Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) runs against Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) during the second half in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Could the Denver Broncos Phase Out Wes Welker Early?


This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Rankings visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.

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An interesting storyline going into the 2014 fantasy football season is the time remaining for slot wide receiver Wes Welker with the Denver Broncos. The 34-year old receiver enjoyed a stellar debut season with the team in 2013, but missed the final three regular season games of the year due to concussion symptoms.

In addition, he came up lame in the Super Bowl, is aging and enters the final year of the two-year pact he signed with Denver last offseason.

With the Broncos letting Eric Decker walk in free agency this offseason, the writing appears to be on the wall that they’re very willing to do the same when Welker re-enters the open market in 2015. Peyton Manning might still have something to say about that, especially if Welker is cool with re-upping with the Broncos on the cheap, but for now that does appear to be where this marriage is headed.

So, does that mean Denver will squeeze all they can out of the aging slot machine, or will they use him as needed and prepare for a transition to younger, more explosive options?

That’s a harsh reality fantasy owners may have to consider when projecting Welker for 2014, and it’s a difficult notion to grasp. After all, Welker burst onto the scene with nine receptions in his first game ever with the Broncos in week one of last season, and ended up scoring a career high 10 touchdowns over the course of the season.

In fact, had Welker never endured that concussion and sat out the remaining three games, his 13-game averages could have set him up to finish his first season in Denver with roughly 89 receptions, 957 receiving yards and about 12 touchdowns.

While Welker being phased out of the offense after just one year may not make sense at first glance, two key points need to be considered: the Patriots already started to do the exact same thing in 2012 and the guys coming in to eventually replace Welker are superior talents.

If you go back and look and Welker’s first few games in his final season with the Pats, he had underwhelming stats because he wasn’t being used like he had in the past. Instead, the Patriots were rolling with a two-tight end system and using Julian Edelman more frequently.

However, there were injuries early in 2012 and Welker eventually got his monster role back. And as you may recall, he ended that 2012 season with a monster run that culminated in a 118 catch season.

Wes Welker saw the writing on the wall in New England and bolted for Denver, where the Broncos weren’t shy about using him out of the gates. That’s even an understatement, as Welker hauled in nine of his career high 10 scores within the first eight weeks. Just as impressive, he also put up at least six catches in six of those first eight contests.

Then comes the rub. In four of Welker’s final five games last season, he caught five or fewer balls.

That could be partially due to defenses keying in on him, as well as Denver trying to get more balanced and run the ball effectively. It also had to do with the other weapons around Welker, as well.

Factor all that in and then consider the talent Welker is trying to fend off, and a slow phase out appears to be in the cards. Think about it; if Decker was expendable, Welker surely is. And do the Broncos really want to bet everything on the health of a 34-year old slot man?

Not in 2014, and not after. That’s why we can expect to see even more of athletic tight end Julius Thomas, while new free agent Emmanuel Sanders and explosive rookie Cody Latimer could work their way into the rotation more than some may think.

Latimer has a foot injury that could keep him at bay for a bit, while Sanders has a history of injury issues and overall inconsistency.

That, plus the fact that Welker is still pretty darn amazing and his rapport with Manning is off the charts, suggests he still has a good amount of value left.

But just how much value? The best way to assess that is figuring out where you have to draft him and how you project him in his second year with all these talented bodies cluttering things up.

When you factor it all together, he’s probably got a WR2 ceiling. In PPR (Points Per Reception) league, he’s much closer to a WR1, but there is risk here at various levels, and that needs to impact his value at least a little.

His skill-set hasn’t eroded, though, and he’s still quite effective, so we need to treat him as a valuable weapon until he actually shows serious signs of suggesting otherwise. That being said, his current ADP (Average Draft Position) of round four might be a bit steep.

That makes him the 14th overall fantasy wide receiver in standard (non PPR) formats, and unless he comes back around and scores 10+ touchdowns again, stays healthy and also keeps Sanders and Latimer away from his targets, that simply isn’t going to happen.

It’s just too much to ask of the little guy.

That doesn’t mean his value is too much further down, but the fourth round is a tad rich. That currently puts him ahead of more explosive weapons like Victor Cruz, Percy Harvin and DeSean Jackson, as well as veterans with higher upside and proven track records like Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson.

Harvin’s upside is purely based on his days with the Vikings and he’s a risk on his own due to his awful injury history. But Jackson was the 10th best fantasy receiver a year ago and Fitzgerald (16th) and Johnson (12th) did pretty well, too.

Welker was 23rd. And even if he had finished with those prorated numbers we already discussed, he’d still only come in at about the 10-15 range. That’s if he kept up that pace and the second half pace he was on didn’t continue.

Welker is awesome and operates out of a sick offense, but I’m not sure I want him ahead of Fitzgerald or Johnson. And those are only a few of the names Welker is being taken ahead of on average that could force you to scratch your head.

His ADP puts his fantasy value in a place that suggests you won’t be able to get him where you’ll want him. Round four is probably where you’ll have to bite. However, he’s probably looking at more of a round five or round six value. If you can wait and get him, that’s awesome. If not, perhaps reaching for Welker just isn’t the route to go to get your WR2 in fantasy football this year.

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  • znesbit

    I think that having depth at the WR and TE positions may actually help Welker. As the article points out, Welker was more effective earlier in the season and then appeared to wear down a little. Those numbers are a little skewed because Welker had some concussion issue during the season were he missed games, or had games where he appear to be still feeling the effects of a concussion. Nevertheless, the point is that the length of the season seems to be having an adverse effect on Welker’s during the course of the season.
    However, if the Broncos can find ways to limit the abuse Welker takes during the season, preferable by working Latimer and V. Green (early OTA reports are promising for Green) in to the line-up, Welker might still be able to perform at a higher level later in the season and in the play-offs when having veteran experience can make all the difference. Clearly, this is Welker’s last year in Denver unless Welker decides to return and a very cap friendly price. With D. Thomas and J. Thomas both in line for new contacts next year, it seems highly unlikely that the Broncos will want to spend the money on Welker to bring him back. I believe this is why the Broncos were willing to move up in the second round for this year’s draft to pick Latimer. Latimer will get someexperience this year and next year will take over full-time for Sanders on the
    outside and Sanders will slide into Welker’s role as the slot receiver.

    That being said, I believe that Welker can still contribute at a high level this season and if the Broncos are able to limit the wear and tear on him throughout the season, he will be very valuable in the playoffs
    when the stakes are at the highest.

  • Paul Hutchison

    mark my word, Welker will not phased out but will resign if Manning plays another year. just saying.

    • znesbit

      I agree that Welker is still going to have a role this year in the offense. I’m afraid that given his age and concusion history and the players that need contracts next year, that Welker will not be back next year.

      • Paul Hutchison

        We’ll see. He will not demand nor get his present salary from any club including the Broncos. He just might end it in Denver with Peyton in 2015.