The 2016 NFL Draft is almost here, and before we know it the Buffalo Bills will be turning in their card with their first first-round pick in two years.
Historically, the Bills have drafted a player who visited them pre-draft with their first-round pick. Leading up to the draft, we'll be looking at key visitors for Buffalo, to see who makes sense for them at No. 19 overall.
First up, it's Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
Rankins came to Louisville from Covington, Georgia. He became a starter as a junior, collecting eight sacks and two interceptions, and he added another six sacks as a senior. He's a 22-year-old health and human performance major.
While Rankins' 6'1", 299-pound frame might have you thinking of him as Kyle Williams' understudy, don't limit yourself. With 33.5-inch arms, Rankins has additional length on his frame that came in handy at Louisville. He played anywhere from one-technique to five-technique in their hybrid defense, and was successful wherever he lined up.
Explosion is the name of the game with Rankins. His heavy hands come out quickly and help him shed blocks. With a 34.5-inch vertical leap and 5.03-second 40-yard dash, Rankins has one of the best bursts of the defensive line class. He's also gifted in the weight room, putting up a healthy 28 reps on the bench press at the Combine.
Run defense and block shedding
This is where Rankins could mostly stand to improve. While he's frightening in a one-on-one matchup, his strength is much less imposing when he's double-teamed, as he can't really make his length work for him. Rankins isn't always pushed off the ball in the running game, but he can be turned aside in time for a back to run by. Rankins will flash a big play in the run game every now and then, just like Williams is capable of doing. He'll walk a guard into the backfield or swim through the line to log a tackle for loss.
Pass rush refinement and creativity
Rankins is the top pass-rushing defensive tackles in this class today. His fast feet and powerful hands are a serious challenge for any lineman, and he's already developing a rip, swim, and a killer spin move that all help him find space to make plays. He can handle stunts with aplomb, and uses his teammates well to set up sacks.
Fluidity in space
As I've already mentioned, Rankins is exceptionally agile for his size. His body is fluid enough to succeed in pursuit angles that other defensive tackles can't match. He'll chase down screen passes and tackle them for a loss, and he can bend the edge just enough to earn a bonus sack or two on his second wind against a lineman.
If the Bills are looking for their own version of Sheldon Richardson, or a replacement for Williams (who will turn 33 before training camp this summer), Rankins should be near the top of their list. While he might not be available at pick No. 19 due to his status as a top defensive tackle, smaller-sized tackles have dropped in the draft before (recall Aaron Donald falling to No. 14 overall, for example). The Bills need a pass-rushing talent infusion, and Rankins can be that guy (with upside) from day one.