As the undisputed top wide receiver in fantasy football entering this season, the expectations were undoubtedly high for Michael Thomas. Unfortunately, a high-ankle sprain suffered in Week 1 has already caused him to miss this past weekend’s game, and he may be on his way to this being a multi-game absence. So how do fantasy football managers approach this injury for Week 3 and beyond? We’ll take a look.

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Injury trouble right out of the gate for Michael Thomas

In what was expected to be a high-scoring affair between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thomas was hard to find. After finishing the 2019 season as the highest-scoring wide receiver in fantasy football, Thomas was expected to come in with a real chance at repeating that feat. Especially with what appears to be Drew Brees’ final season, it’s seen as “Super Bowl or bust” for the Saints. While they did come out victorious against their divisional opponent, they did so with their star player going down with an injury.

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Despite Thomas’ non-existent performance in that game (three receptions, 17 yards), it was not nearly as impactful as seeing him on the sidelines in the second half of the game with an injury. Originally called an ankle injury at first lead by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Thomas’ injury turned out to be the dreaded high-ankle sprain.

So not only did Thomas have a pedestrian Week 1 performance, he was in danger of missing games with this unfortunate development. There was initially a small glimmer of hope that he may be available to play in Week 2 considering it was on Monday Night Football. As expected, however, Thomas ended up sitting and missing his first game since 2016.

The Saints clearly struggled in his absence

In that Week 2 matchup between the Saints and Las Vegas Raiders, we saw Brees and the Saints uncharacteristically struggle on offense. While Brees completed over 66% of his passes (26 of 38) and threw for 311 yards, he was inconsistent and had difficulty moving the ball down the field.

He heavily relied on Alvin Kamara (nine receptions for 95 yards) and Tre’Quan Smith (five receptions for 86 yards) with only one other player (Deonte Harris) finishing with more than two receptions. Against a team not known for its pass defense (Raiders gave up the eighth-most passing yards and fourth-most passing touchdowns in 2019), it was surprising to see how much trouble it was for the Saints to perform on offense.

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Thomas’ absence also revealed a long-known but concerning issue in that the Saints had very little viable depth at the wide receiver position beside him. It helped mask this problem with the best wide receiver in the game, but it came evident the minute he suffered his injury. While Smith had a solid game, Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook struggled to pick up the slack besides Cook’s red-zone touchdown grab.

Brees was force-feeding Kamara targets as he was the most targeted player and only one of two that saw more than five targets. With Week 3 around the corner, what does that mean for the Saints and also for those who have Thomas on their fantasy rosters?

How to approach Thomas’ injury for Week 3 and beyond

As of this writing, Thomas has been a non-participant for the first two days of practice. So for a lack of a better term, he is starting Week 3 on the wrong foot. But a player like Thomas has the ability to play even if he were to miss practice all week. It’s still a dangerous proposition nonetheless.

Another issue complicating the matter is that the Saints and Green Bay Packers are scheduled to face off on Sunday Night Football this weekend. So even if Thomas were to come into the weekend with a “questionable” tag, relying on him in your lineups presents a big risk. On one hand, if he does play, he is a no-brainer to start on your fantasy team. The risk lies with if he does not play as there is only one other game to use players from to replace Thomas in your lineup (along with the game between the Packers and Saints).

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The best approach for Week 3 when it comes to having Thomas in fantasy football is to have him on your bench. That is unless you have a player either in the Saints versus Packers game or in the highly-anticipated Monday Night Football matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. If you have a viable player that you can use in fantasy football in those games that could be swapped in for Thomas, then you have yourself covered in case he ends up being inactive again. Regardless of how much he practices, if Thomas were to be active, then he needs to be in starting lineups.

If he does end up being inactive for Week 3, then it’ll immediately become a question of just how long he’ll remain out. The Saints didn’t place him on injured reserve, so that can carry some optimism that they believe he’ll be back by Week 4. In his absence, the Saints will continue targeting Kamara all over the field with Cook being a main focal point in the red-zone. As for wide receivers, it’s fair to expect Smith to be the target leader between him, Sanders, and Harris. Smith would be the only wide receiver worthy of FLEX consideration.

Overall, Thomas is a risk to play in Week 3 without a contingency in place should he be inactive again. If you have to choose between Thomas and someone who plays earlier on Sunday (or perhaps even on Thursday Night Football), it’s recommended to sit Thomas in that case. However, if he is active on Sunday, he is an easy choice to start.

Even at much less than 100%, Thomas is still an extremely valuable fantasy football asset. While it’s never good to have your top player go down with an injury, it’s likely preferable to have it early in the season versus towards the end with fantasy football playoffs. Regardless of what happens this weekend, it’s not the time to panic.

Doug Moore is a fantasy football writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @DMooreNFL.