As we keep looking at players that the Green Bay Packers will likely keep on eye on, we are inevitably going to find ourselves doing a little wishful thinking. Sheldon Rankins is probably a case of just that. In reviewing mock drafts by Todd McShay, Mel Kiper, NFL Draft Scout, Draft Tek and NFL.com Mock Draft Central, Rankins is generally projected between picks 12 (Saints) and 19 (Bills).
At the Louisville Pro Day, Rankins said, "I definitely feel that I'm one of the top, if not the top defensive tackle within the draft." Looking at his work, many find themselves hard pressed to disagree. Scout, Inc and CBS both have him listed as the best defensive tackle available in the draft.
Rankins has the benefit of having played in the 3-4 at Louisville, but many consider him too small to play on the interior of an NFL 3-4 line. At the Scouting Combine, Rankin measured 6'1" and 299 pounds. That size would make him more of a fit for a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end. Rankins seems more like a Mike Daniels type, high motor, thick, but short.
Beyond the size measurements, Rankins put up strong numbers at the Combine. His 28 reps at the bench press was equal to Robert Nkemdiche and just five less than the best defensive lineman. Dadi Nicholas' vertical jump was 5.5" clear of the field, but he weighed just 235 pounds and Rankins' 34.5" was just one inch below the second best defensive lineman. Rankins landed a 118" broad jump to finish top ten in that category as well. His 7.44 second 3-cone drill was a great number for a defensive tackle and only about two-tenths of a second behind speed rushers like Emmanuel Ogbah and Noah Spence. It is also key to point out the 5.03-second 40-yard dash. This provides a measureable profile of a player with explosiveness, power, strength, and speed. These numbers were all good enough that Rankins stood on his Combine numbers and did not preform any of these tests during his pro day. Instead, Rankins ran through defensive lineman position drills and showed his skill set.
The other big assessments from the Combine included a line of medical testing. Rankins pulled out of the Senior Bowl on the second to last practice with a knee injury. Rankins insists that there was an erroneous report of a sprained knee when in fact he had an aggravation of a bruise from a prior injury. Rankins started working out again a week later. "I made it out of that healthy and with no red flags, so that was a blessing."
While Rankins does not exhibit the height and weight of the prototypical nose tackle, he has great strength and holds the point of attack well. He used his speed, power and upper body strength to create mismatches. He demonstrates great athleticism. If you want to see the sort of athleticism he can showcase, check out his fumble recovery and return for a touchdown against Boston College. Rankins has the ability to be a three-down player as he is a stout run defender and has the athleticism to move inside and pass rush when needed. He has great body control and uses his lower body strength to create leverage.
On the field, Rankins gave Louisville the production that one would expect of a top-tier lineman. As a Junior, Rankins started every game and had 18 TFL, 8.0 sacks, and even two interceptions. Rankins earned Third-team All-ACC. Rankins returned for his Senior campaign and did not disappoint. Rankins produced 13 TFL and 6.0 sacks and was named a Second-team All-ACC.
Again, this article may be an exercise in futility as it is almost universally agreed that Rankins will be off the board well before the Packers pick at #27. Still, as a draft preview, this would be a nice reality to have. He certainly would not fit at full time nose tackle, but he has the ability to play all along the line or as a sub package tackle and would make a difference from day one.