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How the Emmanuel Sanders signing affects Michael Thomas’s 2020 fantasy outlook

Will the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders help or hurt the Saints superstar WR?

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Michael Thomas is coming off one of the greatest seasons we have ever seen from a wide receiver in the NFL. Thomas broke Marvin Harrison’s single season reception record, led the league in receiving yards, and led all receivers with 293.5 standard PPR fantasy points. That total was a full 64.5 points better than the next closest WR, Tampa’s Chris Godwin. Looking towards the 2020 season, Thomas is still only 27 years old and Sean Payton and Drew Brees are both going to be back in the Big Easy. Thomas would appear to be a lock to repeat as the top WR in 2020. However, one constant every NFL off-season is that things change. Rosters change, coaches change, rules change, players progress and players regress. One big change occurred this off-season in New Orleans that will impact Michael Thomas. The impact is something you should consider as you plan and prepare for your draft night. That change: the Saints signing of Emmanuel Sanders.

Sanders’s Potential Impact

When they line-up in 2020, Emmanuel Sanders is will undoubtedly be the best WR Michael Thomas has played with since his rookie year when he shared the field with Brandin Cooks. Sanders has not had a 1,000-yard season since 2016 but has still finished higher in fantasy scoring each of the last three seasons than any other Saint receiver not named Michael Thomas. It is safe to say he will be a focal point of the Saint’s offensive attack in 2020, but how much will that impact Thomas’s fantasy outlook?

The last time Sanders was in an offense this complete was in 2014 when he caught passes from Peyton Manning and lined-up across from Demaryius Thomas. In 2014, Demaryius Thomas posted statistics that were comparable to Michael Thomas’s in 2019, hauling in 100+ balls and 11 touchdowns with 1,600+ yards, finishing as that year’s WR2. While it might be a safe bet that Michael Thomas will not break his own receptions record in 2020, Sanders arrival might not be as detrimental to Thomas’s fantasy outlook as it would seem at first glance.

When Sanders was traded to the 49ers in week 8 last season, the next best receiver on the San Francisco roster was rookie Deebo Samuel. Sanders immediately became the #1 option on the outside for the 49ers, but Samuel’s fantasy scoring actually increased significantly after Sanders’s arrival, going from averaging 5.5 points per game to 12.3 points per game. Sanders drew attention away from Samuel and allowed Samuel to line up against more favorable matchups from week to week.

Michael Thomas is still the unquestioned #1 option in the Saints offense, but instead of being able to gameplan entirely around stopping him, opposing defensive coordinators will no longer be able to ignore the rest of the Saints receiving unit. Thomas should see fewer double teams and less over-the-top coverage rolling to his side of the field.

The Verdict

Michael Thomas is still the best receiver in the NFL, on an offense led by what is now the best QB-coach combination in the league: Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Barring career years with new quarterbacks from either DeAndre Hopkins, Chris Godwin, or Mike Evans, Thomas should easily finish as the top scoring fantasy receiver again this year. Last year Thomas finished second in scoring among FLEX players, trailing only Christian McCaffrey’s monster total of 398 PPR points.

Some slight regression is only natural and this year I see Thomas finishing more around 3rd or 4th in flex scoring in the vicinity of 245 points. While Thomas should remain the league’s top fantasy WR, I would not draft him in the top 3 in non-PPR leagues with options such as McCaffrey, Derrick Henry or even Dalvin Cook out there. While Sanders may take some targets away, he will also draw some attention away from Thomas which should then result in your average Michael Thomas season (which roughly calculates to 240 fantasy points and 1400 yards with 8 touchdowns).

Thus, in the end, Emmanuel Sanders should not adversely impact what will again be a very high fantasy floor for Michael Thomas. Thomas will still be the likely WR1 when it is all said and done, and while it may be unlikely that he will be able to carry teams to the playoffs and beyond like he did last year, it is not out of the realm of possibilities.