Saints rookie Sheldon Rankins expected to play


The New Orleans Saints' defense could be getting a huge addition.

Coach Sean Payton said Thursday he expects first-round defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to return this week.

"Just making sure he's 100 percent and game ready," Payton said when asked what would determine if the rookie is active, via The Times-Picayune.

Rankins began practicing two weeks ago after suffering a fractured fibula in mid-August. The rookie will be the Saints' one designated to return player for 2016.

New Orleans had high expectations for the No. 12 pick prior to the injury. Rankins is a plus run defender and pocket-pusher.

His return will be a big boost for the 31st-ranked scoring defense. The Saints have allowed 397.4 yards per game and rank T-29th in sacks with 10.

Rankins' return and the progress of corner Delvin Breaux should boost a weak defense. With Drew Brees continuing to play at a high level, an improved D could lead to a backdoor playoff spot for New Orleans.