New Orleans Saints star wideout Michael Thomas entered the 2020 season fresh off a 149 catch season in 2019, which set a new NFL record. That’s also adding in 1,725 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. His efforts netted him an Offensive Player of the year award and a spot amongst the top receivers in fantasy football. However, his encore season last year was by far the worst of his career. Michael Thomas only recorded 40 catches for 438 yards and a big fast goose-egg in the touchdown department. That’s right – The NFL receiving leader two years ago did not score once last year, and a big part of it was due to nagging injuries.
Now it looks like a significant chunk of his 2021 season will be scrapped due to injuries as well.
Thomas underwent surgery in June to repair an ankle injury that bothered him for the majority of last year. Now that he has undergone the surgery, he has an estimated recovery time of 4 months (12-16 weeks). That would give him a return date of sometime in mid-October, around Week 6 or 7 of the season. The Saints’ bye week falls on Week 6 so it seems likely that he will be back in Week 7 and his return will be welcomed back, as they gear up for a gauntlet run against contending teams like the Seahawks, Buccaneers Titans, and the Bills.
But what are fantasy owners to do in the meantime? Should you draft Thomas as high as you normally would? Who will step up in his place? Does his absence boost other teammates’ values? Let’s see if we can accurately project the answer to those questions.
First off, his absence will almost assuredly skyrocket the value of all-purpose back Alvin Kamara, if that was even possible. Kamara was going to get all he can handle anyway, with the departure of Drew Brees and the Saints shifting to a more run-oriented offense the last few years. Now Kamara should be featured even more and his running and catching prowess will be on display more than ever. I’ve seen Kamara go as high as third overall in some drafts and if you want to take him that high, then go for it. This shift to a run-first offense could also give some significant opportunities to Latavius Murray as well. Murray will no doubt be called on to spell Kamara often to keep him fresh and this could lead to opportunities. He’s even shown himself as more than capable to be a solid starter should Kamara go down with an injury. If you can land both backs on your team, then go you!
Will receivers step up in his place? Well, TreQuan Smith has been there for a few years and seems to be the most logical choice. But Smith has performed some disappearing acts and failed to be reliable consistently as a second and third option. Maybe Thomas’ absence along with the departure of Emmanuel Sanders will help. I won’t hold my breath though. The same can be said of the other receivers on that team. Marquez Callaway has received glowing reports in the opening days of camp and has a vote of confidence from Sean Payton, but Deonte Harris is still awaiting a punishment resulting from a DUI back on July 16. The team also brought in journeyman Chris Hogan, but those three combined can’t make up for the loss of a stud like Thomas. Draft (or worse, start) any of them at your own risk. I do like a breakout of sorts from Tight End Adam Trautman. I think he could have a nice season and earn the trust of whoever the starting Quarterback is.
Speaking of Quarterbacks, I’m not huge on the value of Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill. Even with the obvious decline of Drew Brees, I’d still take him over either of those two. Sean Payton may not ask whoever gets the starting job to try to go out and win the games every week. It’s much more likely that he will want to control the game and play good defense, thus taking the ball out of their hands. Perhaps he will trust them more as the season goes on and Thomas gets healthier but for right now, the winner of that QB battle will only have the ceiling of a bye week plug-in.
As for Thomas himself? His injury no doubt knocks him down a few rounds but it shouldn’t be overly damaging to his draft stock. He should still be drafted somewhere between the fourth and fifth rounds as a hold until he comes back. If you do draft him, make sure you don’t let too many rounds pass by before you get another solid receiver in your draft.