But then Rankins went out Sunday and did something that not many rookies are capable of. He matched Donald on the field.
After Donald forced a sack and a fumble against Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the second quarter, Rankins followed up five minutes later with a sack and forced fumble of his own against Los Angeles QB Jared Goff.
That set up the touchdown that put New Orleans up for the first time, 21-14, en route to a 49-21 rout.
“The competitor in me, once I saw him get one, I gotta go out there and match it,” Rankins said. “So it was fun to go out there and do that.”
Rankins is just four games into his NFL career after spending the first half of the season on injured reserve with a broken fibula suffered in training camp.
But the first-round draft pick from Louisville is quickly making up for lost time. He has shown improvement with each passing week while rotating in with veteran defensive tackle Nick Fairley, among others.
“My legs getting back up under me. The strength, the conditioning in the legs, the muscle is getting back,” Rankins said. “I’m starting to feel like I’ve got a little more wiggle, different things like that. So it’s a progression every week, and this week is better.”
Rankins (6-foot-2, 305 pounds) has two sacks, another tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and 10 total tackles. And it’s probably no coincidence that the Saints’ overall pass rush, led by end Cameron Jordan, also has become more disruptive as a unit over the past four games.
Robertson expanded on that belief Monday.
“He doesn’t act like a rookie, he doesn’t carry himself like a rookie, and he doesn’t play like a rookie either,” Robertson said. “Just for a guy to be that smart early on, it’s hard to fool him on stuff. And he’s been a great help for us since he’s been back.”