We knew the Saints offense would look different in 2021, what with Drew Brees' retirement. However, we learned Friday that they will also be without top wide receiver Michael Thomas for at least the start of the season due to lingering issues from the ankle injury that derailed his 2020 campaign. It's a blow to the Saints offense and makes Thomas an incredibly risky choice on Draft Day for Fantasy players.
Thomas apparently underwent surgery on the ankle back in June after it was deemed "likely" he would need some sort of procedure after the season. Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain that cost him five games and then landed him on IR at the end of the season as it never fully healed, and the surgery to repair ligaments in the ankle carries a four-month recovery timeline. That would put Thomas in doubt for at least the first month of the season, according to Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football.
The best-case scenario is that Thomas is ready for Week 1, but the most-likely outcome would seem to be that Thomas misses at least the first couple of games and still carries plenty of Fantasy appeal once he is back. The Saints receiving corps remains barren, with Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, and Deonte Harris the next men up, so Thomas still has plenty of upside as the likely No. 1 when he returns. Before the injury, I had him as the No. 2 overall WR if Jameis Winston was starting for the Saints, and No. 6 if Hill was in. If he missed just a couple of weeks, he could still finish as a top-12 WR.
But you can't assume that. Given the lingering nature of this injury and how he suffered a setback last season while recovering, it makes much more sense to be conservative about his timetable. And the Saints' schedule might offer a natural timetable -- they play five games to open the season before a Week 6 bye, so it might make most sense to just sit him out until that Oct. 25 Monday night game against the Seahawks.
That's all speculation, of course, but it's all we have right now. We can adjust expectations as we get more reports in the coming weeks, but for now, I'm slotting him in at WR38, between Tyler Boyd and Jarvis Landry. When he gets back on the field, Thomas could play like a top-five wide receiver, but this could also be something he's never quite right from, and you can't draft him expecting him to be a core piece at this point.
Smith and Callaway figure to see larger roles, but I'm not making either a primary focus in my draft strategy. Smith has been efficient in a small role over the first three seasons of his career, but he's also had just one game in his career where he has earned more than seven targets, including none in either of the last two seasons. Expecting him to maintain that efficiency as a No. 1 receiver is probably asking too much, and while he could be a fringe Fantasy starter while Thomas is out, I don't have a ton of confidence in that. He's just a bench depth target for me.
Callaway has even less appeal. He had just one game with 10 targets as an undrafted rookie, and it's not like either really stepped up in Thomas' absence last season, so I don't expect this to be much different.
One thing this news does is cements Alvin Kamara as my No. 2 RB behind Christian McCaffrey. He would be No. 3 if Hill was starting at QB, but I would have him well ahead of Dalvin Cook with Winston, so that's enough to lock him in as my No. 2 option. I expect that while he'll still have fewer carries than basically every top-12 RB, he'll have a bigger role in the running game than in the past, and he might just be the No. 1 target for however long Thomas is out.
Hopefully that isn't too long. I was banking on a Thomas bounceback before this injury, so let's hope for the best-case scenario. However, what was already going to be a pretty tough start to the season for the Saints offense adapting to the loss of Brees just got even tougher. Approach everyone but Kamara with caution at this point.