Nicknamed "Ticker", his father Teddy and brother Bert both played football for Geelong as well.
Despite making his debut in 1915, Rankin never played a full season until 1920 due to World War I. Rankin kicked 48 goals in 1920 to finish the season as Geelong's top goal-kicker. The following season he again topped their goal-kicking with 63 goals which set a then club record for most ever goals in a season. It was also the highest tally by any player in the league that year for the home and away season and included a bag of ten goals against Fitzroy. In total Rankin won Geelong's leading goal-kicker award on four separate occasions.
Rankin captained-coached Geelong from 1925 until 1927, steering them to their inaugural premiership in his first year in charge. He led from the front in the Grand Final with five goals.
A regular Victorian interstate representative, Rankin appeared in 14 games for his state, kicking 30 goals. Rankin was named as an emergency in Geelong's official 'Team of the Century'.