The New Orleans Saints defense were dealt a huge blow on Monday when rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins fractured his fibula during a goal-line drill. However, Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune has since reported that head coach Sean Payton said the injury was not as serious as it first appeared.
Sean Payton confirmed that Sheldon Rankins' injury is not season-ending. Said too early to speculate on roster situation.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) August 17, 2016
“We’re fortunate that it wasn’t more significant, ” Payton said. “Clearly, it’s not going to be season-ending at all. The rehab and the process and surgery should be fairly smooth. I’m sure he’ll approach and attack the rehab just like he has everything else. “
This is the second time that the 22-year-old has suffered the same injury to his right leg as he also suffered the injury while at Eastside High School in Covington, Georgia. Rankins had surgery on the leg Tuesday.
Rankins is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks and thus a candidate to be placed on the IR-DTR list. If the former Louisville lineman is indeed headed to the short-term injury list, he would be required to miss at least six weeks of practice and eight regular season games.
The No. 12 overall pick was slated to start at the three-technique tackle position next to second-year lineman Tyeler Davison. Rankins reportedly had been looking outstanding throughout training camp and made a positive impression during the Saints 34-22 Preseason Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots. Against the Pats, Rankins was able to generate constant pressure and record one tackle in his brief appearance.
Rankins’ injury is just the latest setback for a defense that was one of the worst last year. New Orleans ranked last in scoring defense, permitting 29.8 and 31st in passing yards and rushing yards permitted.
Second-year linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha suffered a knee injury in June and is currently on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. 2015 first-round selection linebacker Stephone Anthony injured his leg during the preseason game against New England but is expected to ready by Week 1 of the regular season, per ESPN.
In addition, Davison and John Jenkins (neck injury) sat out Wednesday’s practice. That left Nick Fairley and Ashaad Mabry to practice with the first-team defense with Bobby Richardson, rookie David Onyemata and C.J. Wilson serving as the backups. Fairley, signed in the offseason, will likely take Rankins place as starter when New Orleans plays at the Houston Texans on Aug. 20.
Fairley is coming off two underwhelming seasons but had a solid debut preseason debut for the Saints, registering two tackles. Davison, Richardson, and Mabry also made their presence felt against New England.
Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune suggested six defensive linemen still on the open market that the Saints should take a look at if they decide to go that route.
Cullen Jenkins was first on Katzenstein’s list. Jenkins appeared in all 16 games, including 13 starts, for the New York Giants last year. The 35-year-old registered 26 tackles and three sacks in 2015. Henry Melton, C.J. Mosley, Josh Boyd and Sammie Lee Hill were also Katzenstein’s list.
Melton has bounced around the league the past two years after spending his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears. The 29-year-old started one of the 16 games he appeared in for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, recording 30 stops and two sacks along with a forced fumble overall.
Hill started five games for the Tennessee Titans in 2015 before losing his job. Overall, the 29-year-old made 12 tackles last year but does have 166 stops and seven sacks for his career.
Mosley, 33, had seven tackles in 11 games with the Miami Dolphins last year while Boyd broke his foot ankle after two games with the Green Bay Packers. The 27-year-old Boyd recorded 19 stops in 15 games in 2014.
Another name to keep an eye on is Randy Starks.
Starks is the most accomplished of the seven players listed. The 32-year-old started all 15 games he appeared in for the Cleveland Browns last year, compiling one sack and 29 tackles. He has 42 sacks and 419 tackles over his 12-year career.
[Photo by Stew Milne/AP Images]