METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints first-round
draft choice Sheldon Rankins can accept people calling him boring, as long
they're referring to the way he spends time away from football.
"I'd use, 'laid back,' but whatever word you guys
choose to use is fine with me," the 6-foot-1, 299-pound defensive tackle
said as Saints rookie camp wound down Saturday. "I'm a real simple,
laid-back guy. If I'm not doing anything football related, I'm usually just
kind of hanging out, relaxing."
The 12th overall pick doesn't even have much
experience with social media, having only recently set up an account with the
website Twitter. His account, as of Saturday afternoon, showed that he'd posted
a total of eight messages — all of them football-related.
Indeed, Rankins figures he'll need plenty of rest and
minimal off-the-field distractions if he is to meet the Saints' expectations of
him. When Rankins was drafted, Saints coach Sean Payton said he viewed his new
defensive lineman as versatile enough to play on any down, and in short- or
long-yardage situations. They want the former Louisville standout to
alternately stuff the run and collapse opposing quarterbacks' pass protection
up the middle.
Certainly, that's what the Saints need after ranking
second-to-last in the NFL in total defense last season and 25th in the league
in sacks with 31.
"Obviously, he's a guy that we had targeted. We
were lucky to get him. He's an outstanding young man and I expect him to do
what it takes to become a good player," Saints defensive line coach Bill
Johnson said it isn't realistic right now to make an
evaluation of any rookie that would project accurately into the regular season.
Players were not even wearing full pads in rookie camp. But what he saw of
Rankins, he liked.
"We saw a lot of athleticism. We saw
explosiveness. He's very efficient in his movement," Johnson said.
"We don't know if he's a three-down player yet. ... It's just way too
early to tell, but I think from a prospect standpoint, as Sean likes to say, he
had a lot of the boxes checked."
As a defensive captain at Louisville last season,
Rankins had six sacks, as well as 13 tackles for losses. He also returned a
fumble 46 yards for a touchdown.
Payton praised Rankins for showing up to rookie camp
in good shape and called him a "quick study."
But Payton also stopped short of projecting how
prominent of a role Rankins would be ready to handle in his rookie season.
"Time will tell. History would tell us, for some
guys, the transition's quicker. For some guys, it's not," Payton said.
"Just the early portion of the installation and watching how things are
going, I think from a mental standpoint he's extremely sharp and he's got some
leadership to him."
Rankins said leadership came to him naturally during
high school and college football. He said it's not something he necessarily
seeks out, but that he works hard to earn teammates' respect, and they, in
turn, tend to listen when he chooses to talk.
"I've never said too much. I'm always observant.
I'm always looking at finer details. It's safe to say I'm very serious about
what I do," Rankins said. "When I got to college, I looked at the
guys who were doing things right, followed behind them, eventually took over a
leadership role. I'm going to come in here and do the same thing. ...
Eventually, it will be my turn to lead."
Before rookie camp began, Rankins agreed to his first
pro contract — a four-year deal worth about $12.8 million. By Saturday night,
his first set of practices had ended and the renowned nightlife of New Orleans
beckoned to anyone with the means to enjoy it. Rankins, however, was showed
little interest in experiencing the Big Easy the way so many others do.
"I'm here to play football. That's what I love to
do. That's what I'm going to continue doing," Rankins said.
"Everything outside of that can wait."
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Posted on Sun, May 15, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer