MOBILE, Ala. — Perhaps the worst part of Sheldon Rankins’ trip to the Senior Bowl was that it ended three days early because of a knee injury.
Rankins, a defensive tackle from Louisville, entered the week determined to answer any questions NFL scouts had about him and he knew there would be plenty — mostly about his size. Standing at 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, Rankins is slightly undersized when considering prototypical build of an NFL defensive tackle.
The Covington, Ga. Native rattled through those questions on Tuesday.
“Am I too small? Would I hold up against the bigger competition? Am I really able to rush the passer as much as I think I can?” Rankins asked. “Just being on the field and being able to prove that is what I came to do.”
During the first two days of practice, Rankins was certainly proving it. He often got the best of the South team’s interior offensive linemen during one-on-one drills, using an explosive combination of speed and power to get into the backfield.
He set the tone early on Tuesday, utilizing a forceful spin move to fly past Michigan center Graham Glasgow. Rankins jabbed quickly to Glasgow’s right and forced the center to open his hips toward that side, only to spin back in the opposite direction. Before Glasgow could turn around, Rankins was in the backfield.
Though Rankins will not participate in the game on Saturday, he continued his strong showing on Wednesday. In some mock drafts, Rankins has been tied to the Washington Redskins at the No. 21 pick. With veteran nose tackles Kedric Golston and Terrance Knighton pending unrestricted free agents, Rankins could be a strong addition to the Redskins’ defensive front.
In his final two seasons at Louisville, Rankins had 14 sacks.
What Rankins lacks in size, he makes up with versatility and diligent preparation. He prides himself on his versatility. Louisville played a 3-4 base defense but would often mix up its looks, which had Rankins play both inside and outside.
At the urging of former Cardinals defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, now the outside linebackers coach with the Chicago Bears, Rankins watched film constantly.
“I’ve never been 6-5, 325 pounds and I don’t even know if it would truly benefit me,” Rankins said. “I’ve been successful at the size I’m at. I make plays, do some great things and continue to put my best foot forward. I use my mind. Pre-snap, I notice a lot of different things and pick up on things as the game goes on, staying one or two steps ahead of the offensive linemen in front of me. It’s about being able to dissect the big picture. Most of [the scouts] know what I can do. They just want to see what I do naturally and go from there.”