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Free Agent Spotlight: DT Sheldon Rankins

Should Suh or Nacho not re-sign, Rankins would be a good alternative at the DT position.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons
Sheldon Rankins #98 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after making a sack during the second half of an NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Today we’ll be looking at Sheldon Rankins, a once highly touted defensive tackle that was taken 12th overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2016.

The former first round pick is coming off of his fifth year in the Big Easy which was less than memorable. However, just a few years ago he was looking like he was finally finding his way as a top interior pass rusher.

So will he a be a Buccaneer in 2021? Well, only time will tell, but let’s dive in to see what he would bring to the table.

Sheldon Rankins’ Career Thus Far

Coming out of college, Rankins looked to be one of the better defensive tackles in the class as he was the first one off the board. He came into New Orleans looking to be a starter but unfortunately missed the latter end of training camp, as well as the first seven games of the season, due to a broken fibula.

Despite his initial absence, Rankins came back and played the last nine games of his rookie campaign. He finished with 20 tackles, three tackles for loss, four sacks, and one forced fumble.

Going into the 2017 season, the former Louisville Cardinal looked to continue his success, especially as a pass-rusher. However, this never really materialized as he finished the season with only two sacks after playing 77 percent of the defensive snaps.

In 2018, Rankins exploded onto the scene as one of the league’s top interior pass rushers and finished the season with the seventh most sacks by a defensive tackle, with eight (tied with Cameron Heyward). On top of this, he recorded 40 tackles and 15 QB hits en route to his most productive NFL season thus far.

As his time in New Orleans continued, he really just couldn’t stay on the field and his production took a major hit because of it. During the 2018-2019 playoffs, he tore his Achilles and ended up on IR once again.

Since then, he just really hasn’t been the same player. Despite showing flashes of his 2018 form, he’s never really gotten back to that point and really can’t remain healthy as he ended up on IR in both 2019 (ankle sprain) and 2020 (MCL sprain).

Why It Works

Despite Ndamukong Suh stating that he wanted to come back for the 2021 season, nothing is set in stone yet. Even if Suh does re-sign, the Buccaneers need to look to bolster their depth at the defensive tackle position with question marks surrounding Steve McClendon and Rakeem Nuñez-Roches.

Even with Rankins’ injury history and lack of interior pass-rush, he would still be a good fit for this Tampa Bay defensive line, especially against the run. He is still an incredibly stout run defender who can withstand blocks and clog running lanes.

Here’s a clip from his best game of the season which came in Week Five against the Los Angeles Chargers:

Take a look at the strength he displays here when he is being blocked down. Instead of being driven down the line and taken out of the play, he takes a wide stance, hunkers down, and waits for the running-back to make a decision before he makes the tackle for loss.

When comparing him to the depth pieces that were a part of the Bucs 2020 Super Bowl run, he would look to be an upgrade over Nuñez-Roches and probably bring the same production that McClendon did but at a much younger age.

But...

There really is not much of a pass rush from this guy. Despite his eight sacks in 2018, he hasn’t come close to reaching that number again as he’s only picked up three and half through the past two seasons.

Here’s a look at his only solo sack from the 2020 season:

See anything wildly special here? Frankly, no. He essentially comes through unblocked here and sacks Justin Herbert before the rookie QB had time to escape.

While interior lineman aren’t always called upon for their pass rush, there needs to be some sort of a pressure element and he just can’t seem to supply that anymore. Through watching the tape, it’s clear that the explosion he once had isn’t quite what it used to be.

On top of this, he’s only played two 16 game seasons as he has spent a good amount of time on IR through his other three. Can he stay healthy? Well, that’s a big question mark and one that I assume many teams are taking into consideration.

What’s the Cost?

Since Rankins is coming off of his rookie contract, it’s difficult to say what he would be comfortable playing under. However, Over the Cap has him valued at just under $2 million/yr based on his limited production in recent years, while Spotrac has him valued in the $11.3 million/yr range.

While it is difficult to say which end he will end up on, I would assume that it would be WELL over the Over the Cap formulation and quite a bit under what Spotrac predicts. Looking at Pro Football Focus, they predict that Rankins will sign a 2 year, $7.25 million/yr deal which looks to be more in the range that I could see him being paid.

What We Don’t Know

Can he stay healthy? Honestly, this is one of the biggest question marks with Rankins. Despite his ability to stuff the run, the best kind of ability is availability and he just hasn’t been available as often as teams would like.

We also don’t know what the Bucs are going to do with the defensive tackle position. With so many questions about Suh, McClendon, and Nuñez-Roches, will the Bucs even be in a position to pay a situational defensive lineman somewhere near $7 million/yr?

Based on the free agents they are trying to re-sign, I would expect that a lot of that money would have to hit sometime down the line and I don’t know if they would want to hurt the cap in future years to sign someone that is looking to prove themselves.

Make the Decision

What do you think? Do you think the Bucs should be placing calls to Rankins’ agent to see what he wants to make in 2021? How much are you concerned with his injury history/lack of recent production? Let us know in the comments below!

Poll

When it comes to Sheldon Rankins, what would you have the Buccaneers do?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Sign him, no matter what
    (1 vote)
  • 19%
    Make an offer, but keep it reasonable
    (47 votes)
  • 15%
    Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes
    (38 votes)
  • 26%
    Call him up if they have a need after the NFL draft
    (64 votes)
  • 37%
    Don’t need him
    (89 votes)
239 votes total Vote Now