Sheldon Rankins is the free-agency gamble at center of Jets strength

As the Jets get closer to training camp, I am examining the roster and giving you my top 25 players. Each weekday, we will reveal another person on the list, leading right into camp. I am not including rookies on this list because I do not feel it is possible to fully evaluate them before they play a game. 

No. 8: Sheldon Rankins

Last year’s ranking: Unranked (not on team)

Position: DT

Age on Opening Day: 27

How acquired: Signed a two-year, $11 million free agent contract on March 25

Years left on contract: 2

2021 Salary Cap figure: $4.5 million

Looking back at 2020

Sheldon Rankins playing for the Saints in 2020.
Sheldon Rankins playing for the Saints in 2020.
Getty Images

Rankins has battled injuries in each of the last two seasons with the Saints. Last year a knee sprain cost him four games. He ended up playing in 12, starting one for New Orleans.

Rankins only played 40 percent of the defensive snaps, a far cry from the 77 percent he played in 2017 for the Saints. He had 20 tackles, 15 quarterback hurries, 10 stops (a loss for the offense), 1 ½ sacks and nine quarterback hits. 

PFF graded him 66th out of 126 interior defenders.

Outlook for 2021

Sheldon Rankins sacks and strips the ball from Jared Goff
Sheldon Rankins sacks and strips the ball from Jared Goff
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Jets are rolling the dice that Rankins is now healthy. He ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the 2018 playoffs and it was discovered he had Haglund’s Deformity, a condition that put stress on his Achilles tendons. He had preventative surgery on his right Achilles in 2019. Rankins said he is now 100 percent and the condition has been taken care of.

If Rankins can regain the form he showed early in his career, this signing could look like a steal for Joe Douglas. Rankins will be a big piece of a bulked up defensive line, joining Quinnen Williams and Carl Lawson to form the strength of the Jets’ team.

The Jets need Rankins and the defensive line to perform well to take pressure off of their secondary, which is going to feature some very inexperienced players. 

Robert Saleh’s defense is led by the front seven. The 49ers had major success when their defensive line was clicking with Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead. Saleh is hoping to recreate that kind of success with the Jets. Rankins and Williams present a formidable duo in the middle of the Jets’ defense with Folorunso Fatukasi able to spell them at times. 

Rankins was not one of the big-money contracts the Jets handed out in free agency, but he may end up proving to be a value signing if he recaptures his old form. 

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