New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis announced Monday that the club has signed defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the club's first round draft pick (12th overall), wide receiver Michael Thomas, a second-round draft pick (47th overall) and running back Daniel Lasco, a seventh-round draft choice (237th overall), to four-year contracts. The club has also released running back Vick Ballard, defensive end Phillip Hunt and fullback Toben Opurum.
Rankins (6-2, 305) was selected by New Orleans in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Louisville. The Covington, Ga. native played for the Cardinals from 2012-15 and played in 46 games, recording 133 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks. In 2015, he was a second-team All-ACC selection, as he racked up a career-high 58 tackles (28 solo), 13 stops for loss, six sacks, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery returned 46 yards for a touchdown. In 2014, Rankins was a third-team All-ACC selection, when he started all 13 games and recorded 53 tackles (31 solo), a career-high and club-best eight sacks, 13.5 stops for loss, two interceptions, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Thomas, 22, was the Saints' first selection in the second round of the draft. The 6-foot-3 inch, 212-pound Woodland Hills, Calif. native appeared in 39 games and finished his college career with 113 receptions for 1,602 yards (14.2 avg.) with 18 touchdowns, with all but three of his grabs occurring in his final two seasons in Columbus. In 2016, Thomas was a third-team All-Big Ten selection as he started all 13 games and led the Buckeyes with 56 receptions for 781 yards with nine touchdowns, tied for second in the conference. In 2014, Thomas was the leading receiver for the College Football Playoff champions with 54 catches for 799 yards with nine touchdowns in 15 games with 14 starts.
Lasco, a 6-foot-1 inch, 205-pound running back out of California, was the Saints' seventh round selection (237th overall). The Woodlands, Texas native played in 41 career games with 15 starts for California and finished with 2,395 career all-purpose yards, including 1,872 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground to rank tenth on the school's all-time list. Lasco was voted as a team captain for the second straight year and rushed for 331 yards and three touchdowns on 65 carries in nine games with three starts as he missed four games with several injuries. Lasco, 23, was named the team's MVP and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 from coaches after becoming the first Cal player to rush for 1,000 yards since 2011 by totaling 1,115 yards on 210 carries, while adding 14 TDs, including 12 rushing. He also added 33 receptions for 356 yards (10.8 avg.) with two scores, with his team-high 1,471 all-purpose yards, the most by a Cal player since 2008.