Saints' Michael Thomas Could Play Week 7 After Punishment for Fight in Practice

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2020

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas warms up before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton has left the door open for wide receiver Michael Thomas to return to the lineup Sunday in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers.

According to Luke Johnson of the New Orleans Advocate, Payton said: "We'll see. I think he's feeling better. We really don't get into injuries or predictions, so you guys will be the first to know."

Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1 and hasn't played since. The Saints were on their bye last week, but Thomas was in line to potentially play the week before against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The decision was made to hold him out of that game, however, after he got into an altercation with teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson in practice. Payton said Wednesday that any discipline related to that fight is now over.

Thomas had just three receptions for 17 yards before getting injured in the Saints' Week 1 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he has developed into arguably the top wide receiver in the NFL in recent years.

The 27-year-old Thomas is in the midst of his fifth NFL season and has already been named to the Pro Bowl three times while earning two First-Team All-Pro nods as well.

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Thomas has four 1,000-yard receiving seasons to his credit, and he led the NFL in receptions in both 2018 and 2019. Last season, Thomas set a single-season NFL record with 149 catches, and he added 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns as well.

The Saints are off to something of a shaky start this season with a 3-2 record, and some of that can be attributed to Thomas' absence.

With Thomas on the shelf, veteran quarterback Drew Brees has largely opted to throw short, safe passes. As a result, running back Alvin Kamara is the team's leader in all major receiving categories with 38 receptions for 395 yards and three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has stepped into the No. 1 wideout role during Thomas' absence and performed admirably with 26 grabs for 304 yards and two touchdowns, while Tre'Quan Smith has been a fairly significant contributor as well with 16 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

There is no question that Brees has missed Thomas and his sure hands, ability to move the chains and penchant for making big plays down the field when called.

Perhaps Thomas missing some time will turn out to be a blessing in disguise, though, as Sanders and Smith have built a rapport with Brees and may be more reliable options for him moving forward because of it.

Even so, the Saints would undoubtedly love to have Thomas back for Sunday's game against a Panthers team that is off to a surprising 3-3 start and is in the NFC South race along with the Saints and the 4-2 Bucs.