Aaron Hernandez Injury Means More Touches for Wes Welker in Week 3

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst ISeptember 17, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Wes Welker #83, Rob Gronkowski #87 and Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots wait in the end zone after losing to the New York Giants 21-17 during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

For the better part of the last five seasons, Wes Welker has been the best receiver on one of the NFL's best passing attacks. Other receivers to his right and left have come and gone, but he remains, and he broke the franchise record for receptions during his team's 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon.

It was an odd week for Welker. After only catching three balls in a convincing win over the Tennessee Titans, the stats revealed he split time with backup Julian Edelman and seemed to only be a decoy in the flow of the offense.

Tom Brady responded this week by proclaiming one of his favorite targets is still "huge" in everything the New England Patriots do on offense.

The offense responded by benching Welker to open the game against the Cardinals. He didn't enter the game on the first two possessions, and only came in after Aaron Hernandez injured his ankle in the first quarter.

All of that adversity, and Welker goes on to break the all-time franchise record for receptions in a day that should have been built around celebrating his accomplishments as a Patriot. Instead, we're wondering if the only reason he had a chance to break that record is due to Hernandez being on the sideline.

He finished the afternoon with five catches for 95 yards and no touchdowns.

From a fantasy and offensive standpoint in the Patriots' offense, his touches will increase exponentially due to the loss of Hernandez. Rob Gronkowski may get all the press and the touchdowns, but the Pats move Hernandez all over the line of scrimmage, from the backfield to the slot and out wide.

That kind of flexibility will be lost if he isn't on the field. Welker can fill that role in the slot, as he has done for the better part of his career. Stevan Ridley is also due to see some increased touches.

The mystery of Welker will likely stay that way. It's been a bad eight months for the guy, from dropping a potential game-winning Super Bowl touchdown to being blamed for the loss by Brady's supermodel wife.

He then was unable to sign a long-term extension and is on the franchise tag for this year.

All the uncertainty and bad vibes behind him, it looks like Welker will get a chance to shut the questions up and play football. Hernandez looks like he will miss multiple games with a high ankle sprain, and that could be the opportunity Welker needs to excel on the field and on your fantasy team next week.