from inside pass-rushers can make superstars out of the outside pass-rushers because the quarterback can no longer step up in the pocket. Rankins has that type of elite quickness, and in 2014 he graded as the second-best interior defensive lineman in all of college football. His pass-rush ability would help take pressure off of the Bucs' pass coverage, which ranked dead-last in PFF grades last season.
I like Rankins, I do, but the Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald comparisons are a little absurd. Perhaps he's like Geno Atkins as a prospect, without the character rumors, but Donald's athleticism was on another level, both in tests and on film. Donald was the fastest defensive tackle at the NFL combine, ever. Rankins, meanwhile, didn't even break 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and had fairly pedestrian short-area agility numbers as well -- though he dominated the broad and vertical jump.
Aside from athletic tests, Rankins doesn't really jump off the film the way McCoy, Atkins and Donald do. When they move, their talent is obvious even when they're not beating the offensive lineman they're facing. Rankins, though, looks a lot slower. He only pops on film in beating linemen, not by his movement. You notice him because of what he just did to a lineman -- that's good, obviously, but it suggests that the absolute top isn't quite within reach for him.
Rankins looks like a good player, but the push to have him drafted in the top ten seems a bit much. Like a lot of players in this draft, he's being pushed up because there's a lack of elite, eye-popping talent. Of course, top ten teams still need to make picks, even if the available players wouldn't normally be "worth it", so it's entirely possible Rankins will still be a top ten pick.
For the Bucs, Rankins could actually be a good long-term fit at nose tackle, and a nice third or fourth defensive tackle in a pass-rush rotation inside while he grows into a starting role. He reminds me a little of Clinton McDonald, though McDonald's probably a better athlete. The problem for the Bucs is that they have an abundance of players rushing the passer inside on passing downs: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Akeem Spence, Robert Ayers, William Gholston -- Rankins would be a pure luxury pick. That's not necessarily bad -- he'd at least get on the field -- but it's not what you ideally want out of the ninth overall pick.