Jets’ Sheldon Rankins opens up on overcoming career ‘rock bottom’

Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins tackles some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby. 

Q: Describe your on-field mentality. 

A: Much like I am off the field, I’m very calm, very mild-mannered, I’m just very at ease, at peace. And then, the closer the play approaches, my hand’s in the dirt, I’m looking at what I’m supposed to be looking at, I’m getting ready to get off the ball … at the split moment (snaps fingers) that ball is snapped, it’s, for lack of a better term … just “f–k him up,’ the guy in front of me. That’s all I’m thinking about, do whatever I got to do — whether it’s play a double team, whether it’s pass rush, running a guy over, swiping around or spinning around, whatever it is. Just kick his ass all day, and then, when they blow the whistle, I go back to peaceful, chill, I’m relaxed. Amongst all the chaos that goes on on the field, you can ask anybody, I’m literally always like I’m sounding in this interview right now. 

Q: What drives you? 

A: My family and my loved ones, and everybody in my support system. Everybody’s who close to me. Everything I do I do for them. And then also, probably my biggest thing that really drives me is my failures, or what I feel are my failures or shortcomings or what-ifs or different things like that — whether it’s the injuries I’ve sustained, whether it’s the two Achilles ruptures and repairs that I’ve had to endure … and missing games and different things like that. At the time of the first Achilles, I felt like I was playing at a top-five, top-10 D-tackle level, and then everything about my pursuit of perfection has been just about doing everything I can to achieve that level of success again, achieve that level of dominance again. … I feel like each and every time I step out on the field — and it’s maybe something I do to myself — I always tell myself that nobody thinks I can play football anymore. I always tell people like Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, those are the days I reflect on the game, thinking about some good plays I made, bad plays I made, but by the time I come in here on Wednesday and it’s time to go to work, I’ve convinced myself that nobody thinks I’m good at football anymore. And every time I put my hand in the dirt and every play I play is used to not only convince myself, but to convince everyone else that I’m still a guy who can do this s–t at a high level. 

Sheldon Rankins
Sheldon Rankins tackled some Q&A with The Post’s Steve Serby.

Q: What are you most proud of? 

A: I’m proud of myself because I’m still here. I tore the first [Achilles] Jan. 13, 2019, divisional round of the playoffs against Philadelphia Eagles, second drive of the game. I remember the play like it was yesterday. Fast forward three months, I lost my grandmother. At that time it felt like I was as rock bottom as you can get. Grandmother was a huge part of my life and one of the forefronts of our family, and just always provided joy and great spirits for me on everything I did. And obviously with the Achilles, just feeling like when you get knocked down when you’re feeling like you’re in such a high, the natural thought process is, “Will I be able to get back to that?” 

So doing everything I did to get back and fight through my own emotions and dealing with depression and dealing with anxiety and dealing with all that, then to fast forward to December 2019, then my right Achilles goes. That was Year 4, and then coming back for Year 5, and it didn’t go exactly great or anything like that. … And then free agency, COVID year, all that stuff. … There was a time I really just thought I was done. Honestly, I was a first-round pick, I had made enough money to live comfortably the rest of my life. But I didn’t know if I had enough to give to this game anymore. I honestly didn’t know if I could play at a high level anymore. I never just wanted to be a guy who was just playing to collect a check, I never wanted to be a guy who was just playing just to be on a team. 

Every time I step on the field, I wanted people to point at me and be like, “Yo, he’s a ballplayer. You got to make sure you bring it when you line up against him.” … There was a while where I felt like I just wasn’t that anymore, and then not a lot of teams were calling and trying to offer me a contract, so it was a weird situation. I honestly was very close to just calling it a career, and just being done playing. Then obviously this situation worked out, and here I am. Yeah, I’m most proud of myself that I’m still here, I’m still fighting, I’m still going. And I’m showing myself and anyone else who’s doubted my abilities that I’m still a high-level defensive tackle, and I’m still getting better. 

Q: How did you get through the depression and anxiety? 

A: It was tough. Family and support system … therapy … prayer. And just leaning not on my own understanding, trusting in the fact that there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know, and still don’t. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m perfect now and it’s all gone, like I still have my moments of anxiety and depression and different things like that, it’s still something that I still at times battle with. … It’s an ongoing process of healing and understanding, and it’s something that you lean on those closest around you, you lean on those who love and support you, and you trust the fact that you do everything in your power to help yourself and allow those around you to help you. Don’t be stubborn and don’t fight off the help. Understand that there are people that love and care for you. And they want to do everything in their power to see you do well and see you be happy. Like I said, I have my moments, but overall, I’m in a great space, and just continuing to live my life that way. 

Q: What time period was that when you were at a low point? 

A: 2019, 2020, even last year. It’s still a thing where I have my moments, and there’s moments where the anxiety tries to creep in and it messes with me. But like I said, through therapy, through people who love and support me, every day’s its own battle, and I do my best to win those battles every day. 

Q: Can you become the same player you were prior to all the mishaps? 

A: I do my best not to compare the two. With everything that I went through, with all the things that I’ve done, comes wisdom and comes understanding where I’m at in my career. Do I still feel like I’m one of the better D-tackles in this league? Absolutely. Do I still feel like I can impact the game for three downs and play the run well and rush the passer well and create havoc? Absolutely. But I’ve grown to do my best to not compare where I’m at now to where I used to be, but accepting and doing everything I can to push myself to become a better version of who I am each and every day. … Obviously, I have my moments, we’re all human, we sit down and we reflect and different things like that, but for the most part, I leave what I’ve done prior to injuries and such in the past and just use it as motivation to continue to push on myself every day to do everything to achieve all the goals that I still have set for myself. 

Q: What is the most unfair criticism or the criticism that bothered you the most? 

A: I take it all personal. I do. For anybody who’s ever criticized me or anything, I hear it all, I read it all. That pushes me more than my successes. I think I’ve always been a guy who’s used anything anybody had bad to say about me, I’ve always used that over looking at all the things I did well. I use it all as fuel, and it pushes me every day to keep going. 

Q: Whatever comes to mind: former Saints coach Sean Payton. 

A: Hall of Fame coach. Guy who gave me opportunity to do this and will forever be one of my favorite coaches and people forever. He’s as great a dude as he is a coach, and love that man to death. 

Q: Drew Brees. 

A: Best I’ve ever been around. When I look at what it takes to do it at the highest of the highest level every day, no matter what you’ve accomplished, he is that. After Saturday walkthroughs, he would still be in the indoor, going through plays by himself up and down the field, going through progressions, checks, all that. He could have just decided to roll out of bed and be like, “Ah, I’m Drew, I got it.” 

Q: Describe the NFC Championship game loss to the Rams while with the Saints following the 2018 season. 

A: Ooh, you brought that sore subject up. … It’s funny, because JFM [John Franklin-Myers] and Tanzel [Smart] were on that [Rams] team. Me and JFM always go back-and forth about it, because he swears that was not a [pass interference] penalty, and I’m like, “What are you talking about? That was the biggest no-call ever in life.” I didn’t get to play in that one, I tore my Achilles the game right before it, but always tell JFM like, “Yeah if I would have played, y’all would have lost, absolutely.” 

Q: Where did you watch the game? 

A: I watched it in the house. I was fresh off surgery in a cast on a scooter thing, like I couldn’t walk. 

Q: Did you punch the TV screen? 

A: If I could have walked up to the TV screen I would have punched it. 

Q: Did you watch Super Bowl LIII after that, a 13-3 Patriots win? 

A: I did watch it, because I wanted to see the Rams lose. Absolutely. 

Q: Describe Robert Saleh. 

A: Amazing leader, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity he gave me. 

Q: What makes him an amazing leader? 

A: He’s very on top of the pulse of his team. He makes sure he’s in touch with their thoughts, what’s going on with them, how they’re feeling body-wise, mentally, emotionally, all that. When you combine that with obviously his knowledge of the game and everything he brings from that perspective, you get the amazing culture, amazing leader that he is. 

Sheldon Rankins celebrates after recording a sack in the Jets' win over the Packers.
Sheldon Rankins celebrates after recording a sack in the Jets’ win over the Packers.

Q: Who does Quinnen Williams remind you of? 

A: He’s like a mix of Fletcher Cox and Cam Heyward to me. The thing that makes Quinnen so elite is his hands, his ability to get guys’ hands off, his ability to strike people is elite, and to displace people and get them moving backwards and to get their hands off of him. 

Q: If you could pick the brain of any defensive lineman in NFL history, who would it be? 

A: John Randle … Warren Sapp … Jurrell Casey … Julius Peppers … Aaron Donald — he’s, to me, the best football player I’ve ever seen. 

Q: If you could go 1-on-1 against any offensive lineman in NFL history? 

A: [Longtime Vikinga guard] Randall McDaniel. 

Q: How did the Sheldon Shimmy post-sack dance originate? 

A: I watch a lot of battle rap, and sometimes guys will say a crazy line or something, and that was one of the things one of the guys I was watching would do. And I was like, “I like it. I like it.” 

Q: You won the Saints’ 2019 Ed Block Courage Award for displaying professionalism, strength dedication and being a role model. 

A: It’s a helluva an honor. I don’t really like talking about things I went through and all that stuff, and overcoming it all, but to have all that stuff acknowledged, it’s definitely something I’ll probably more so appreciate as I continue on. 

Q: Is your mother the biggest influence on your life? 

A: I’d say so. I watched her scratch, claw, do everything she could to make sure her children had everything they ever wanted, needed, even when we didn’t have much to give. She sacrificed a lot. I’m forever grateful, forever indebted to who she is as a woman, as a mother, for making me the man I am today. 

Q: The Hardy Boyz? 

A: I used to be a huge WWE fan. I used to be flipping off furniture, and doing wrestling moves on my cousins and stuff like that. 

Q: The Swanton Bomb? 

A: That was Jeff Hardy’s signature move. I used to do it off the couch, I flipped off the couch, I kicked out a window once doing that. Tried to hide it, my grandfather found it, got very upset. 

Sheldon Rankins
Sheldon Rankins
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

Q: Three dinner guests? 

A: Barack [Obama], Denzel [Washington], Michael Vick. 

Q: You used to be a running back at one time. 

A: Yeah, about let’s call it 80 pounds ago. The last time I was like a full-time running back, eighth, ninth grade whatever it was, my stats for the year were 29 carries, 591 yards, nine touchdowns. 

Q: Why were you moved? 

A: At some point, you just keep eating. 

Q: Favorite movie? 

A: “Why Him?” 

Q: Favorite actor? 

A: Denzel. 

Q: Favorite actress? 

A: Julia Roberts or Anne Hathaway. 

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer? 

A: Drake … but I listen to a lot of old-school jazz. I listen to a lot of Miles Davis, John Coltrane. I listen to classical music. Grew up in the church, so I listen to a lot of gospel music. 

Q: Favorite meal? 

A: To keep it as simple as possible, whatever I’m making. 

Q: You’re a good cook? 

A: I’m an amazing cook. 

Q: What would be your signature dish? 

A: Last time I cooked, I had the D-line over. I made two racks of ribs, I grilled some chicken, got burgers, brats, all that. I did a jerk honey butter lamb chops, mac and cheese, baked beans. They didn’t get this last time, but next time I cook for ’em, I’d make an amazing pound cake. This is what makes me happy, food. 

Q: Have you tried Sauce Sauce yet? 

A: I have not had Sauce Sauce yet. I told him, this was during camp when he [Sauce Gardner] was talking about that I have not had it yet. I’m not going to lie, I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I don’t listen to those. I just want my own bottle, and he needs to make that happen. I’m not going to go purchase my own teammate’s bottle sauce — no, he has to get that for me.

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