Most football evaluators – Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera included – agree that defensive tackle is the strongest position in the 2016 draft class. As a member of the talented group, Louisville's Sheldon Rankins is well aware.
"You look top to bottom, the names speak for themselves, their tapes speak for themselves," Rankins said at the Scouting Combine. "I've talked to a lot of those guys and I'm cool with a lot of those guys. But at the end of the day, it's a competition."
The challenge for Rankins (6-foot-1, 299 pounds) and the other top level defensive tackles is separating from the pack.
Rankins – ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock – is a clear first-round prospect after an impressive four-year college career.
As a junior, he had a breakout season, posting eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Rankins followed that up with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a senior.
"I just feel like I bring so much to the table," Rankins said. "I feel like I'm versatile enough to play in any scheme. I feel like I'm versatile enough to play all up and down the defensive line. I feel like I'm intelligent enough to grasp just about any defense and I feel like I'm dynamic enough to stay on the field all three downs."
Three-down defensive linemen are highly coveted in this league, and Rankins takes pride in carrying a heavy workload.
"I think it's something that you have to take pride in," Rankins said. "One thing that's big on that is conditioning. When it's time to go condition, be the first guy up. Win the reps and things like that to make sure that, come fourth quarter, you're not gassed, you're not huffing and puffing while these guys are over there trying to march down the field to win the game.
"If you have a mindset that you're going to go out there and dominate for every down, I think you can go out there and do that."
Combine that mindset with Rankins' physical tools and natural pass-rush ability, and you've got a player every NFL defense could use.
"I go out there every day, every game, and I try to leave my mark," Rankins said. "If I'm not making the play, I'm pushing guys in the backfield, I'm causing disruption, causing pullers to be knocked off, things like that. Hitting the quarterback. Anything I can do to cause disruption, I just feel like I'm that guy."