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The Sheldon Rankins Effect: Saints Rookie Film Study

We take a closer look at the impact Sheldon Rankins is providing for the Saints.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive tackle position for the Saints has been one of ups and downs, with more downs than ups. Most have chosen to err on the side of caution when it comes to predicting what Sheldon Rankins will do in a black and gold uniform (and in the case of the above picture, a gorgeous color rush uniform). Today, we’re going to take a look at how Rankins has performed in his first fives games as a Saint.

First, let’s take a gander at the stat lines for each game:

Sheldon Rankins Stat Line

Let me reassure anyone who is wondering, for a defensive tackle, especially a rookie, those are good numbers. Defensive Linemen (and Offensive Linemen, for that matter) don’t get a lot of love sometimes because numbers can’t tell their whole story. However, if we compare Rankins’ game log to Nick Fairley’s (who is tied for 5th in the NFL for sacks by a DT) we can see the rookie is already playing at a high level.

Nick Fairley Stat Line

Surprisingly, after only five games of play, Rankins is tied for the NFL Rookie lead in sacks for DTs. The Cowboys’ Maliek Collins has three as well, but has played twelve games. This level of success is certainly appreciated, but if any of you are like me you wonder “how is he doing it?” Here are a couple of Rankins’ better plays from the past few games that show not only his ability, but his versatility as a D-Lineman.

Sheldon Rankins - Denver Sack

On this play we will see Rankins playing 3-tech in a traditional 4-3 front. Cameron Jordan is lined up as the 6-tech on the outside above the Right Tackle, Tyeler Davison is your run stopping 1-tech and Paul Kruger is playing a wide-9 outside of the left tackle. The Saints are showing a blitz look with Craig Robertson and Nathan Stupar, but they will be dropping back into a Cover 2 zone.

In this next image, I want you to take notice of the leverage Rankins uses to get Broncos’ guard Max Garcia on his heels. Once an offensive lineman gets placed in this position, it’s extremely difficult to recover. At this point in their match, Rankins has won. The interior pressure he has created has pushed Garcia back almost two yards compared to the push Davison has on the center. With Cameron Jordan beating his man on the edge, Trevor Siemian will be forced to step up into the waiting arms of Rankins.

As the pocket begins to collapse, you can see Siemian move up to try and avoid the incoming Jordan who he sees to his right. Because Rankins is able to drive the guard backwards by getting under his shoulder pads and using his superior leverage, Siemian has no where to go and it ends up being a sack and a loss of two yards.

Sheldon Rankins - Detroit Sack

While there wasn’t a lot of “good” film from the Detroit game in New Orleans, Rankins did manage some nice plays. We’ll take a look at his sack on Matthew Stafford. The Saints are going to align themselves in a variation of a 3-4 Okie front. (Variation because typically both ends line up as 5-techs directly above the tackles).

Fairley is lined up above the center in a 0-Tech with Jordan and Rankins on the outsides in a 6/7. Not shown in the picture are Sterling Moore and Robertson who will be blitzing from the strong side. Robertson can be seen here getting into position. With the blitz coming from the strong side, Jordan, Fairley and Rankins are all going to crash down in the same direction. The goal here is to either 1. Force Stafford to roll out to his left, or 2. Get enough interior pressure to force the sack before he can escape.

After the snap, several things happen that make this play a success. Moore and Robertson are able to force the LT and LG to pick them up on the blitz, which then places Jordan, Fairley and Rankins all free to fend against only one lineman who are left without any help.

Rankins shows a veteran move by using his arm as leverage to keep the taller and larger Taylor Decker off balance. Decker’s larger frame and taller body would normally seem to be an advantage over a slower DT like Rankins, but in this play Rankins uses Decker’s size against him. Jordan is left to take on the center, and in the below picture is using a spin move to force the pocket to close in on Stafford.

With his pocket collapsing around him, Stafford is now forced to move. Because Rankins was able to push his man far enough back, Stafford is no longer able to roll out and must try to move up in the pocket and find a hole. With the separation already formed, Rankins is able to snag Stafford before he scampers off for a positive gain.

Being brought into attack the interior of the offensive line as a pass rusher, Rankins has found success moving along the line horizontally, and attacking vertically. What might be the most surprising aspect of his game for me would be there isn’t a tremendous drop off when defending the run, like many pass rushing DTs suffer from.

Towards the end of the season, we’ll jump back and look again and some of the plays Rankins shined in. There is a lot of upside for this young DT, and he is starting to show some of it sooner rather than later. Hope you enjoyed the article. I encourage you to let me know what you thought, and what you would like to see in future film studies. God bless, and Who Dat Saints fans.