After suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 1, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas hopes to return to the field this week in the team’s matchup against the Detroit Lions. While signs are pointing in the right direction, it has yet to be determined if he will be active for the game. Should fantasy football managers have a backup plan if Thomas is not active this week, or is it safe to rely on his return?

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Michael Thomas’ return could not come soon enough for the offensively struggling Saints 

If it was not for the herculean performances of Alvin Kamara, the Saints could have been in serious trouble. Sitting at 1-2 on the season, the team currently ranks 25th in rushing yards, 13th in passing yards, and 27th in scoring after three weeks. From a team who is perennially in the upper-echelon of the NFL, this is a drastic falloff. In 2019, while losing Drew Brees for several weeks, they were still seventh in passing, 16th in rushing, and were 13th in scoring. 

Much of this drop off can be attributed to the loss of Thomas. After netting numerous records, it helped to hide the falloff of Brees’s ability somewhat. Brees, 41, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer but has shown in 2020 that Father Time is undefeated. 

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he is averaging an NFL-low 4.8 air yards per throw through three games, and his completion percentage of 70.2 is his lowest since 2016. His passer rating of 106.3, while still above 100, ranks only ninth and is below what he did in 2018 (115.7) and 2019 (116.3).

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While Tre’Quan Smith has been off to a solid start (10 catches on 14 targets for 132 yards), he is not a player who can take over a game while Thomas is on the sidelines. Also, the disappointment of Emmanuel Sanders can not be overlooked. After signing a two-year, $16 million deal in the offseason, it was widely said that Sanders would be the best WR2 that Brees has had in his career.

Unfortunately, that has not come to fruition. Sanders has caught just eight passes on 13 targets for 89 yards and two touchdowns. It’s not because he has been on the sidelines, either. In Week 1, Sanders saw 48% of the snaps but has seen an increase due to Thomas’ absence, to 78%, and 79% in Weeks 2 and 3. 

The team, just like fantasy managers, need Thomas back in their lineups. Especially after spending a top-six selection on the 2019 WR1.

All signs point to Michael Thomas making his return in Week 4

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Saints have yet to determine Thomas’ availability for the weekend.

“He has practiced on a limited basis for the last two days for the New Orleans Saints,” Rapoport said. “This is a good sign, however, the fact that he’s trending well does not necessarily mean he’s going to play on Sunday. The Saints are being cautious. They know it’s a long season. Obviously, they’d like a win, but they are going to make sure there’s no risk of re-injury before putting him back on the field.”

After back to back limited practices, it will come down to Friday’s walkthrough to see if Thomas will be declared active for their game in a favorable matchup against the Lions. Keep a close eye on the Week 4 injury reports to see any updates on his status.

If active, is he a must-start in fantasy

While there will always be the possibility of re-injury, you can not sit someone as talented as Thomas. Every week, he brings the chance to have ten catches for 125 yards or more and a touchdown. Leaving league-winning upside on your bench is something that you can not afford to do.

The Saints come into this game with the possibility of missing Jared Cook while he deals with a groin injury making Thomas’ chance to explode even greater. The Lions have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to receivers and could see their toughest test of the season if Thomas is on the field.

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Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.