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)

Previous Player Profiles
Hunter HenryEli AppleLaquon TreadwellDadi NicolasKendall Fuller
Deion JonesJihad WardKevin PetersonVonn BellMichael Caputo
Andrew BillingsMackensie AlexanderTyler ErvinAustin BlytheChris Jones

  • Rene Gonzalez

    Let’s see if the Steelers go BPA or BPA in positions of need, that will be interesting. Rankins rotating with Tuitt and Heyward could be a huge plus por the D front.

  • PittsburghSports

    I really like this guy, but his Senior Bowl measurements were 6015, 304 lbs, 32-3/4 arm length. I just disagree, much like Billings, that this guy can play in any scheme, specifically DE for us in the 34 and 245. Looks like a 43/425 DT. Could he play 5 tech in the NFL? Sure, but I would be stunned if the Steelers drafted him for that. I just think we have a template for the type of DEs we use, and I think that extends to the Nickel as well. I just don’t think Rankins has the height/length/wingspan to play for us, as a DE anyway. I don’t know if I’d consider him a NT in a base defense. I think he’d be great as a NT in a 335 Nickel defense though.

  • I’m not against picking a DE in the first round….the way the draft is stacked at the D-line it’s very possible the BPA is a D-lineman, but I doubt Rankins plays a 5-Tech at the next level…and if he did, I’m not sure why he would have to add weight to do so? Like Rankins, but I just think DE’s in a 3-4 defense like ours are at their best when they have some length to them…now there are some that are very good that do not but even those guys have more length to them than Rankins. I would love to have a fearsome rotation/help our stud DEs stay fresh/have an ideal backup at a key position in case of injury–which we don’t have at that position right now…all that would be great but I’m just not sure Rankins fits….and once again I’m not knocking the player, just the position for our team.

  • LucasY59

    I agree with the other commentors, I think it is possible that he could play 5 tech (but I think he would have as much luck as Ziggy Hood had)

    I think he could be a good sub package guy that rotates in (but Im not sure if he would be worth the 1st rd pick in that role)

    I dont think he could play the NT in the base (which would be nice, since they already have 2 premier DEs, and a 3rd DL that can play in the Base D as well as sub package is the only way I see them valuing a DT enough to use the 1st pick on him)

    I think the best thing about him is that another team might take him ahead of the Steelers pick (which pushes a guy they value more, back to them, it could be a different DL that falls because he is picked earlier, or it could be a DB or other position)

    I am almost positive the team that picks him will be a 4-3 team, he might have enough talent to be used in other schemes, but the 4-3 is the one that will utilize his skills the best.

  • Matt Manzo

    Completely agree! Took the words right outta my mouth. I was looking for his arm measurements, hoping they’d be really long!

  • SFIC

    Thanks Josh for finally 😉 posting this one. We can put this guy anywhere on the line. He is best as a weapon playing in the middle on passing downs. He can also be rotated in for Heyward and Tuitt to keep them fresh. I also believe he can play NT too. Just put him in and he’ll make plays. I coveted Aaron Donald in his draft and Rankins is so much like him IMO. He is my fav choice at 25, followed by Hunter Henry and Jaylon Smith. These 3 IMO seem to be the only players that might be available who leave little doubt that they will be solid NFL players.

  • SFIC

    As violent of hands as you will find….wouldn’t want to play patty-cake with him.

  • SFIC

    I see your point, but remember, with Butler we’re more playing multiple sets now and do line up in 43 at times. I recall Lebeau saying (when considering players to draft) “What plays can I draw up to make this guy work for us). I doubt any Steeler fan would reject having Aaron Donald on this team and he is a 43DT and isn’t as versatile as Rankins. Just saying…

  • PittsburghSports

    There’s a Senior Bowl article on here you can search for, and I’m sure they’ll have one for the combine soon too.

  • talldad

    Sounds like Big Mac has been pushed out of the rotation

  • I don’t like to pretend to know who’s available but he’s so much better suited to be an under-tackle in a 3-4 that I don’t think it likely that he’ll be the board when he’s a good value for us. There are better pure End prospects and better DT prospects. For the sake of argument, he could be a Chris Hoke-type swing utility player but I don’t think you draft early for that role.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Who do you think is the best fit for the Steelers in the first round then? I’ve seen you say guys like Billings and Rankins don’t fit because of scheme. So who do you think could provide good value at DL for the Steelers in round 1 and fit our scheme? This assumes guys like Buckner, Bosa, and Spence are gone. Robinson? Dodd?

  • PittsburghSports

    Not sure about DL in the 1st. Maybe we go edge rusher instead. Here’s my top rd 1-2 defensive guys, not including secondary.

    My Top DL prospects for Steelers.

    Chris Jones DE/DT, Mississipi St.
    Jihad Ward DE/DT, Illinois
    Vernon Butler DE/DT/NT, Louisiana Tech
    Carl Nassib DE/Edge, Penn St.
    Bronson Kaufusi DE/Edge, BYU

    My top OLB prospects for Steelers

    Shaq Lawson DE/Edge, Clemson
    Shilique Calhoun DE/Edge, Mich St.
    Leonard Floyd OLB, Georgia

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Yeah I’m a big fan of Nassib, but looks like he and some of these guys can be had in later rounds. I’d have no complaints with Lawson or Butler in the first. Floyd looks too small for OLB for me to warrant a first round pick, but it’s hard to argue with his production.

  • PittsburghSports

    Floyd is 244 lbs. He looks small cause he’s 6′ 6″ tall! Crazy length. Just gotta worry about him not having enough strength. Not small though.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    244 is small. Lawson by comparison is 270. Dupree is like 268. You’re proving my point.

  • PittsburghSports

    That’s a strongside OLBs weight, and that’s on the high end. What’s JJ’s and Harrison’s weight?

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Harrison is 275. Jones is 245 but he’s also 6’2″, not 6’6″, so he’s going to have more functional strength than a guy like Floyd.