METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints coach Sean Payton sounds optimistic that defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will make his NFL debut in San Francisco this Sunday.

Rankins, selected 12th overall out of Louisville and New Orleans' top draft choice last spring, fractured his fibula during training camp in August and began the season on injured reserve. Rankins began practicing two weeks ago and is now eligible to play.

Payton, who spoke with reporters by conference call Thursday, says the Saints ''anticipate'' that happening this week.

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The Saints' defense could use help. The unit ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing 397.4 yards per game, and 31st in points allowed at 30.7 per game.

In his last two seasons at Louisville, Rankins registered 14 sacks and 26 + tackles for losses.

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