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Martinas Rankin film review: backup or potential starter?

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Breaking down Martinas Rankin’s first two starts with the Kansas City Chiefs

Houston Texans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Three games ago, the starting left guard — Andrew Wylie — went down with an ankle injury, as the Kansas City Chiefs fell to the Indianapolis Colts.

Losing a single interior offensive lineman typically wouldn’t be a major setback for a top-tier offense, but when the backup offensive guard is already starting at left tackle (Cameron Erving), it becomes a much more significant issue. So the Chiefs called upon newcomer Martinas Rankin to step into his place.

Rankin was acquired via trade with the Houston Texans just before the season began.

Coming into the NFL out of Mississippi State, Rankin was considered a versatile offensive lineman who played most often as left tackle in college but had experience all over the line.

The draft community was split on his best position in the NFL, as some thought his athleticism would fit best at offensive tackle while others wanted him to move inside to center. The Texans played Rankin at tackle most often during his rookie year before deciding to move on from him in exchange for Carlos Hyde.

In Kansas City, Rankin profiles as another lineman with versatility that could develop into a starter — or, at the very least — the perfect sixth lineman.

As Fisher’s injury lingered and Erving was forced into playing more games, there were more and more questions about whether Rankin would be up to speed on the offense and get a chance with the starting unit. Then the Wylie injury happened, and fans wondered if Erving would slide back into guard, where he has played much better, or Rankin would try out a new position.

Two games ago, Rankin started at left guard next to Erving, who continued to play at left tackle. Offensive line positions are never set in stone with Andy Reid, but let’s see what we’ve learned about Rankin in his two games in a Chiefs’ uniform:

Martinas Rankin

Hand usage

The skill that first jumps out from Rankin on film is his hand technique and his ability to keep adjusting throughout the rep. His initial punch is inside the defensive tackle and is powerful enough to jolt the rusher, but his hands were a little high. As the defensive tackle can remove Rankin’s inside hand, Rankin drops lower and digs the defensive tackle’s dip-and-rip while continuing to maintain control with his outside arm. The defensive tackle punches up a second time, trying to remove Rankin’s inside arm, but Rankin releases and re-engages in the defensive tackle’s armpit, giving him control on both his outside and inside arm and winning the leverage battle.

After the initial punch, this became a bully rush plan by the defensive tackle, just trying to crash the interior of the pocket. Rankin’s continuous hand adjustments to maintain leverage frustrate him, and he gives up no ground. The defensive tackle actually ends up trying to throw Rankin to the ground, which results in both of them on the ground.

Movement

Rankin excels in his movement ability, which is likely why he gets consideration as a tackle. While he’s had some inconsistencies with his kick slide in terms of depth and maintaining base — apparently an issue the Chiefs are comfortable with, as Erving was re-signed — his feet are quick, and his hips are fluid. While he plays his best with his hand connected to his defender, allowing him to utilize his technique, Rankin has the foot quickness to mirror a rush plan while just framing his rush.

On this play, his hands stay patient on his initial drop. He forces the defensive tackle — whose pad level tips off some form of pass rush move rather than a bull rush — to commit first. Rankin uses his inside arm, first to slow down the initial inside move — and he only slides his feet a little bit not to work out of position.

The defensive tackle then tries to swipe again and works back outside, and Rankin doesn’t try to reach with a punch but rather just mirrors the rush plan with his feet and uses his inside arm to control any attempt to work inside a second time. The lack of committing with his hands made the defensive tackle’s big swipes futile, and Rankin’s footwork allowed him to stay square throughout the pass rush.

This play shows how Rankin’s hand technique and movement skills also translate to the run game. On this outside zone away from him, Rankin has to quickly get over to the nose tackle and try to get ahead of him, creating a potential inside cut lane while sealing off any pursuit.

He shows a good explosion off the line of scrimmage to work laterally into the nose tackle and first gets his hands on him. The worst-case scenario is Austin Reiter leaves the block early, but this allows him to drive the nose tackle down the line and gives a hard backside cut option for the running back. Once Rankin feels the nose tackle pushing back, he slides his arm under the nose tackle’s arm and uses that arm-pin as a pivot point to snap his hips out and around him. Upon turning around the nose tackle, Rankin pops his feet back while lowering his center of gravity to seal him off. The combination of explosiveness and hip fluidity to make that block — combined with the technique to turn around the nose tackle — was impressive.

As a run blocker, Rankin isn’t given any kid gloves and is asked to perform all the same type of blocks, as Wylie or Laurent Duvernay-Tardif would. Rankin looks very fluid when pulling across the formation and fits up into the hole decisively. He is capable of making all the reach blocks asked of him. The one run blocking area he struggles with is his engagements in wide-open space. He doesn’t reset his base consistently and rolls his hips into his block. Instead, he often lunges and pushes, which can create space but also makes him slide off blocks or good defenders when they change levels.

Recovery

Rankin carries his hands a little low, which can force them to be late. Even more problematic for him is how wide they can get. That can allow defensive tackles to get their hands inside of him and for a guy that doesn't have the strongest anchor in the world, that can lead to a lot of problems. Fortunately, Rankin’s recovery is good thanks to his hand usage and athleticism to pop his feet back and get his center of gravity lower than the rusher.

Base

As mentioned earlier, Rankin gets the full-protection playbook, which does consist of a lot of quick sets. Those quick sets aren’t Rankin’s strength, as his base narrows and results in a step-lunge punch rather than framing his block properly.

Rankin’s base can narrow when working laterally, which ultimately was the biggest concern for him playing tackle at the next level. When asked to step out into a quick set, he ends up in that narrowed stance too often. Rankin has the foot quickness to work on a skip set, which would allow him to frame the block, then rely on his hand technique to keep him from being overpowered.

The bottom line

Similar to Wylie last year, there isn’t a ton of tape available for Rankin in a Chiefs uniform yet, but there is a case to make for him as part of the famous “best five” that Andy Reid likes to mention.

Rankin still has some shortcomings with going hard all the way through screen plays, a soft anchor and the aforementioned narrowing base, but his strengths far outweigh the weaknesses.

Strangely enough, Rankin’s best traits — his athleticism and hand technique — are why he makes a ton of sense at tackle. Maybe his future is a swing tackle for the Chiefs that has inside flexibility, similar to Erving upon his arrival. Maybe Rankin’s ultimate home is at guard and the Chiefs plan to move on from Duvernay-Tardif or Wylie sooner rather than later.

While there will be uncertainty about his fit until next season, the good news is the Chiefs should remain solid at the left guard spot until Wylie is ready to return.