The Buffalo Bills’ defense was inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they’ve transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts haven’t been able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at one of the more overlooked defenders in the draft, Louisville’s interior defensive linemen, Sheldon Rankins.
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Sheldon Rankins Physical Attributes
Sheldon Rankins will be viewed as “undersized” as he stands just 6’1” and weighs roughly 300 pounds, but we’ve seen players with similar physical profiles such as Kyle Williams, Geno Atkins and most recently, Aaron Donald have great success despite their lack of “prototypical size.”
Rankins may be short but he has long arms and fantastic burst that allow him to get off the ball in a hurry.
In his four seasons with the Louisville Cardinals, Rankins racked up 131 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, four pass break ups, two interceptions and a forced fumble, with 111 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks coming in his last two years as a full-time starter.
Sheldon Rankins Pass Rush Ability
Louisville used Sheldon Rankins all across the line of scrimmage, playing the one technique (between the center and guard), the three (between guard and tackle), the five (over the tackle) and even on the edge as a seven technique (outside the tackle as an edge defender) and was successful no matter the alignment he was in.
Rankins is incredibly quick off the ball and displays violent hands that allow him to shed blocks and get into the backfield. In the following clip against Florida State this trait is displayed. Rankins is aligned as a three technique as the left defensive tackle. At the snap, Rankins fires off the ball and uses a swim move that causes the opposing guard to get completely turned around and Rankins forces a throwaway, just missing a sack.
Here, Rankins is aligned as a one technique defensive tackle. At the snap, he utilizes his signature swim move to beat the center before crashing through the running back who’s in pass protection. Again, he just misses a sack as the quarterback spins away.
Sheldon Rankins’ pass rushing ability isn’t just about quickness though. He’s got great play strength and has the ability to forcefully bull-rush opposing linemen into the backfield.
In the following rep, Rankins is at the three-technique on the left side of the defensive line. At the snap, Rankins uses his burst and length to get inside the pads of the guard before bull-rushing him nine yards back into the quarterback, who’s again forced to throw the ball away while being hit.
Here, he splits a double team and records another hit.
Sheldon Rankins Run Support
Despite being undersized, Sheldon Rankins is stout when defending the run. He’s got a compact frame and a thick lower base that allows him to hold his ground at the point of attack.
In the following play Rankins is aligned as the nose tackle, over the center. Texas A&M runs a draw and Rankins anchors against multiple blockers before shedding them and making the stop.
Rankins’ ability to anchor and hold his ground allows his teammates to make plays, as you can see in the following play. He’s aligned as a five technique (3-4 defensive end). At the snap he moves the right tackle off the line of scrimmage, clearing a lane for the linebacker to make a stop.
Here, Rankins is aligned outside the left tackle as a true edge defender. He fires off the ball at the snap, extends his arms into the pads of the tackle before shedding the block and recording a tackle for loss.
Sheldon Rankins’ Fit With The Buffalo Bills
Sheldon Rankins is a disruptive and versatile defensive lineman—something that Buffalo Bills’ Head Coach Rex Ryan covets in a player. His ability to play multiple positions at a high level would make him a valuable piece in Ryan’s hybrid, multiple defensive scheme. In a 3-4 front, Rankins projects best as a shaded three or five technique, where his quickness and ability to penetrate the backfield would be maximized.