Rankins joins an already-stacked defensive line featuring the likes of Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers, and the recently-signed Carl Lawson.
It’s hard to argue that the Rankins signing was made to fill a position of need. Instead, this is a case of strengthening an already-existing strength.
The Jets are also showing a commitment to adding players who have raw talent, but may not have reached their full potential yet. Rankins is the latest example of such a player.
The NY Jets are betting on Sheldon Rankins’ upside
The 12th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Rankins’ NFL career got off to a rough start when he suffered a broken fibula in training camp. But he did return and record four sacks in just nine games while playing a part-time role.
It was enough to earn him the starting job in 2017 and it didn’t take long for him to emerge as one of the best young interior rushers in football. His 2018 season stands out as the best year of his career.
Rankins finished with a career-high eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 15 QB hits, and the former Louisville standout looked like he was on the verge of stardom. Just watch some of his tape from that season — he had all the makings of a future All-Pro.
Unfortunately, disaster struck when Rankins tore his Achilles in the divisional round of the playoffs. That injury would bother him in one way or another for the next two years.
Rankins missed six games in 2019 and another four in 2020 still dealing with effects from the Achilles tear. However, the Jets are clearly hoping that he could return to form in 2021.
And by his own admission, he’s the healthiest he’s ever been now.
Rankins can realistically rotate all over the interior of the defensive line with experience playing anywhere from a true 0-technique nose tackle to a three-technique shading the guard.
In Robert Saleh’s system, it’s likely that he’ll rotate between playing the 1-technique and 3-technique roles. It’s easy to see him making an impact on passing downs when he can replace Folorusno Fatukasi at 1-tech.
The Jets now have three high-upside interior rushers in Williams, Rankins, and Franklin-Myers. This also could indicate that the Jets see Franklin-Myers as someone who can start outside at the 5-technique defensive end role opposite Lawson.
The former fourth-round pick found his most success last season as an interior rusher, but has experience playing an edge-rusher role with the Los Angeles Rams.
Saleh’s defenses thrived in San Francisco in no small part due to their dominant defensive line. Not only was their defensive front laden with All-Pro talent such as Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead, but it was deep as well with guys like Ronald Blair and D.J. Jones playing important roles.
The Jets are seemingly looking to recreate that magic in New York. And given the inexperienced cornerback group the team is likely to trot out come Week 1, the hope is that the pass-rush will alleviate some of the pressure by providing some of their own.
The Sheldon Rankins signing reiterates what has been a point of emphasis for the Jets this offseason.
They want an identity on defense, and as it stands, that identity is going to revolve around their defensive line.