The Saints are going to have to strategize for a wide receiver core in Week 1 and possibly beyond that lacks their star player, Michael Thomas, as he underwent ankle surgery in late June. Ian Rappaport of the NFL Network is reporting that the surgery will preclude the New Orleans Saints All-Pro wideout from suiting up for the first few games of the 2021 regular season.

Thomas had ligaments in his ankle surgically repaired last month and the estimated time it takes to recover is up to four months. The Saints are certainly hoping that Thomas can beat that timetable.

The 28-year-old All-Pro receiver missed a host of games after suffering an ankle injury in the Saints’ opening day victory, 34-23, over the Buccaneers. He missed the next six outings and struggled to get back into form upon his return. Despite being hobbled, Thomas produced 37 receptions for 421 yards over the next six games. However, he put too much stress on the ankle and was forced to miss the final three regular-season contests.

In New Orleans’ 21-9 NFC Wild Card win over the Chicago Bears, Thomas returned and dominated with five receptions for 73 yards and his lone touchdown of the year. However, he was unable to maintain that momentum against the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the Saints’ 30-20 NFC Divisional Round loss. Tampa Bay game-planned specifically to stop the All-Pro wideout and their strategy clearly worked, as Thomas failed to catch a single pass in the contest.

Before last season, Thomas had been one of the most successful wide receivers of all time during his first few years in the NFL. Over his first four seasons in the league, Thomas caught 32 touchdown passes and averaged 118 receptions for 1,1378 yards. He set a league record with 149 catches in 2019 and produced a career-high 1,725 yards that same season.

The loss in production this year will be difficult for New Orleans to replace, as they have already parted ways with multiple tight ends as well as their second-best receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

The Saints’ issues extend to the defensive side of the ball as well, where they are without their star tackle David Onyemata for at least six weeks. They might also be losing cornerback Marshon Lattimore for some time after he was arrested in the offseason.

If Thomas does not suit up for Week 1, the Saints will have nine new starters on the field for the 2021 season. He was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 and has 510 career catches. New Orleans will certainly be hoping he makes a speedy recovery.

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