Welker evolves as Patriots offense clicks

Wes Welker

WelkerWes Welker is setting the pace for all NFL receivers this season. With 45 receptions and 740 yards in the first five games, he is on pace for 144 catches and 2,368 yards. The NFL single-season records are 143 receptions (Marvin Harrison, 2002) and 1,848 yards (Jerry Rice, 1995).

Welker started his Patriots career with three straight 100-reception/1,000-yard seasons. However, in 2010, Welker’s production dipped due to the increased focus on the tight end in the Patriots’ offense.

Welker’s rebound this season is not just due to his old tricks. The 30-year-old receiver is evolving in his fifth season in the Patriots’ offense.

Receiving 11+ Yards Downfield
Last 2 Seasons

From 2008 to 2010, only 15.5 percent of Welker’s targets came on throws more than 10 air yards downfield. That’s the lowest percentage of any wide receiver with at least 200 targets during that span.

This season, that rate is up to 30.8 percent. Welker’s 20 targets on passes 11 yards or more downfield lead the Patriots and already exceed his total from 2010.

Welker is not only stretching the field more vertically, but horizontally as well.

The Patriots did not use Welker on the outside edges much from 2008 to 2010. Only 31.4 percent of Welker’s targets were thrown outside the painted field numbers, but that number is up to 40.0 percent this season.

Percent of Targets

Welker is averaging 18.0 yards per reception on throws outside the numbers this season after averaging 10.5 yards per reception from 2008 to 2010. Even netting out his 99-yard touchdown, the average is three yards higher in 2011. Four of Welker’s five touchdowns on the season have come on throws outside the numbers.

All of this is happening as Welker adjusts to the opposite side of the field. Over 50 percent of Welker’s targets this season have been on the left side, a rate that was below 40 percent the previous three seasons.

It also helps that Welker has yet to drop a pass this season. Welker led the NFL in drops last season with 11, including four in the first five games.

While Welker might not stay on NFL record-setting pace for the entire season, his new-found versatility is a boost to an already potent Patriots offense.