Sheldon Rankins seems to have been the perfect choice for the Saints on Thursday night.
As Sean Payton said, “he checks all the boxes.”
He’s big. He’s explosive. He makes a living in the backfield. He is a hard worker, a trait he says he inherited from his mom (a school teacher) and his grandparents.
And most importantly, he fills a need for the Saints.
But there’s one little thing Who Dat nation may not like about its newest player. Sheldon Rankins grew up about 30 miles east of Atlanta in Covington, Georgia. And, because of that, he grew up a fan of the team that Saints fans love to hate.
“Yeah, I was big Michael Vick fan,” Rankins said. “I was a Falcon fan by default. I definitely watched a lot of battles between the Falcons and the Saints.”
Rankins, the 6-foot-1 defensive lineman out of Louisville, switched allegiances Thursday when he was chosen with the draft’s 12th pick.
Other than growing up a Falcons fan, chances are there won’t be a whole lot of other things to not like about the 299-pounder, who should be able to fill a giant void for a defense that struggled last season.
Just ask L.D. Scott, whose voice you could hear blasting through the phone when reached Thursday night.
Scott coached the defensive line at Louisville for the past two seasons. He knew he had something special the first spring he saw Rankins after his freshman year.
“It was obvious he was going to be one of the best players on our team and one of the best in the country,” Scott said.
Rankins had eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss for the Cardinals this past season, numbers that should excite Saints fans.
Rankins, who watched the draft from his brother’s house in Georgia, has only been to New Orleans once. That was his freshman season, when Louisville played in the Sugar Bowl.
“I remember seeing a little bit of Bourbon Street, but other than that, I was there to play football,” he said.
That’s the businesslike approach Scott said best exemplifies who Rankins is.
“I’ve been around a lot of different kids that have went on to the next level, and this is the most professional kid I’ve been around,” he said. “He doesn’t go to bars. He doesn’t drink. He is a real humble kid who wants to just watch film, play video games and spend time with his girl and his family.”
Scott raves even more about Rankins’ efforts on the field.
“They are getting a relentless player who can do it all,” Scott said. “He can stop the run, and he can rush the passer. He is just a phenomenal athlete for his size. Dude is explosive.”
But you probably won’t hear Rankins boast about it — because that’s not what he does.
“He is so vanilla,” Scott said. “You can look all day, and you ain’t going to find anything bad about him.”
Well ... except that he and several of the family members he watched the draft with grew up as Falcons fans. But even that is about to change, according to the reaction he got from family members after he got the phone call Thursday night.
“They screamed,” he said. “For me to go anywhere would have made them scream, just to see my name go across that screen. New Orleans isn’t too far from where I am, so they will be able to make trips down there. … They were saying they are going to have to be New Orleans Saints fans now. We definitely gained a couple fans tonight.”
“We” for Rankins is the Saints now.