Why Kawann Short fell and why Sheldon Rankins won’t
“Don’t get me started on Rankins. He is a top 10 talent in this draft. He is a true upfield disruptor who is smooth, quick and versatile with his hands to win the balance advantage. I’ll go as far to say that Rankins could be this year’s Kawann Short. The Seahawks love disruption, and Rankins would offer it.”
In January 2013 I wrote a piece suggesting the Seahawks should draft Kawann Short with their first round pick (later traded for Percy Harvin):
“He generally does a great job getting off blocks using nice hands and flashing great athleticism for his size. He’ll shoot a gap effectively and gets a nice quick burst off the snap. He’s shown decent ability on stunts to skip wide and attack from a different angle. You see the swim, club and spin moves — so he’ll be creative and keep an offensive lineman guessing. When he gets low and drives into his blocker he can flash a solid bull rush. Sometimes he gets too high and loses leverage but this is coachable.”
Short lived in the backfield at Purdue and there isn’t a player with his pass-rushing technique in this draft class. He fell into round two (pick #44) and has since developed into one of the top defensive tackles in the league.
Surely if a player of that quality can drop all the way to #44 — Rankins could suffer a similar fate?
#1 — Age
Short was a 24-year-old rookie. He turned 27 a few days ago. These are the peak years of his career — and he’s still on his rookie contract. Sly Williams (in Short’s draft class) also fell to the late first round (he was a 25-year-old rookie). Sharrif Floyd was a weaker pass-rusher than both in college — but he was 21 in his rookie year.
Sheldon Rankins is 21. He turns 22 on April 2nd. Age is a factor.
#2 — Motor
There were always concerns about Short’s effort at Purdue. A 2012 game against Ohio State still sticks in the memory to this day. As good as he is/was — he mailed it in against the Buckeyes. Teams often focus on the tape vs your best three opponents. That was a bad showing.
Here’s what I noted in the article endorsing him for the Seahawks in round one:
Unlike Sheldon Richardson and Sharrif Floyd, the motor seems to stop running when the play moves away from his part of the field. Richardson turns into a linebacker when the play kicks out wide, tracking the ball carrier and often being the one to make the decisive tackle. Short, more often than not, shuts down and doesn’t make the effort.
Nobody is going to doubt Sheldon Rankins’ motor. After watching three Louisville games since the Senior Bowl — Rankins just keeps on going. He hustles to the ball-carrier, keeps his feet moving and doesn’t take plays off. Teams are really going to the like the effort they see on tape. It’s similar to Austin Johnson at Penn State who will also likely go early.
Rankins proved he’s athletic when he turned up in Mobile and lit up the competition in practise. Couple that with a relentless motor and it’s a far cry from Short’s inconsistent effort.
#3 — Conditioning
Short always looked big at Purdue — like he was carrying extra weight. This was a noted concern going into the draft. When Short attended the Senior Bowl in 2013 he looked a lot leaner — having shed around 10-15lbs. It would’ve concerned teams, however, that they were going to need to monitor this situation during his career.
Rankins is a compact, cannonball of a defensive lineman. For some schemes he’ll be undersized at 6-1 and 304lbs and it’s hard to imagine him fitting in a 3-4 defense. For the 4-3 teams he’s the ideal size for a three-technique.
Pete Carroll is a Bill Walsh protégé. Walsh’s ideology for each football position was published by the Pro Sports Xchange a few years ago. Here’s what he wanted in a defensive tackle:
Ideal size: 6-2, 290
Must have the girth, strength, ballast to hold off the guard, or to step into a tackles’ block without being knocked off the line of scrimmage.
Quick, strong hands to grab and pull are critical. This is common with the great tackles. The hands, the arms, the upper body strength and then the quick feet to take advantage of a moving man, just getting him off balance.
You are looking for somebody who can move down the line of scrimmage and make a tackle, pursuing a ball-carrier. That would be lateral quickness in a short area, being able to get underway and move over and through people. If you get knocked off the line, or get knocked sideways or knocked off balance, you cannot play this position. You must be able to work your way through people, so that kind of strength is a must.
The best defensive tackles move the offensive guard back into the quarterback. They won’t have nearly as many sacks as others, but if they can move the guard back into the quarterback, then the quarterback has to avoid his own lineman as if he were a pass rusher before he throws the ball. So this is a key ability.
Not only is Rankins close to the size ideal, he also ticks a lot of boxes here. He moves down the LOS easily, working his way through traffic. He’s powerful at the point of attack with the ability to shoot gaps. His compact frame provides the “ballast” and “girth” Walsh refers to.
It’s also worth noting the bit about, “they won’t have nearly as many sacks as others.” For all the talk of needing more pass rush in the interior — Seattle’s preference for stoutness up front is perhaps indicative of Walsh’s influence on Carroll. The one key difference is Carroll’s willingness to sign bigger defensive tackles to achieve the same goal (Athbya Rubin is surely the only 330lbs three-technique in the NFL).
For teams with a similar mentality (eg — Atlanta with Dan Quinn) — Rankins will be just as ideal. The thought of him slipping beyond the Falcons and through to #26 feels like wishful thinking. As good as Kawann Short is — there just aren’t the same kind of question marks with Sheldon Rankins.
One final note. This interaction on Twitter is quite interesting…
Interesting. Hearing similar things. Reflection on work ethic & greater technique needed to be successful vs NFL OL. https://t.co/4s885vevWN
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) February 12, 2016
This is a very deep defensive line class with plenty of big name, star power. It’s also a group filled with compromises.
The more secure, polished defensive linemen will go early. Rankins falls into that category.
If you want an alternative that might be available to Seattle — keep an eye on Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington. He flashed during the Senior Bowl practises with some impressive speed, get-off and hand-use. He was streaky in college but had enough splash plays to be interesting. He might be the best interior rusher in this class. He lacks Rankins’ powerful base and size in the lower body. He is extremely quick.
He also has 34 inch arms (impressive length) and good size with minimal bad weight (6-3, 297lbs).
This is what he’s capable of…
Works to get off the block with great hands, power and speed. Finishes with a sack. He’s too strong and quick for Brian Allen (Jack’s brother):
Adolphus Washington sack pic.twitter.com/059JndikWs
— Matheus Milanez (@biffmila) February 8, 2016
Good use of length to keep Jack Allen away from his frame, excellent counter move after Allen recovers to spin into the quarterback. Would’ve been a splash play in a game:
Draws a double team, reads the play to notice the dump-off before intercepting the pass for a pick-six:
This is how to shoot a gap in the run game:
Fast forward the video below to 11:40 for two snaps of Adolphus Washington vs Joshua Garnett. On the first play Washington tries to bull-rush Garnett who just about contains him (he’s pushed back into the pocket). On the next play Washington wins with a beautiful spin move. Fast forward to 16:15 to watch Washington have Joe Dahl’s lunch money. Dahl does a much better job on the second 1v1.