INDIANAPOLIS — Defensive tackle could quickly become a top need for the Saints.
While Sheldon Rankins is recovering well from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his season prematurely, he is not expected to return as quickly as Alex Okafor did from a similar injury last season, according to a source.
Rankins’ injury is lower in his leg, which means it will take him longer to recover than someone who suffers a higher tear, such as Okafor. The defensive tackle suffered his injury during the playoffs, and it could take him as long as 10 months to recover. It is possible, and possibly likely, that Rankins will start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Sean Payton mentioned that with Rankins’ injury, the team might look to address that spot this offseason. He also said interior offensive line and tight end are areas the team will keep an eye on.
The defensive tackle finished last season with eight sacks, the best season of his career. New Orleans is expected to pick up his option for the 2020 season before the May deadline.
With Rankins expected to miss some time to start the year, New Orleans might look to add another defensive tackle to help with depth to start the season. David Onyemata could face disciplinary action from the league after being charged with possession of marijuana, which could further thin the depth.
Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison is also a free agent. The Saints have expressed interest in bringing him back, but he could find a healthy market if he’s allowed to reach free agency.
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Sheldon Rankins was one of the best players on the field for the New Orleans Saints this past season, but now there is a very real concern he won’t be there when 2019 begins.
The defensive tackle is likely to start next season on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from his Achilles injury, according to a report from The Advocate.
Physically unable to perform, or PUP, is a designation used by the NFL for players who have suffered football related injuries sometime before the start of a season. Players on the list may participate in team meetings and use training and medical facilities, but are not allowed to practice with the team.
The PUP list is divided between a preseason list and a regular season list.
Players assigned to the preseason PUP list are those who cannot take part in training camp. They can be moved off the PUP list to the active roster at any time.
A player who finishes the exhibition season still on the PUP list can be placed on the regular season PUP, but must then miss the first six weeks of the regular season. From there, teams have a five week time frame in which to let the player start practicing again.
From the day they begin practicing, teams have another 21 day window to decide whether or not to activate the player to their 53 man roster. If either of those deadlines should pass, then the player has to stay on the PUP list for the entire season.
Despite the concern that Rankins may not be on the field when the season begins, the report notes that Rankins is “recovering well” from the injury he sustained during the playoffs.
Early in the Saints’ NFC Divisional Round victory over Philadelphia, Rankins tore his Achilles tendon and required a cart to get off the field and back to the locker room.
He was eventually placed on the team’s injured reserve list with the ailment.
Medical experts contend that an injury of this kind requires 10 months recovery time.
Two seasons ago, defensive end Alex Okafor suffered an Achilles injury similar to the one Rankins is dealing with, but was able to recover faster because the damage to Okafor was higher up on the leg than the issue Rankins is dealing with.
Rankins’ potential absence from the defensive line to begin the 2019 coincides with a probable NFL mandated suspension to defensive tackle David Onyemata after he was arrested for marijuana possession early in the offseason, further compromising the team’s depth at this position.
These developments inspired head coach Sean Payton to admit that the Saints will be looking into the defensive tackle position during the free agency period and in the NFL Draft.
In his third season from Louisville after being a first round draft pick by the Saints, Rankins has developed into one of their best defensive players, ranking second with eight sacks.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan, who ranked ahead of Rankins with 12 sacks this season, said his teammate has a history of coming back from injury, notably a broken fibula in 2016.
“He’s nothing but a warrior anyways,” Jordan said. “I expect nothing but the best for his comeback.”