Michael Thomas is coming off of a disappointing season and could very well be about to have another one. However, this year fantasy football owners likely won’t be as upset since we already know Thomas’ injury status heading into the season. Last year, Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain after playing in Week 1 (and a subsequent hamstring strain later in the year) and ended up playing just six total games. Thomas wasn’t quite right after playing in those six games and ended the regular season on injured reserve to prepare for the playoffs. It was a huge letdown following his record-breaking season in 2019 when he set the single-season receptions record with 149 catches. As such, his 2021 fantasy outlook (and ranking) continues to diminish.
This year, Thomas has multiple issues already working against him. First, he’ll be sidelined again because of the ankle after electing to get surgery very late in the offseason. His decision was reportedly the result of a rift with the team. While Thomas hasn’t been public about his frustration, aside from a cryptic tweet, he has liked a few tweets on Twitter that seem to indicate he was upset with the Saints medical staff.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet
Then there’s also the issue of whether Thomas will even be as productive as before now that Drew Brees has retired. The Saints have a quarterback battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, and whoever ends up starting will have a huge impact on every Saints receiver.
Below, we’ll dive a bit deeper into Thomas’ fantasy outlook for 2021.
How long will Michael Thomas be out?
Thomas had surgery to repair ankle ligaments in June, and NFL Network said at the time that procedure would come with a four-month recovery timeline. The report also said Thomas could be sidelined during the regular season for “weeks.”
Saints beat reporter Nick Underhill put out a proposed timeline where he projected a “worst-case scenario” for Thomas would be a return in late October. Underhill’s “best-case scenario” projected Thomas being ready by the end of September. A late September arrival would mean an appearance in the Week 3 game against the Patriots on Sept. 26. Underhill’s worst-case scenario would essentially mean Thomas doesn’t arrive until after the Saints bye in Week 6.
Of course, given Thomas’s issues with the same ankle last year, he’s at a higher risk of aggravating the injury and missing more time even after he returns.
Michael Thomas fantasy ranking and ADP
SN Fantasy has Michael Thomas as a top-26 wide receiver in both standard and PPR formats. He’s still an elite talent at the wide receiver position, and he’s far and away the best wideout on the Saints roster. Following Thomas on the depth chart are Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, and Deonte Harris. While those three have shown some promise, they’re all fairly inexperienced.
Thomas could also benefit from having Jameis Winston at quarterback. Drew Brees struggled to throw the ball deep, leading to Thomas’ “slant boy” moniker. While Thomas will most likely take a hit in the receptions category (don’t expect him to break the NFL record again), his yards-per-catch should go up with Winston.
Thomas’ FantasyPros’ ADP is similar to SN’s rankings, as he’s around the 25th wide receiver selected, based on trends in August. That takes him off the board in sixth or seventh rounds of 12-team fantasy drafts.
Will Michael Thomas be traded?
Thomas’ decision to get surgery relatively late in the offseason was the latest in a string of disagreements between the wide receiver and the Saints. Coach Sean Payton publicly voiced his frustration with Thomas’ June surgery, telling the media the surgery should have happened sooner than it did and finishing with, “I’m going to leave it at that.”
A report from Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan highlighted some of the offseason drama:
For unknown reasons, Thomas fell out of communication with the Saints. He did not return multiple calls over the next three months. Then-Saints trainer Beau Lowery, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson and head coach Sean Payton all tried to reach Thomas. None of their calls were taken or returned.
While there were obvious signs of frustration from both sides, they seem to have subsided. A recent report from Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson says Payton and Thomas had a productive meeting to hash out their issues.
“They had a good talk about [the issues],” one source told Yahoo Sports. “I think they both believe it’s not anything that has to go any further than what is already out there. There was some frustration from both viewpoints and that was the point of the meeting.”
The Yahoo Sports report also added that their sources indicated the two sides “are not seeking a split.” So, Thomas should remain on the Saints this season barring another major twist.
Who benefits from Michael Thomas’ absence?
Alvin Kamara is already a top-tier player, but Thomas’ absence will only enhance the Saints running back as a receiving target. Thomas shined on short slant routes, so it’s a natural assumption to expect some of those shorter passes to just go to Kamara instead.
As for receiver, Tre’Quan Smith would be next up on the depth chart, but he’s never been a guy to have a lot of production. Smith is more often complimented on his blocking abilities. Guys like Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris are likely to benefit the most from Thomas’ injury. Harris is a speedy option who has been the Saints return man, and he showed some promise in elevated playing time last season. Callaway has been steadily rising up ADP boards and could be a PPR specialist.
A sneakier possibility is tight end Adam Trautman, who jumps into the starting role after Jared Cook’s departure and would be in line for even more targets as long as Thomas is out.
Michael Thomas fantasy outlook 2021
Whether to draft Thomas really comes down to where you are in your draft. All reports indicate he won’t miss the entire season with injury, and he seems to have fixed his issues with the Saints, meaning he won’t hold out or be traded. He’s an elite talent at receiver, so he will definitely have a fantasy impact.
However, Thomas is probably a player you don’t want to reach for. Even when he does return from injury, there’s no guarantee his ankle will remain healthy throughout the year. We saw this happen in 2020 when he returned from injury just to be placed on IR again. The quarterback situation is also a big issue. If Taysom Hill ends up starting, we’d expect a much heavier run game from the Saints, meaning fewer targets for Thomas and everyone else. Even if Winston starts, there’s a noticeable difference between Drew Brees — one of the most accurate passers in history — and Winston.
Drafting Thomas comes with risk, so it depends if you want to take a chance at a top-tier talent in the early middle rounds or just go with a safer option who will be in your lineup for Weeks 1 and 2 (and beyond). Consider Thomas a WR3 on draft day, but you still might have to pay a premium for his WR1 upside. That makes him a gamble unless he’s really falling.