Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over/undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some of the pros and cons of where those players are regarded in fantasy circles through these long days of summer leading into the actual starts of training camps and actionable news. To kick things off, we have covered Clyde Edwards-Helaire and JuJu Smith-Schuster so far this week.
Week 1 Age: 28.5
Contract: Signed through 2024
Using the Dynasty ADP app available at RotoViz, Michael Thomas has dipped down to a current average ADP of 32.3 overall and the WR11 after he was the consensus WR1 in Dynasty formats for the entire offseason a year ago and carried an average startup ADP of 4.2 overall. There are multiple factors in play for his drop in cost, so let’s dig into his performance and potentially changing offensive climate to determine if this decrease in price point is accurate or an overcorrection.
Michael Thomas Career Stats
At the end of Week 1, Thomas suffered a severe ankle injury that remained a consistent problem for the entirety of the 2020 season. Thomas missed the next five games due to that injury and then a sixth game due to a team suspension for an altercation with a teammate in practice. Thomas then returned for Weeks 9-14 of the season before being shut down for the final three weeks of the regular season to get ready to play in the playoffs. It was later revealed that Thomas also played through a shoulder injury.
Saints’ WR Michael Thomas is likely to have surgeries on both the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his high ankle this offseason, per source. He knew it was likely Drew Brees’ last year and didn’t want to miss out trying win a Super Bowl with him.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 19, 2021
Plagued by injuries and missing nine games in total, Thomas had career-lows in receptions (5.7) and yardage (62.6) per game while failing to catch a touchdown pass in the regular season in 2020. On the surface, we could easily just say buy the dip due to injury and call it a day here, but the retirement of Drew Brees this offseason adds another layer to the drop in ADP and perception for Thomas moving forward. The loss of attachment to any Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback is a downgrade for any wide receiver, but how much of an impact will Thomas have moving forward with the absence of Brees.
Michael Thomas Career Splits Per Quarterback
Just 17.5% of Thomas’s career targets have come from passers other than Brees, but Thomas has remained a hyper-efficient target no matter who the quarterback has been. The only question for Thomas in the small sample above is the touchdown production. Before diving fully into that, here is the per game breakdown for Thomas when Brees has been inactive or exited games early.
Michael Thomas Career Game Log Without Drew Brees
*Week 2 2019: Brees played just 9 offensive snaps.
**Week 10 2020: Brees played 20 snaps, missing the entire second half.
We have a 12-game sample of Thomas playing without Brees (or Brees missing significant time) over the course of his career and there are some pros and cons. The first and obvious pro is that Thomas remained a target magnet. In the games above, Thomas received a gaudy 32.1% of the team targets with seven or more targets in every game but one, which also happened to be the infamous Kendall Hinton game from a year ago. Thomas had at least five receptions in 10 of those 12 weeks with eight or more grabs in eight games.
In 2020, Taysom Hill targeted Thomas on 31.4% of his passes while Jameis Winston in his albeit brief appearance targeted Thomas on 45.5% of his 11 passes. For comparison sake, Davante Adams accrued 32.5% of the targets last season in his games played. If Thomas is going to push 30% of the New Orleans targets, there are high odds he will close 2021 out as a top-12 WR in season long output. Of the 77 wide receivers to hit 30% of their team targets for a season since targets were tracked in 1992, 61 of them ended the year as a top-12 scorer in overall PPR points. 347 wide receivers have hit a 25% team target share over that span, while 195 (56.2%) have been top-12 scorers with 49.8% being top-12 scorers in points per game.
Continuing to receive targets is not going to be an issue for Thomas in 2021. Here is his immediate target competition at wide receiver and tight end..
- Tre’Quan Smith: 80 receptions through three NFL seasons
- Marquez Callaway: Undrafted rookie with 21 receptions in 2020
- Deonte Harris: 5’6” manufactured touch wideout with 26 receptions in two seasons
- Juwan Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Kawaan Baker, Jake Lampman, Jalen McKleskey: 7 career NFL receptions combined
- Adam Trautman: 15 receptions as a 2020 rookie
- Nick Vannett: 75 receptions in six seasons
- Garret Griffin: One reception over two seasons
We can anticipate Trautman to have an extended role and we are still waiting on the breakout for Smith, but needless to say, Thomas’s primary target competition will largely come from Alvin Kamara.
While the target faucet will continue to flow providing Thomas a volume-based floor at worst, that has already been accounted for in his cost. The question remains — can he get back to a wide receiver that can threaten to be the WR1 overall again?
In the sample above, Thomas held a high floor with just three games scoring lower than the weekly WR22, but because he scored just three touchdowns total in those games, he also managed just four WR1 scoring weeks and two top-10 ones.
Thomas has yet to have a double-digit touchdown season yet through the air even with Brees in large part because he is not generating longer touchdowns frequently. Thomas’s average touchdown reception for his career has been 10.9 yards, the lowest of all top-50 non-rookie wide receivers in current ADP. Thomas has caught just five touchdown passes over his career from outside of the red zone with just two from over 23 yards out. Of his 32 receiving scores, 20 have come from inside of the 10-yard line and 15 from five yards and in.
Michael Thomas Career Target Distribution
Often poked fun at for his prowess of production on slant routes, Thomas ranks seventh among the top-50 wideouts in ADP in the percentage of targets to come inside of the red zone, but just 46th in percentage of career targets to come in the actual end zone.
Needing to reach the red zone to produce his scores since he also ranks 47th in career percentage of targets on downfield targets, this is another area where the absence of Brees can be a hindrance no matter who the Saints turn to at quarterback.
New Orleans Offensive Splits with and without Brees Over Thomas’s Career
Rounding third here, in dynasty, every player has the potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league in which he is valued per owner.
I am actually a tick lower on Thomas for Dynasty than the field at WR15, but am higher than the field in overall ranks because I have fewer running backs ranked highly than the current marketplace. If another gamer in my league is selling to dump Thomas and get out, I would be listening. I believe there is absolute value in his floor and you will not regret rostering Thomas because I believe he will end the season as a top-12 scorer in 2021. But there are just a number of younger wideouts I have elevated from a buying-years perspective in Dynasty and I believe the probability that Thomas threatens to be the actual WR1 in overall scoring again are the lowest they have ever been.
When accounting for where Thomas is on the age spectrum, other elite wideouts in that range such as Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams (pending Aaron Rodgers) carry significantly higher demonstrated touchdown upside while Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins carry similar volume potential attached to objectively better quarterback play for the foreseeable future.
While I believe Thomas will continue to be a target tornado and you can just buy that volume in hopes of running into touchdown variance, Thomas is arguably much closer in terms of usage, production, and offensive climate to WR1 options such as Keenan Allen and Allen Robinson moving forward, who are in a similar age bracket and are priced below where Thomas is in current startups.
Career Target Volume and Distribution
Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as a guideline pending which side you fall on.
Equal 2020 Rookie Pick Value: Early First (1.03-1.04)
Equal RB Value Targets: Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon, Travis Etienne, Austin Ekeler
Equal WR Value Targets: Terry McLaurin, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Amari Cooper
Equal TE Value Targets: Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller