How good can Wes Welker, the veritable and aptly named Slot Machine, be in the Denver Broncos’ well-oiled offense?
Let’s begin here: Brandon Stokley, an aged, replacement level slot receiver (and a Peyton Manning security blanket over the years) caught 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. I see no reason, even with studly pass catchers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker as Manning’s outside targets, why Welker can’t at least double those reception and yardage numbers.
Stokley was targeted 57 times last season. Barring some tremendous unforeseen change in the Denver scheme, I think Welker is locked in as a 100-target guy.
Welker’s fantasy value didn’t bite the proverbial dust today, as I saw in so many angst-ridden tweets. He’s still, at worst, a top-20 wide receiver. Manning’s attempts (he threw the seventh most passes in 2012, 31 more than Aaron Rodgers) and his unholy knack for manipulating defenses has supported three viable fantasy wide receivers before, and he’ll do it again, though not at the same ridiculous levels.
Age and arm strength, after all, catch up to everyone. Even Peyton.
Welker ran 508 routes from the slot in 2012, an absurd 86 more than anyone else. He converted 125 targets from the slot into 88 receptions for 1,040 yards and three scores. You can be sure that general manager John Elway and the Broncos didn’t sign Welker for their health. They plan to use the 31-year-old receiver, just as Manning torched defenses in 2010 with slot pass catcher Austin Collie.
On Manning’s Indianapolis Colts, Collie in 2010 caught 50 passes for 509 yards and seven touchdowns from the slot. Collie played a mere nine games that year.
Welker is not nearly the sure handed guy various TV personalities believe he is. He led the league in drops in 2012 with 15. He dropped the fourth most passes in 2011. Manning isn’t fond of pass droppers, making it clear with a combination of gesticulating and staring down the offending wideout. I don’t think this will be an issue for Welker in 2013, but it’s worth noting.
Thomas, thanks to his rare and lethal size-speed combination, maintains his top-five fantasy value. Decker is the one who takes a hit here. It’s reasonable to think that Welker will strip Decker of enough targets to reduce him to a top-25 wide receiver, at best. Decker will still be fantasy relevant, but the days of 78 catches for 988 yards and 11 touchdowns are likely over (for now). Decker’s only 25 years old.