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Spotlight: Wes Welker

posted by Mark Wimer on Jul 22nd


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Wes Welker is playing in one of the league's most potent offensive attacks - Tom Brady has been a top-ten fantasy quarterback in three of the last four seasons (except for his one-game, injury-wrecked 2008 campaign). Last year, Brady had a ridiculously good 36 TDs to four interceptions ratio, tossing 324/492 for 3,900 yards. Welker is his most trusted target, with 123 footballs thrown his way last year (the most targets on the Patriots' roster last year) leading to 86/848/7 receiving. Although last season we saw Welker record less than 110 receptions for the first time in four years (he had 112, 111, and 123 receptions respectively from 2007-2009, and is the only NFL player in history to have at least 110 receptions in three straight seasons), it is important to remember that Welker came into 2010 off a major knee reconstruction surgery. Even though Welker was playing through difficult circumstances, he didn't cut himself any slack: "I think everybody wants a new deal, but I wouldn't say anything I did this past year would warrant one or anything like that," Welker said.

Speaking of Welker's knee surgery, it would be wise for fantasy owners to remember that, generally speaking, it takes players a full year to fully recover from knee reconstruction surgery. Welker's injury occurred in Week 17 of 2009, and he was placed on IR. Welker came back to play 15 of 16 games last season despite having a shortened time window for rehabilitation. 2011 is the year that he should be fully recovered from his surgeries, which may increase his on-field productivity. The Patriots seem satisfied with their cadre of wide receivers entering the 2011 season, as they didn't draft a single wide receiver in April, instead electing to shore up the offensive line, running back, quarterback, and tight end positions on offense.

Given how small the time window is becoming for free agency and training camp practices, any free agent receiver that the Patriots elect to bring into camp is unlikely to pick up the offense quickly enough to unseat Welker at the top of the depth chart. The team disclaimed any interest in bringing Randy Moss back in mid-July (he being already familiar with the New England offense). In short, there appear to be few threats to Welker remaining the favorite target of Tom Brady during 2011.

However, Welker saw his targets drop from 162 during 2009 to 123 during 2010 as the Patriots introduced a strong rotation of two young tight ends. Rob Gronkowski had 59 targets for 42/546/10 receiving last year, while Aaron Hernandez accumulated 64 targets for 45/563/6. With such strong production from Gronkowski and Hernandez, there are two more mouths for Brady to feed during 2011. It may be that Welker has seen his last 150+ target season given the new team dynamic.

Positives

  • Welker plays in a high-octane offense, and he has four years of experience in the system, which should cushion any ill effects from the lockout-enforced lack of offseason practices this year
  • Welker is now well past the one-year recovery window from his 2010 knee surgery - he should be back at the top of his form physically speaking
  • There is no one behind Welker on the depth chart who appears to be a serious threat to unseat Welker as Tom Brady's #1 target

Negatives

  • The emergence of two top-flight receivers at the tight end position has changed the dynamic on the Patriots' passing game - there are a lot of weapons for Tom Brady to spread the ball around to this year, especially in the red zone
  • Welker is 30 years old now, and that is the age at which some players start to decline in physical ability/the resiliency to return swiftly from injuries
  • A young player like Julian Edelman (entering his third season with New England) could rise up to challenge Welker during training camp - we haven't seen how the current players on the roster are maintaining their skills yet thanks to the lockout, which increases uncertainty about the depth chart entering 2011

Final thoughts

I believe that Welker is well-positioned to remain the number one target on the Patriots this year, and while he may never see 160+ targets in a season again, I feel that 140 is well within his reach. I am also encouraged by his distance in time from the severe knee injury that he fought through last year. However, the emergence of the young duo of tight ends has lessened his prominence in the red-zone. Essentially, I am right in step with the consensus ranking on Welker in redraft leagues as of mid-July - he's at 16th on my wide receiver board and on the consensus board.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

mlball77 said:

No proven WR that consistently stretches the field worries me a little bit, but Welker was reasonably productive last season under those circumstances and I'd guess his knee will be a little better off this year.

MrTwo94 said:

Welker is an interesting prospect this year. In four seasons on the Patriots, he's averaged 7.0, 6.9, 8.8, and 5.7 receptions per game all around 10-11 ypr. Last year he was coming off a knee injury that we all expected to land him on the PUP to begin the season. I think a conservative estimate for 2011 would be 6.5 rec/gm which would put him just over 100 receptions and very likely around 1100 yards, making him very valuable in ppr formats and a safe WR2 in non-ppr with low WR1 upside. Touchdown projections are always a crapshoot, but last year, with no Randy Moss, his rec/TD saw an improvement. In his four NE seasons they are 14, 37, 31, 12. It should not surprise anyone if a healthy Welker manages his first double digit TD season in 2011, although 8-9 is where the statistics project him.

rzrback77 said:

I think that the projections for Wes Welker being based on history and the fact that he should be better in 2011 since he has completely recovered from his knee injury are still leaving out an important factor and it is not the loss of the stretch the field (Randy Moss) WR.

The following information really made a point with me regarding the target history in New England for Welker.

07 - Welker 145 targets and total TE targets 68
08 - Welker 150 targets and total TE targets 64
09 - Welker 162 targets and total TE targets 61
10 - Welker 123 targets and total TE targets 133

Welker has always been a very reliable receiver in that he would be where Brady expected him to be and he would catch the balls that Brady delivered. However, in 2010 Brady had three Welkers and the two TE Welkers both averaged more yards per catch (13.0 Gronk and 12.5 Hernandez against 9.9 for Welker) and scored 10 TDs Gronk, 6 TDs Hernandez and 7 for Welker.

I just don't think that Welker is that much better, if any, than the two young TEs and see a real possession reception by committee employed by the Patriots going forward.

The following projection line is with the receiving corps as it is now and not adding a stretch the field WR. The addition of that guy in my opinion would likely carver the pie into even smaller pieces and further reduce Welker's production.

He is still a valuable guy to have in ppr leagues, but coming up short compared to past seasons in my opinion.

TheWick said:

The days of Moss stretching the field and Welker running free underneath are over. The Pats offense now has several intermediate targets that will take away passes thrown his way. I don't see anyway he gets the 150+ targets he'll need to be a WR1. With his lack of yards and TDs he'll be a reasonable WR2 in PPR leagues but his ceiling is certainly limited.

Boston said:

I don't know why anyone would doubt Welker at this point...the bottomline is if he's open than Brady is throwing to him...it's really that simple and to try to find reasons why this won't happen is just trying too hard...he has done nothing but produce with the Pats whether Brady was playing, Cassell was playing, Moss was dominating, Moss was MIA or he was coming back months earlier from an injury than most pedicted...until he loses it physically or in another uniform he will be Brady's main target...being a year and half removed from the injury I see a typical year for Welker...at the end of the day whether he can get in the end-zone will determine just how valuable he is fantasy-wise...that's where the TE's may effect him by either taking TDs away or actually giving him more room to operate...they're not going to hurt him in the reception department with #12 at QB...



Wes Welker projections

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Mark Wimer981050500
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