2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins

As we delve into the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Steelers are likely to have interest in.

Another defensive lineman today. Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins.

#98, Sheldon Rankins, DT — Senior, Louisville, 6’2, 303

The Good

-Athletic interior defensive lineman that gets off blocks quickly
-Quick first step at the snap allows him to put offensive linemen in a bad spot
-Fast, physical hands at the point of attack
-Good motor in pursuit for a big man
-Uses long arms and powerful core to create separation from blockers
-Lightning-quick swim move
-Played nearly 80 percent of defensive snaps, rarely comes off the field
-Versatile enough to play 0-, 1-, 3- or 5-tech in NFL
-Compact frame, but still flexible to dip and bend around blockers

The Bad

-Tends to over-pursuit on run players, opening up cutback lanes
-Not much of a threat as a pocket-pushing pass rusher
-Takes too long to set up limited arsenal of pass rushing moves
-Prone to getting washed down the line and out of the play against double-teams
-Size is an issue at times against bigger offensive linemen
-Can get walked off the line by bigger, stronger offensive linemen, doesn’t have strong enough base to anchor in those situations
-When caught peaking in the backfield he sets himself up for pancakes
-Secondary pass-rush is below-average


-Recorded 58 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2015
-Recorded 53 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2014
-Played in 43 games as a member of the Cardinals during his four years on campus
-2015 Second Team All-ACC selection
-2014 Third Team All-ACC selection
-Committed to U of L as a three-star recruit, according to Rivals and Scout
-Two-time Second Team All-George selection in high school

Film Breakdown

Sheldon Rankins is getting a ton of hype as a first round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and rightfully so.

Coming off of a dominant season for the Cardinals and a great week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama before hurting his wrist, there was talk about Rankins being a potential top 15 selection.

While I don’t agree with that, I do think he his a late first-round pick due to the combination of power and athleticism along the interior of the defensive line.

Rankins, at 6’2”, 303, is a fit in almost any scheme.

While he doesn’t have the appearance of a run-stuffing defensive lineman, Rankins uses his hands really well to create separation from blockers and then uses his strong core to disengage to make the stop.

Take a look at this clip against Kentucky on a zone-run.

Rankins gets off the ball quickly, shoots his hands out into the guard and then sheds the block to make the stop behind the line.

While Rankins won’t over-powere people as often as other defensive linemen in this class, he can utilize his speed off the ball and his ability to shoot his hands out quickly to stun offensive linemen at the snap.

Look at this play against Florida State.

At the snap, Rankins gets his hands on the lineman quickly, stunning him and standing him up, pushing him into the backfield into the way of Dalvin Cook to bottle up the play.

Along with his speed and length inside, Rankins is quite athletic for a defensive lineman. Much like Baylor’s Andrew Billings, Rankins moves well in space, making it look effortless at times.

Take a look at this clip against Kentucky.

Rankins reads the quarterback’s eyes and sees the wide receiver screen coming. By quickly disengaging, Rankins is able to make it out into the slant/curl zone to make the tackle.

It might not look like a great play in the clip, but it showed me just how athletic Rankins is.

That being said, this is my favorite clip of Rankins that I’ve come across while watching film.

Against Florida State on the road this past season, Rankins was an absolute terror in the Seminole backfield. While he’s not an overly-impressive pass rusher, he has the raw ability of an interior pass rusher that can create major problems in the NFL.

Rankins combines his quickness off the ball, his strength to stun the center with a club and then the fast swim move to get into the backfield unblocked, forcing Everett Golson to scramble.

Although Rankins doesn’t get Golson on the ground, this play reminds me a lot of Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald.

No, I’m not comparing Rankins to Donald, so don’t crush me in the comments. That being said, I see a lot of similar traits between the two.

After breaking down as much film on Rankins that I could get my hands on, I feel comfortable saying he can play in any scheme in the NFL.

He’s so versatile along the interior of the defensive line, and if he adds weight at the next level he could slid outside to a 3-4 defensive end.

I really like Rankins’ game. He’s a quick riser and rightfully so.

Projection:  Mid-Late 1st round

Games Watched:  vs. Kentucky (’14), at Florida State (’15), vs. Texas A&M (’15)

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