What a difference a year makes.
After the free agent frenzy in March, 2013, the Denver Broncos had made headlines not for their signing of Louis Vasquez or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but their snatching away slot receiver Wes Welker from AFC rival New England.
The Broncos lured in Welker, who was expected to be a dynamic piece of an offense that was already loaded with talent, especially at receiver and tight end.
John Elway was aggressive, took away Tom Brady’s favorite target for the last five years, and gave him to Peyton Manning.
Not a bad move, Johnny boy.
But just over a year later, Welker has become almost a forgotten commodity in Denver’s offensive attack. After having to sit out a couple of games in 2013 due to concussions, Welker’s luster sort of faded off, even though he became a team captain after just two games with the team when Ryan Clady went down with an injury in a week two in over the Giants.
The history of what Welker has done in the league is impressive, but he knows he’s got a lot of work to du, no matter what his accolades.
Health is obviously the primary concern with Welker, who missed time last season with concussions. The Broncos played it safe and kept him out at the end of the season, not risking him missing any time in the playoffs — which he didn’t.
Despite playing in just 13 games — the least in his career for a single season — Welker recorded a career-high 10 touchdown grabs and was a key piece of the Denver offense, especially in the red zone and on third downs. And that’s exactly what they brought him in for.
Aside from catching a touchdown pass in the Broncos’ Divisional Round win over San Diego in the playoffs, Welker was kept relatively quiet, despite catching eight balls in the Super Bowl loss to Seattle. Entering into his second year with the team now, a contract year at that, it’s almost as though Welker doesn’t exist.
The luster of the signing has obviously worn down, but Welker is still Welker. With a year under his belt getting down timing with Peyton Manning, knowing what each other is doing before and after the snap, and communicating both on and off the field, Welker could be primed for as big a jump as any Broncos offensive player in 2014.
That’s amplified with the departure of Eric Decker and the addition of Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders is expected to record career-high numbers in Denver’s high-octane offensive attack, but Welker may see the biggest increase in targets from a year ago (110) and could very well eclipse his 10 touchdown total from last season.
It’s easy to forget now that the Broncos have added some new toys like Sanders and second round pick Cody Latimer just how big of a pickup Welker was a year ago. Heck, the Broncos have even seemingly already made plans to move on after this year. But Welker’s goal remains to win a championship, and at 33 years of age, the window is closing at a rapid rate.
For now, the Broncos still have Tom Brady’s ex-favorite weapon catching passes from Brady’s arch nemesis. That in itself is a major win. But the Broncos also have a hungry Wes Welker, arguably the best slot receiver to ever play the game, and a guy who feels like even at 33 years of age, he can still make improvements in his game.