Fantasy Impact of Michael Thomas’ Ankle Injury

Fantasy Impact of Michael Thomas’ Ankle Injury article feature image
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Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images. Pictured: Michael Thomas.

The New Orleans Saints will begin the 2021 NFL season without star receiver Michael Thomas.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport was first to report Thomas underwent surgery to repair ankle ligaments in June and is expected to miss the beginning of the 2021 season.

Thomas’ 2020 season was cut short due to a lingering ankle injury.

“Based on the timing of the surgery – and recommended 4 months of recovery – Thomas could be on the sideline for weeks,” Rapoport tweeted.

Friday’s news has significant implications for fantasy football. The 28-year-old former Buckeye is still regarded as an elite receiver in spite of coming off of his worst season since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2016. Hampered by an ankle injury from Week 1 onwards, Thomas appeared in just seven games in 2020 and caught 40 of 55 targets for 438 yards and zero touchdowns. He was drafted in fantasy as a high-end WR1 and finished as WR94, averaging 9.1 points per game in half PPR.

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Prior to 2020, Thomas had posted four consecutive 1,000 receiving yard seasons, including a 2019 campaign with an NFL-best 1,725 yards and 149 catches which earned him the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. He is also a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro.

Thomas was consensus-ranked as a low-end WR1 before Friday’s report, and will likely drop into the low-end WR2 range with his guaranteed early absence and uncertain return. The recommended recovery time frame puts an approximate return in October, but that’s far from certain at this point.

Remaining on the Saints’ receiving depth chart is Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

Smith will likely see the biggest boost of the Saints wideouts from a fantasy perspective. The 2018 third-round pick from UCF appeared in 14 games last year and caught 34 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns.

Callaway follows Smith on the depth chart as a 2020 undrafted free agent who appeared in 11 games and caught 21 passes for 213 yards.

Harris could also be an interesting name to keep an eye on in deep drafts. The 2019 undrafted free agent earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors in his rookie campaign as the Saints’ return specialist. He appeared in 9 games in 2020 and caught 20 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown and posted 33 returns for 643 yards and zero touchdowns.

Thomas’ absence may also give a slight boost to pass-catching running back Alvin Kamara, who finished as the top running back for fantasy in half PPR last year. Kamara is currently being drafted as a top four running back and an argument could be made for him to go as high as RB2 with the upside and additional targets.

Tight end Adam Trautman may also see additional targets without competition from Thomas. The 2020 third-round pick from Dayton appeared in 15 games in his rookie year and caught 15 of 16 targets for 171 yards and a touchdown as the Saints’ second tight end behind Jared Cook, who was released in March.

Trautman is currently being drafted as TE20 and could offer interesting upside early in the season.

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