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First Down: Turkey Thomas almost ready for stretch run

Brad Evans
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On Thursday, fantasy fanatics will gather round with family and friends to consume a meal of gut-busting proportions. Over the course of an afternoon, spoonfuls of stuffing, slabs of butter and slices of pumpkin pie will be devoured in portion sizes svelte dietitians and TV fitness gurus would deem “nightmarish.”

For those that partake in the caloric marathon, be sure to save room on your plate for a delicious slice of Pierre Thomas(notes).

The embattled New Orleans back is this year’s unanimous choice for fantasy’s Most Valueless Turkey.

Sidelined by a mysterious ankle injury - revealed Sunday to be a torn tendon - for eight frustrating weeks, the PT Cruiser has arguably been the virtual game’s “Biggest Loser.” Hogging space on owner rosters that could’ve been designated for midseason waiver finds LeGarrette Blount(notes), Mike Goodson(notes) or Keiland Williams(notes), the popular early-round pick has become a burdensome bench squatter, handcuffing the committed.

Roughly four months ago the feeling was considerably different.

Though 2009 was largely disappointing for Thomas, Mike Bell’s(notes) dismissal from New Orleans combined with the Saints’ destructive offense implied a career year was on the horizon. His incredible versatility, bone-crushing power and presumed goal-line role spiked his draft value. As a result, pundits and novices alike routinely slid the rusher up cheat sheets, smugly calling his name no later than Round 3.

Sadly, PT again hasn’t lived up to the hype. Though he paid a handsome dividend in PPR leagues pre-injury, his serviceable, yet underachieving, 11.3 points per game for standard leaguers didn’t exactly satisfy. That combined with his prolonged absence has understandably created a great deal of distrust and uncertainty.

However, after “turning a corner” in practice last week, Thomas may soon produce numbers his patient owners will be thankful for. According to insiders, he could be back in action as early as Turkey Day, matched against a Dallas defense which has allowed a friendly 4.2 yards per carry and 132.3 total yards per game to RBs. From Saints beat reporter Kristian Garic:

Thomas was on crutches in the locker room before the bye week. Now he's without the walking sticks.

"I'm being cautious. I can't say it's feeling 100 percent right now, but it's in the high either 70's or high 80's. I want to make sure everything is good," continued Thomas. … Thomas admitted he's not in game shape, but did say with a wry smile, "I'll be back sooner than people think." When probed for more information on a possible return, he said grinning ear to ear, "Soon, very soon." I replied, "Turkey day?" Pierre's response, "It has to be a surprise." At the very least Pierre Thomas is feeling better, moving around...and he's close. My hunch – we see him when the Saints travel to Dallas for a Thanksgiving Day feast with the Cowboys.

Gobble, friggin’ gobble.

Although Thomas’ imminent activation is bit of good news, even his staunchest supporters remain guarded about just how valuable the rusher will be. The Saints’ crowded backfield and daunting playoff schedule (StL, at Bal, at Atl) are worrisome.

On the surface, PT’s situation appears avoidable. But don’t toss him into the oven just yet. Here are three reasons why this year’s MVT deserves a pardon:

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1) The Saints swagger. Against one of the league’s worst secondaries, Seattle, Drew Brees(notes) and friends finally regained the moxie missing from last year's Super Bowl run. Marques Colston(notes), Robert Meachem(notes) and Lance Moore(notes) hauled in several impressive catches. Meanwhile, Chris Ivory gained large chunks of yards between the tackles. With confidence renewed, Sean Payton’s well-oiled machine should continue to crank out the points. Thomas' timing couldn't be more impeccable.

2) Role. Up until Week 11, New Orleans’ unbalanced philosophy was the reason for its struggles. Safeties, unafraid of containing the ground game, stayed back off the line employing more zonal tactics, which often hindered the offense. PT and Reggie Bush(notes) were the keys to the Saints’ explosiveness a season ago. Both will be leaned on heavily when healthy to keep DBs honest.

Undoubtedly, Payton will continue to follow an aggressive vertical script, but once up to full speed, Thomas will net his usual 20-25 touches per game. Versus flimsy defensive fronts (e.g. at Cin Week 13 and vs. TB Week 17) his workload could be heavier. Most importantly, due to the Saints’ unimpressive execution inside the 10 over the past several weeks, he will likely overtake goal-line duties.

3) The mighty dollar. Money can be quite the motivator. Over the summer, Thomas pushed hard for a lucrative multi-year contract. Saints management wasn’t willing to commit long-term, instead offering him a one-year deal. Thomas signed the proposal, hoping 2010 would make him a very wealthy man. Of course, the injury setback has temporarily squashed his caviar dreams. Rumors he was almost shipped to New England at the trade deadline suggest those fantasies may not be realized in 'Nawlins. Still, with a strong finish, he could prove to check writers, whether in the Crescent City or elsewhere, he’s a frontline starter.

No matter if he returns this week or next, one thing is certain: Thomas will reward the faithful at the season’s most imperative time.

PT looks ready to cruise through the fantasy playoffs.

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Images courtesy of the AP and US Presswire

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