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Saints 2016 Year in Review: Sheldon Rankins

Will Rankenstein be a Monster in 2017?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints made rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins their first round pick (12th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. It was duly an expected and unexpected pick, as draft prognosticators favored the Louisville product to the Saints (for myriad reasons), yet some of us simply were uncomfortable precluding Sean Payton’s affinity for offensive playmakers.

Alas, Rankins was selected, and Who Dat Nation collectively nodded in agreement. Have a look at Rankins’ college reel courtesy of Harris Highlights.

This, by the way, was the first time the Saints had selected a DT in Round 1 since 2008, when we took Sedrick Ellis out of USC.

I’ll see myself out for that mention.

In 3 years as a starter at Louisville, Rankins amassed 70 tackles (of which 30.5 amounted to a loss), 17 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and, surprisingly, 2 interceptions (per Sports Reference). Despite being just a 22 year-old rookie, the expectation was that he’d be a plug & play at the LOS, year 1 - until he broke his fibula in training camp.

Rankins was subsequently placed on the IR, where he wouldn’t see his first bit of action until November 6th against the San Francisco 49ers. Through the 9 contests in which he appeared, Rankins accrued 4 sacks, 20 tackles (6 QB hits) and a forced fumble.

Over a 9 game span those numbers for an interior defender are impressive. If you were to (cautiously and with obvious caveats) extrapolate his performance over the 7 games he missed, his adjusted stats for a full season are closer to 35 tackles, 7 sacks and 9 QB hits - Tremendous stats for any DT, particularly a rookie.

Coming out of college, Rankins garnered comparisons to Los Angeles Rams stud DT Aaron Donald. They were likened on the basis of their similar size and play style: shortish and stocky, quick off the snap and each possessing a repertoire of moves.

For reference, in Donald’s first season as a pro (2014), he appeared in all 16 games and accrued 48 tackles, 9 sacks, and 7 QB hits. For his efforts, Donald’s a 2-time All Pro, 3-time Pro Bowler, and was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014. Two years prior to Rankins coming out, Donald was selected a single pick lower at #13.

Will Rankins be a disruptive force a la an Aaron Donald? That remains to be seen, and I’m certainly not doing the former any favors by drawing comparisons to Aaron friggin’ Donald. Let’s not forget that Donald was positively nightmarish at Pitt where, in his final season there he put up 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles.

In the very least, I see a resurgence from Rankins in a (hopefully) healthy 2017 campaign and, given his performance as a rookie, this would do a fledgling Saints defense wonders. The undying optimist that I am, Rankins is liable for a breakout sophomore campaign in which he compiles no fewer than 8 sacks en route to a Pro Bowl bid.

In such a case, I humbly call dibs on “Rankenstein’s Monster”.