With the No. 12 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints draft Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
The Saints need all kinds of help on their defensive line, and Rankins is an absolute monster in the Sheldon Richardson mold. Rankins can play head-over-nose, three-tech and five-tech. His short arms could affect his ability to hold blockers off, but he’s a high-motor guy who will be even better when he adds to his limited palette of hand moves. A huge coup for New Orleans.
Weaknesses: While some will ding Rankins for his height, his arm length may be the bigger problem at the next level. He does have a fearsome punch, but he sometimes struggles to latch his arms out to provide that kind of push. Will be more of a run stopper than a pass rusher if he plays end, as his arm length issues are more pronounced against elite left tackles, and he doesn’t yet have a signature pass-rush move. Created most of his pressure through speed and power and will need to expand his technique. Shows some signs of rip and swim moves, but needs to develop them further. Rankins occasionally comes off the snap late and can be washed out of the play as a result. Pad level can get inconsistent at times, and against better tackles outside, that can be a problem. Needs to do a better job of analyzing gaps against slide protection so he doesn’t get overwhelmed by the momentum.
Conclusion: It’s kind of amazing: In a sport where “low man wins” is a common mantra, and several defensive tackles who are shorter than the norm have emerged as dominant players, Rankins is still slipping down some boards because he’s not 6' 3". His body type makes him an ideal power three-tech in a 4–3 defense, but he’s a player who could succeed in any hybrid defense with the right structure and technique work. From Geno Atkins to Mike Daniels to Jurrell Casey to Aaron Donald to Grady Jarrett, there’s a long list of interior D-linemen who were relatively undervalued coming out of college because they didn’t fit an arbitrary height requirement. Those players have made the critics look foolish, and Rankins has every bit of the potential to be the next one to do so.