In a vote by his teammates, New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has been named the club's 2019 Ed Block Courage Award winner, which is given annually to a player from each National Football League team who has persevered through adversity.
"It is always good to be voted for anything in a positive light by your peers," Rankins said. "Obviously everything I went through this past year with my Achilles, I was just doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible."
Rankins' teammates voted him as the club's winner based on his work ethic and perseverance in successfully rehabilitating from a ruptured Achilles tendon injury suffered in the first quarter of the team's NFC Wild Card Playoff game vs. Philadelphia on January 13, 2019. Shortly thereafter, Rankins would have surgery, facing an extensive rehabilitation period for the injury.
Rankins underwent a rigorous rehabilitation process throughout the offseason. He returned to the practice field on August 26, less than eight months from the date of the injury suffered. Rankins then made his season debut in the team's 12-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys on September 29, just over the eight-month mark from injury.
"I'm proud of myself," Rankins said. "I have not taken time to pat myself on the back, but that's just who I am, really. But it was big."
Rankins, the club's first round draft pick in 2016 out of Louisville, has played in nine games, posting 12 tackles (nine solo) and two sacks as an important part of a rotation for a defense ranked third in the National Football League in sacks and fourth in opponent rushing yards per game.
"This season hasn't, statistically, personally, gone exactly as I wanted it to," Rankins said. "But we're in a good position as a team and I'm continuing to get better. I'll take it, and it's always good when your teammates can recognize the things you've been through and how hard you battled to come back and try to help the team."
Rankins was on the field for 50 snaps of the Saints' Thanksgiving night 26-18 victory at Atlanta and was part of a defensive effort that produced nine sacks that tied a club single-game record. He did his part on Atlanta's final drive, trailing by eight, dropping Falcons QB Matt Ryan as part of a drive that produced three takedowns to help New Orleans hold on to the NFC South-clinching victory.
"For me to continue to push, to continue to battle through, to continue to make leaps and bounds and push myself to get back and help this team any way I can, it's definitely a blessing," said Rankins after the Falcons win. "The best thing about it is, the more I go, the more I play, I get healthier by the day. That's the beauty of it."
Overall, Rankins has played in 50 career regular season games with 32 starts, posting 101 stops, 16 sacks, one interception, two passes defensed and three forced fumbles. The Covington, Ga. native, the team's first round draft pick out of Louisville in 2016 has also opened all three postseason contests he has appeared in and has posted ten stops and one takedown.
Each year the Ed Block Courage Awards honor those players who overcome adversity on the field, possess strong character and a will to endure life's trials, and who continuously strive for excellence on and off the field. The award is named after Ed Block, the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts who was a pioneer in his profession and a respected humanitarian. All 32 of this year's Ed Block Courage Award recipients – one from each team – will be honored at a banquet next spring in Baltimore. Proceeds from the event benefit abused children of the Courage House National Support Network.