Wes Welker's move to Denver not only delivers the clear potential to impact his numbers this season, but will also affect the collective aerial attacks of both the Broncos and the Patriots. Plus, it could easily have tilted the balance of power within the AFC.
Denver GM John Elway lured Welker westward by offering the five-time Pro Bowler a two-year, $12 million contract, which was understandably more appealing than the two-year $10 million deal that was offered by his former team.
While New England's lower offer was certainly well calculated, you are justified in questioning the decision, based upon Welker's exceptional production as a Patriot. Welker was second among all WRs with 118 receptions last season, was fourth with 174 targets, and also placed seventh in yardage with 1,354. That enabled him to easily lead the Patriots in each of those categories. Yet, his accomplishments were enormously consistent with the statistics that he manufactured during his six- year tenure with New England. He collected at least 111 passes in five of those six seasons, and also accumulated 1,165+ yards in five different years with the team.
Now, he will join a Bronco offensive unit that attained passing numbers in virtual lockstep with New England during 2012. Denver finished ranked one slot above the Patriots with 37 TDs, and finished just one slot behind Welker’s former team in both passing offense (4,534), and YPG (283).
How It Impacts Welker’s Numbers
By uniting with a Denver offense that already possessed two highly talented and productive receivers, Welker will help Peyton Manning spearhead a thoroughly relentless attack. It is unlikely that Welker's target total will match the level that existed in New England, because Manning threw to Thomas 141 times last season, which was the NFL's 13th highest total., and Decker garnered 123 targets in his own right. That will decrease the number of receptions that Welker can accumulate, although his yardage total should remain extremely high. And he will still experience a very productive season. 72 of his catches generated 1st downs in 2012, and his 84.6 YPC was the NFL’s eighth highest total. That number becomes even more impressive, when you consider how many options existed within the Patriots’ aerial assault last year. And even though his TD total will be partially shaped by the number of times that Thomas and Decker cross the goal line, Welker was never a scoring machine in New England. In fact he averaged just six per season during his tenure. Also, he has only missed three games throughout his stellar career, which bodes well for his ability to remain in the lineup, and produce numbers. It is wise for fantasy owners to consider Welker as a viable option on draft day.
Quick, list the secondaries that are currently equipped to contain Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Could you generate any? Thomas has already demonstrated his ability to shred opposing defenses, having finished fourth among all WRs with 1,434 yards last season, and second only to Calvin Johnson with an impressive 29 receptions of 20 yards or more. He also led the Broncos with 94 receptions, and was second on the team with 10 TDs. Even with Welker lining up in the slot, Thomas will remain Denver's WR1, and supply fantasy owners with another prolific season. But his totals will not exceed those of Decker by sizable amounts, as he also possesses a proven track record of connecting frequently with Manning. He led Denver with 13 TDs in 2012, surpassed 1,000 yards (1,023), and accrued 85 receptions. And there is no reason to forecast a significant decrease in any major receiving category. However, Tight Ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme are far more likely to be impacted by Welker's presence. They combined for 83 catches, 911 yards, and seven TDs last season, but Welker will consume more throws from Manning than the 45 receptions that were garnered by the QB's close friend Brandon Stokely when he manned the slot.
How It Impacts The Patriots
Obviously, Brady won’t suddenly degenerate into a floundering signal caller who struggles to guide his team down the field. In fact, he should continue to thrive with an exceptional array of options. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will return to create matchup nightmares for opposing coaches and defenders. And once the news of Welker's departure had resonated, the team quickly acquired Danny Amendola. It is ironic that the newest Patriot target is another former Texas Tech receiver, who can potentially thrive in the slot. Plus, the team might be compelled to add more receivers onto the roster if Bill Belichick determines that it would be prudent to do so. However, no member of this trio that comprises New England’s primary receiving options can even remotely match Welker’s track record of resiliency as a steady target in the lineup. Gronkowski missed five regular season contests due to a forearm injury in 2012, while Hernandez was sidelined for seven games with an ankle issue. Meanwhile, Amendola was unavailable to the Rams in five different contests last season due to ankle and shoulder concerns, and was sidelined for a whopping 15 games after dislocating his elbow in 2011. Fantasy owners should consider their history when Brady and his main options are being considered on draft day.