Last week, I wrote an article which stated that slot receiver Wes Welker is simply a replacement for Brandon Stokley, not a top-10 receiver that will put the Denver Broncos over the top. Such a statement was not well received by a majority of fans, so today I’m going to clarify my point and break down what Welker’s role will look like in 2013.
Before we start, let it be known that Welker is viewed by this writer as one of the best—if not the best—slot receivers in the NFL. The Broncos may go over the top while Welker is on the team, but it will not be solely because of his addition/contributions. Fans may need to reevaluate their expectations for the kind of numbers Welker will be posting in the Broncos offense.
Here’s a quick review of what I pointed out last week.
- In New England, Welker was the guy being targeted 170-plus times a season over the past two years. Being a talented player, Welker was able to turn those targets into big numbers.
- Stokley, on the other hand, has been quarterback Peyton Manning’s slot receiver for a large part of his career. But in Manning’s offense, Stokley has only seen around 60-80 targets per season.
- Now in Denver, Welker will be replacing Stokley and filling his role. No longer the guy, Welker will be sharing targets with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, so his targets will go down considerably in 2013.
- Therefore, fans may need to temper their expectations for Welker in Denver. He is a great slot receiver that will likely improve on Stokley’s 2012 season, but he is no longer going to see 170-plus targets. His 100-catch seasons are likely behind him—Welker himself even admitted this, as per the Denver Post (via NFL.com).
In short, Welker is filling a role in Denver, not creating one. Now, we'll take a look at what his role will be.
In the play below, the Broncos are playing the Houston Texans in Week 3 of the regular season. On a 2nd-and-10 play, the Broncos run a simple all-go, slot crossing play.
Wide receivers Thomas and Decker and the tight end all run go (or “fly”) routes straight down the field, while the running back runs a short dig route, drawing the coverage of the middle linebacker.
All of this sets up the slot receiver to create separation by running behind the middle linebacker and across the field. The cornerback is already in chasing mode, and when the middle linebacker jumps the dig route in front of him, it only further slows down the corner’s pursuit.
The play’s design allows the slot receiver—Stokley—to easily catch the pass in the open field and gain a first down. These are precisely the type of plays that Welker was brought in to continue executing this season.
Welker will be replacing Stokley and his role, but he will also provide an upgrade for the Broncos—especially in terms of yards after the catch (YAC). Last season, Welker led the NFL in YAC with 702 yards.
While Stokley has outrun defenders and made a play on an occasional deep pass, he was never known as a home run hitter. Welker isn’t known as an as an “air-it-out” target, either, but he is younger (he’s 32; Stokley is 37) and more explosive than Stokley at this point in his career.
Obvious what I have to write about now. Brandon Stokley, Austin Collie, now Wes Welker. No one maximizes the white slot guy like PM.— Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) March 13, 2013
Stokley was clutch, perhaps more clutch than Welker (he caught 77 percent of his targets last season; Welker caught 67 percent of his targets), and his route running is superb, but he is not a player defensive coordinators spend extra hours preparing for during the week.
With Thomas and Decker on the outsides, defensives will now have to place special attention to Denver’s slot receiver—Welker—more than they did in 2012. When defending Stokley, it was inevitable to allow a few out routes to be caught and several 3rd-and-shorts to be converted off of slant routes.
The same will be the case with Welker but to a greater extent. When Welker catches an out, slant, drag or any other intermediate route, he’s a threat to take it the distance—or at least gain 5-to-10 more yards.
In the play we diagramed above, there was not a defender within five yards of Stokley when he made the catch. Yet, Stokley gained just 12 total yards on the play, taken down by the first defensive back to respond from deeper in the secondary.
In Welker, the Broncos now have a player that can turn these short routes into big plays. Where Stokley was clutch and counted on for a first down, Welker will, in an ideal world, be a playmaker for the team.
He probably won’t be the team’s leading receiver, but he’ll be as effective as Stokley was for the Broncos last season and then some.