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Sheldon Rankins Brings Bengals Power And Poise: 'One Of Most Gifted Guys I've Been Around'


Trey Hendrickson, the Bengals' relentless Pro Bowl sacker who plays on the edge with an edge, sees the same kind of blade in the mindset of the newest Bengal.

"What most people won't know about Sheldon is his X and O IQ. He's off the charts football smart," says Hendrickson of veteran three-technique Sheldon Rankins, his old teammate in New Orleans. "He knows the scheme. He knows the blocks. Not only would he know what plays were coming based on formations, but he would learn how they disguise plays."

Rankins introduced himself to the Cincinnati media Monday as "a football junkie," with a prodigious memory and he came right out of the box, recalling that the combustible Hendrickson got tossed from his first rookie minicamp practice. Rankins then became Hendrickson's "wrangler," keeping the enthusiastic young buck away from post-snap skirmishes.

"He's right," Hendrickson said.

In great detail, Rankins, who Hendrickson also says has moves most edge rushers don't, then proceeded to break down how he broke down the Bengals with a career-high three sacks last season for the Texans in a game Houston needed everything to beat the Bengals at the gun.

Rankins says he greeted Bengals head coach Zac Taylor not with, "hello" but with "why the hell (sort of) didn't you slide to me?"

Oh yeah.

Rankins is most certainly the leader in the clubhouse to win the media cooperation award on his third different team. (After winning it with the Saints and Jets, he almost won it last year in his lone season in Houston but lost to a hard man to beat in personable rookie quarterback C.J. Stoud.)

Rankins' all-access-all-22 memory captures why Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow reminds him of another teammate in New Orleans, future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

"He's never rattled and that was the thing with Drew," Rankins said. "I've seen Drew take some shots and then come back on the next play and double pump and hit the tight end down the seam in between two guys like he's playing 7-on-7. Even go back to the game we played them with Houston. The long touchdown to Ja'Marr."

With ten seconds left last year in the third quarter on second-and-12 from the Bengals 36, Bengals right guard Alex Cappa got a good set on Rankins. But Rankins still had enough power to make Burrow sense the interior was no place to step up.

So Burrow whirled outside to his left and made one of those hellacious throws against his body for a 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase that he dropped between safeties Jalen Pitre and DeAndre Houston-Carson to pull the Bengals within 20-17.

"Prior to that, we had hits on him. We were in his face, harassing him," Rankins said. "Then on that same play, I got a lot of push and he kind of stepped out of the way, steps off to the side, and launches a bomb to Ja'Marr right on the money. A lot of similarities with Joe there, never being rattled. He's calm no matter what's going on. I look forward to being on the good side of a lot of highlights with Joe Burrow.

"Having a bona fide top 5 guy, we know every time you take the field, you know you've got a chance. Being able to pair that with knowing what we can be on defense, Joe is going to handle the offense and I'm going to do everything I can to help this defense."

Hendrickson says to watch the power the 6-2, 305-pound Rankins generates. Especially note third down, he says.

"One of the most gifted guys I've been around. Naturally one of the most gifted strong guys I've seen," Hendrickson said. "He probably worked for 20 years to get there. All I saw going into the locker room was he had 600 pounds and squatted it like it was nothing. Explosively strong.

"It shows on third down. His twitch. His moves. He's got spin moves most edge rushers don't have. Incredible moves."

Rankins has had so much success against the Bengals in four career games (six sacks, eight QB hits, 17 tackles) that he had to thank his new team.

"Listen, Who Dey has been kind to me, whether they meant to be or not," Rankins said. "They've been really kind to me. Now they're kind to me. I appreciate it."

It turns out the Bengals didn't slide to him in his first game against them in 2018 with the Saints, either, when he specifically remembers beating the left guard "Clint Boling," for a sack.

But he also was getting help from the Bengals in the person of another future Hall-of-Famer, three-technique Geno Atkins, the 6-1 wunderkind who made being short a tall trend in the trenches. Rankins studied the Atkins Diet of moves.

"Geno was part of the inspiration for a lot of my power rushes," Rankins said. "The way he was able to shock guys and come out clean and then cause a lot of destruction. With him being a shorter guy, I was trying to watch guys with similar body types and movement. Geno, Aaron Donald, Jurrell Casey. I watched those guys always looking to grow my game."

Although he turns 30 in two weeks, Rankins and Hendrickson insist he's still at an elite level. At $26 million over two years, the Bengals definitely think so. Early in his career, he dealt with an enlarged bone spur on the heel, which ended up with two Achilles' surgeries, one repairing the tear from the 2018 playoffs and the other preventing another tear. He's missed just six games in the 2020s, when he's had 13.5 sacks, one of 16 interior players with that many in the decade.

"I feel like I am still ascending as a player," Rankins said. "A lot of people will kind of look at my career and say I had some down years. There are also some years I've just been really beat up. There was a year I suffered, essentially, I went through two Achilles' surgeries in the span of a year.

"As hard as it is to get back from one of those, I had to get back from two of those as well as get better in the process. A lot of people don't understand how hard it is to come back from injury to get to the level you were at. But also have to get better. I just think being able to be healthy the last few years has really allowed me to just attack my craft and hone in on the things that I feel like I need to do to get better to really be the dominant player I know I can be. For me, I feel like when I watched last year. I had a really productive year but there is still so much more left for me to do."

Hendrickson saw what Rankins had to go through.

"I'm happy for him and his family. That he's been able to set them up the way he has after all the adversity he's faced," Hendrickson said. "You can't script that. He's still playing at an elite level. It's incredible and a testament to how hard he works."

Rankins, the football junkie, says he's surprised Bengals nose tackle DJ Reader left for the Lions. But he's not surprised to hear people say he can't play the run as well as he plays the pass.

The Bengals were going to be looking for a nose tackle whether they lost Reader or not. So that plan is the same. But Rankins says he can be a factor against the run.

He points to playing 59% of the plays last season for the Texans' sixth-ranked run defense. In that 2018 season, he played 62% of the snaps for the Saints' second-best run defense while racking up a career-high eight sacks.

"I felt like I could be something that was missing," Rankins said. "What I add in terms of leadership. In terms of being able to rush the passer, I know I don't get too much credit for it but I feel like I stop the run pretty well. Otherwise, I wouldn't be a guy that is out there all the time. I feel like everything I can do, I feel like I can do it at a high enough level to really push this group forward and really be a true force for this team."

Rankins went with the 12th pick in the 2016 draft, so the Bengals knew they would never have a shot at him because they were picking at No. 24. But it always seemed like he was meant to be here. After every season he seemed to beat up on them, it always seemed like the Bengals were calling in free agency.

"This isn't the first time to pick up the phone and requesting my services," Rankins said. "It's like the girl that, hey, I'm going to just be your friend for now. And then, maybe when she looks at you, you know, he's kind of cute. You know, they were persistent. And you know what? Let's give this a shot."

His old mate Hendrickson knows he's got a way with his play as well as his words:

"A huge addition for us."

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