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Dynasty Player Profile: Michael Thomas (2022 Fantasy Football)

Dynasty Player Profile: Michael Thomas (2022 Fantasy Football)

Career Contextualization

After a solid but unspectacular college career at Ohio State, Thomas was selected by the Saints in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. He quickly became the perfect partner for a late-career, Drew Brees, a short-and-intermediate route aficionado who was relying less heavily on the deep ball.

Thomas caught 92 balls for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie and then emerged as Brees’ undisputed go-to guy in 2017, following the departure of Brandin Cooks. His yardage and reception totals climbed steadily each year, culminating in a massive 2019 campaign in which he led the NFL in receptions (149) and receiving yards (1,725).

Over his first four seasons, Thomas never finished lower than seventh among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. Things began to go off the rails for him in 2020, though, and it’s been a bumpy ride for his fantasy managers ever since.

After suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 1 of the 2020 season, Thomas did not return until Week 9, thanks to a hamstring strain and an altercation with C.J. Gardner-Johnson in practice. As it turned out, Thomas’ ankle never fully healed, and he was ultimately placed on injured reserve in Week 15. He returned for the Saints’ two playoff games in 2020, but he put up a goose egg in the Divisional Round and hasn’t set foot on the field since.

Thomas waited until June 2021 to have surgery on his ankle, causing a rift with Sean Payton, who wanted him to have the procedure earlier. He reportedly failed to return the team’s calls during his attempt to rehab the injury. While Thomas was still expected to return to the team by midseason, that didn’t happen either. He suffered yet another setback with the ankle, ending his 2021 season before it even began.

Recent reports suggest that Thomas is finally in a good place health-wise and has made amends with the Saints, who restructured his contract in February to create more cap space. The restructured deal ensures he’ll remain a Saint in 2022, and the contract currently runs through 2024.

Current Situation

In late January, Sean Payton announced his retirement, and the Saints opted to hire defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as his replacement. One of the most innovative offensive minds of the millennium, Payton leaves behind a huge void. Still, New Orleans will seek continuity on offense by retaining long-time offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael.

Another area where the Saints prioritize continuity is at quarterback, where Jameis Winston was brought back on a two-year deal. They also signed Andy Dalton to serve as Winston’s backup. With two veteran signal-callers in tow, whether the Saints will invest an early draft pick in a QB is an open question. Regardless, Winston will be the starter for 2022.

After throwing 30 interceptions in his final season in Tampa Bay, Winston was much more efficient with the Saints last year, but he averaged just 167.1 passing yards per game. That kind of cautious approach could limit Thomas’ statistical upside, but then again, Allen and Carmichael may be willing to let Winston throw the ball more with Thomas back in the fold. Winston has reportedly been working hard to improve his accuracy on short-and-intermediate routes, a clear sign that he wants to consistently get the ball to the team’s top two playmakers: Thomas and Alvin Kamara.

General Prediction for 2022 and Rest of Career

If we’ve learned anything from the last two years, it’s that making predictions is a dangerous game when it comes to Michael Thomas. And that’s before you even factor in how much uncertainty there is about the long-term direction of the Saints’ franchise and Thomas’ role in it.

At 29 years old, Thomas should still have several good years left in him, provided his ankle is genuinely healed. The style of receiver that he is — big, physical, and among the best short-area route runners in the game — speaks well to his potential to age gracefully. This is not a receiver who gets by on pure speed and fly routes.

We don’t know how aggressive the Saints’ offense will be in Year Two of the Jameis Winston experiment, but it helps that Thomas should be in line to see one of the larger target shares of any receiver in the NFL. He should also be one of the most heavily-targeted receivers in the red zone, as he was in 2018 and 2019.

At this point, though, a feeling of trepidation is warranted until we see him back on the field, healthy and performing. It’s been almost two full years since the Michael Thomas we know and love made an appearance, and there’s also the lingering worry that off-field issues could resurface and derail his career yet again.

If I have Thomas in a dynasty league (and I do, so this isn’t hypothetical), I’m likely to hold him regardless of whether I’m trying to contend. His perceived dynasty value has completely plummeted over the last two years, and it is only just starting to rebound.

According to Dynasty League Football’s Trade Finder, he’s typically being dealt for less than a first-round rookie pick. I certainly get the frustration of being burned by Thomas. I’m all for cutting my losses when necessary, but that simply isn’t enough of a return to justify moving on from a player who still has easy WR1 upside for 2022 and beyond.

If MT gets off to a hot start this season, that could provide an excellent window to sell if you’re looking to get out. Now is just not the right time.

On the flip side, it is hard to unequivocally call Thomas a “buy” considering the risk involved. Still, if I’m a contender who needs a WR and the going rate is a second and third-round rookie pick, I think I’d be willing to take the gamble.

CTAs

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If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Trade Analyzer – which allows you to instantly find out if a trade offer benefits you or your opponent – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.

Andrew Seifter is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrew_seifter.

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