Wes Welker Shines in Broncos' Debut with New QB Peyton Manning

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 6, 2013

Sep 5, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Other than a botched punt return, Wes Welker's debut with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning showcased exactly why he was among the most talked about free-agent signings of the offseason. 

Welker finished with nine grabs for 67 yards and two scores on the Broncos' 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens, proving to be Manning's most reliable target and one that he'll turn to early and often this season. Those stats could have been even more impressive if the outcome hadn't already been decided by the start of the fourth quarter.

Manning wasted no time looking in Welker's direction, targeting the former Patriots star with his second pass of the season. He scampered out to the left and beat out tight coverage for a 10-yard catch-and-run that gave the Broncos a first down.

On the Broncos' second drive, Welker caught three passes and was the lone bright spot in a Denver offense that sputtered early on. 

But it wasn't until the second half that the Broncos offense really woke up, and Welker was a prime contributor in that regard. He caught two third-quarter touchdowns, with scores of five yards and two yards to help cushion Denver's lead.

Throughout the game, Welker proved to be the reliable, sticky-handed and elusive target that he was in New England—a very promising sign for Broncos fans. 

Manning proved the new addition is unquestionably his favorite target by connecting with him four more times than the second-leading pass-catcher.

Slot receiver has long been one of the most important positions in a Peyton Manning offense. He's been able to turn unheard-of players into stars there (see: Austin Collie), and Welker is among the best in the business at that spot. 

Welker's route running is unrivaled in the NFL, and Manning has the type of accuracy that can cancel out even the tightest coverage. Those two dynamics put together proved to be deadly for the Ravens defense, and if it worked against one of the league's best units, why should we expect any different from the rest of Denver's opponents?

He may not out-gain his fellow receivers on any given night—Demaryius Thomas had 161 yards and Julius Thomas had 110—but he's never been a deep threat, and with the weapons around him, he won't have to. He's there to pick up first downs and get open in the end zone, which he did to perfection on Thursday. 

The 32-year-old has also shown the ability to be a dependable punt returner despite his heavy involvement on offense. Although his muffed punt return in the second quarter led to a Ravens touchdown, he helped to make up for it with a 27-yard return that could've gone the distance had a teammate not run into him. 

Welker's experience with returning punts made his slip-up that much more surprising, but his familiarity with the job ensures he won't make many more mistakes like that.

But when it comes down to it, Welker wasn't brought to Denver to make an impact on the return game—even though he inevitably will. He was brought in to catch passes, move the chains and be a reliable target, which he undoubtedly proved Thursday night.