Michael Thomas’ fantasy football value is very much up in the air right now, and dynasty managers have tough decisions to make this offseason. Last season, he was arguably the best NFL player not to take the field. In contrast, he was considered a long-term dynasty difference-maker two years ago. These days, he’s a 29-year-old at a career crossroads. How should fantasy managers — including dynasty managers — value him in 2022 and beyond?
Michael Thomas’ dynasty profile for 2022
Two years ago, Thomas wrapped up a season where he earned 33% of the Saints‘ targets. For context, that’s a higher percentage than Cooper Kupp managed with the Rams this past season. In fact, Thomas’ 2020 target share among the Saints’ WRs and TEs was 48%.
Additionally, Thomas’ career 78% catch rate is higher than nearly every single-season starting WR catch rate in modern NFL history. To provide context, Hunter Renfrow’s 80.5% mark in 2021 was the second-highest catch rate in the past 30 years. Who had the highest? Yes, Michael Thomas. Arguably, there had never been as great a start to a WR’s NFL career since Jerry Rice first took the field.
Unfortunately, injuries have curtailed that impressive start. Thomas has played just seven games and been on the field for only 345 snaps in the last two years. He did not play a single game in 2021.
Therefore, investing in Thomas means investing, at least somewhat, in his almost mythical greatness. Thomas still can be a perennially elite fantasy wideout. But can he remain a target monster with the Saints (and perhaps elsewhere) down the road? Will he play with a QB of Drew Brees’ caliber, or at least someone capable of feeding him? And should his recent ankle injuries raise serious questions about his short- and long-term durability?
Fantasy projection for Thomas
About six weeks ago, PFN’s fantasy analysts assembled initial dynasty fantasy rankings for 2022. Jason Katz ranked Thomas as the WR24. Tommy Garrett placed him at No. 36. I had him at No. 27. Two years ago, placing Thomas anywhere outside the top five would have been unthinkable. Obviously, a lot has changed.
Our collective rankings assumed Thomas might have one or two more WR2-or-better seasons, but not enough to merit a significant investment. We cannot talk about his future potential without focusing on the retirement of Brees, one of the most accurate passers in NFL history.
How will Thomas look without Drew Brees?
When Ted Ginn Jr. first joined the Saints in 2017, he enjoyed the best catch rate of his career (76%) — not bad for someone with a career 54% mark. Or look at Emmanuel Sanders’ one season in New Orleans in 2020, when he secured a career-high 74% of his targets (compared to a 62% career mark).
We don’t yet know the degree to which Brees elevated Thomas vs. Thomas elevating Brees. Sure, Thomas has all-world abilities. But if a middling QB throws to him, can he be a weekly fantasy starter?
For a glimpse, look at the four games Taysom Hill started in 2020 when Thomas produced a 30-343-0 receiving line. Very good, right? Except three of those games came against bottom-six pass defenses. He went 4-50-0 against the “best” defense (the Broncos), who were barely middling that year while yielding the sixth-most QB fantasy points per game.
Will he continue to dominate targets?
The overall WR1 in 2019, Thomas racked up 374.6 PPR fantasy points — a whopping 100.5 points higher than the WR2 (Julio Jones). Thomas also enjoyed a league-high 185 targets, which was 28 more than Jones, who was No. 2 in targets.
So when assessing Thomas’ fantasy value, we have to consider not only a potential decrease in catch rate but also in target rate. The 2019 season is neither his baseline nor his new norm. Realistically, his ceiling lies somewhere between 120 and 140 targets with a 75% catch rate, barring the signing of an elite QB. That would place his upside at a receiving line of around 100-1,200-9, or 275 fantasy points.
For most players, that would seem fantastic. For Thomas, that’s a more realistic ceiling of a once-unstoppable fantasy force.
How to assess his contract situation
The Saints entered this offseason roughly $60 million over the cap, making it incredibly difficult to improve a team accustomed to winning but potentially finding itself on the downside of a dynasty. In late February, the team took big steps to bring their finances in order, including converting approximately $14.5 million of Thomas’ salary into a signing bonus.
Thomas’ contract runs through the 2024 season, with void years in 2025 and 2026 to help spread out his cap number. The recent restructuring suggests New Orleans remains committed to Thomas, at least in the short term. Releasing or trading Thomas before June would cost the Saints $37.265 million in dead money.
They could move on from him after June 1, but that would leave them with $11.8 million in dead money in 2022 and $25.4 million in 2023. Therefore, it seems that Thomas will be in New Orleans in 2022 — and maybe even 2023.
But as we might imagine, this remains a year-to-year situation: New Orleans is at a crossroads. Do they go all-in on another Super Bowl push? Or are they two years away from rebuilding mode? For context, among all starting RBs entering 2022, Alvin Kamara (turning 27 years old this summer) is No. 3 in career RB touches behind Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry. The once-young offensive core is fast approaching its post-prime years.
Thomas’ dynasty value
Thomas possesses all of the tools to be elite. He’s also been sidelined for a large chunk of the past two seasons. It could take him weeks or even months to build chemistry with a new quarterback, a new head coach, and presumably a new system. 2022 will help tell us who he might be in 2023 and 2024. But he has just as good a chance of being a WR1/2 these next few years as he does a WR3. For dynasty purposes, that makes him either a little-to-lose WR3 or a risky WR1/2.