Sunday, August 11, 2013
Broncos should give Welker plenty of room
By Jeff Legwold
In his time with the New England Patriots Wes Welker caught passes on a historical level.
Five 100-catch seasons in six years, 18 games with 10 or more catches, a pile of wins and the standing as Tom Brady's go-to guy when things got dicey on a play. The Broncos knew about, and coveted, all of that when they signed Welker.
But look at the Broncos offensive scheme and Welker's prospective place in it and there is a career-high or two still waiting for him.
"We think he can help us in a lot of ways, or we wouldn't have signed him,'' said Broncos coach John Fox. "He's a proven guy who gives defenses some problems. That's what we're expecting.''
Welker's route tree was a fairly limited affair with the Patriots, at least in terms of the areas of the field he routinely worked when he lined up as the slot receiver. As a result his yards per catch wasn't always that high and he often didn't get to close the deal in the scoring zone.
In 2008, for example, Welker finished with 10.5 yards per catch and three touchdowns on 111 receptions, or one scoring touch per 37 receptions. In 2009 he finished with four touchdowns on 123 catches, or one every 30.75 receptions.
Only in 2011, when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had the Patriots' two-tight end look at its ground-breaking best did Welker finish with more than seven touchdowns -- he had nine that year.
In 11 of Welker's 31 career 100-yard games -- all with the Patriots -- he averaged 11.5 yards or less per catch. In three of four postseasons in which he appeared in at least one playoff game for the Patriots, he averaged under nine yards per catch.
Break down the video and the Broncos should be able to pump up Welker's per-play impact without sacrificing too much of the overall catch numbers.
To start the Broncos are better at wideout, with two 1,000-yard receivers from 2012 in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, than the Patriots have been since the end of the 2009 season when Randy Moss was set to turn 32 and no longer fit the Patriots' needs.
At 6-3, 214 pounds and 6-3, 229 pounds respectively, Decker and Thomas also present far more difficult size-speed matchups for individual defenders on the outside than the Patriots had in Welker's tenure in New England. Welker found more room to run in New England when Gronkowski and Hernandez presented the difficult size-speed matchups to opposing coordinators -- he had his career high yards per catch (12.9) in '11 -- but Thomas' deep speed to go with the ability to work the crossing routes inside as well as bubble screens pushes the envelope a little more.
Decker can also work out of the slot, as can the Broncos tight ends, if the Broncos choose to put Welker elsewhere or to bunch on the inside. The Broncos also get plenty of production out of the tight end position so they are far more than decoys in the pattern.
Perhaps not to the level of a healthy Gronkowski, but last season the Denver tight ends combined for 98 receptions, 974 yards and seven touchdowns. That all leaves opposing defenses with a pile of tough choices when the Broncos ramp up the three-wide look. especially if they can add the play action run-game to the look to keep yet another defender doing something else in the middle of the field other than covering Welker.
In short, if things go the way the Broncos want them to, Welker should simply have more room to work, more room for run-after-catch plays, especially if the Broncos can push his initial touch from the 4- to 8-yard areas to the 9- to 12-yard spots more often.
The end result may be a slight drop in catches Peyton Manning spreads the ball around in the Broncos offense, but Welker could see a career bump in yards per catch and an marked increase in scoring chances.