METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints will be without both of their top receivers Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Michael Thomas has been ruled out with a hamstring injury that crept up this week. in addition to his pre-existing ankle injury. And Emmanuel Sanders will miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, coach Sean Payton told reporters Friday.
Sanders practiced Wednesday and Thursday. But Payton said he began experiencing symptoms of the virus on Thursday afternoon, so the Saints sent him to their doctors for an additional test, which turned up positive. He will now be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Payton, who spoke after Friday's practice, said the team also tested about 20 other people who might have been near Sanders, and all of them tested negative. However, Payton said reserve cornerback Ken Crawley will be added to the reserve/COVID-19 list as a precaution because of their close contact.
Payton said Sanders “got this at home” and “knows exactly how he got it,” though he didn't offer any specific details beyond that.
Sanders is now the second Saints player to test positive this season after reserve running back Dwayne Washington spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list in training camp and early in the season. The Saints also had a false-positive test on the Saturday night before their Week 4 win at Detroit, which led to a need for backup tests at their team hotel late into the night before their game.
“It's part of the deal this year. We've talked about the distractions and focusing on the things you can control,” Payton said. “That's just 2020 right now.”
Payton declined to offer any specifics on Thomas' status before the team released its updated injury report listing him as out, other than to say that the hamstring injury is “something he's working through.” Thomas was absent from the early portion of Friday's practice that was open to the media, after he did not practice Thursday and was limited on Wednesday.
Sanders, an 11-year veteran who signed with the Saints in free agency, had really started to develop a connection with quarterback Drew Brees in recent weeks after a slow start to the season. Sanders caught a career-high 12 passes for 122 yards in Week 5. The Saints had a bye in Week 6.
This will now be the fifth consecutive game that Thomas has missed after he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1 and was benched for team disciplinary reasons in Week 5 after a practice altercation that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
Thomas appeared likely to return from the ankle injury before that incident in Week 5. And he was definitely expected back after the Week 6 bye. But the hamstring injury was a new ailment that showed up for the first time on Wednesday's injury report.
New Orleans also placed backup receiver Bennie Fowler on injured reserve with a shoulder injury Friday, which means he won't be part of the solution.
The Saints will likely rely heavily on running back Alvin Kamara, tight end Jared Cook and receiver Tre'Quan Smith in their passing game. Other options could include receivers Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Austin Carr and Juwan Johnson; running back Latavius Murray; quarterback/runner/receiver Taysom Hill and tight ends Josh Hill and Adam Trautman.