Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker suffered his third concussion in the last 10 months on Saturday when he was struck in the head by Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, according to John Breech of CBSSports.com.
When asked about Welker’s injury and a possible timetable for his return, Denver head coach John Fox told Breech, “It was determined it was a concussion. He'll go through the protocol. The biggest thing on him is, of course, player safety. He'll go through the protocol. ... He won't come back until he's ready to come back.”
Broncos fans and fantasy owners are devastated by the potential bad news, but the injury to Welker has opened the door for offseason acquisition and speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to take on a bigger role in the offense.
At an average draft position in the latter stages of the fifth round (25th wide receiver overall), via FantasyFootballCulculator.com, Sanders has a great opportunity to exceed his projections in Denver’s pass-happy offense.
Sanders had his first breakout game with the Broncos on Saturday. While many were focused on Welker’s health, the 27-year-old torched the Texans secondary for five receptions, 128 yards and two touchdowns. The real key was his versatility, lining up on the inside and on the outside and playing in multiple sets.
With a perfectionist like Peyton Manning under center for Denver, Sanders’ consistency will be something on which the offense leans throughout the season, even when Welker eventually returns to the lineup.
Some fantasy owners have viewed Sanders as just another inside presence like Welker, but the Broncos are using him more like the replacement for Eric Decker. Last season, Decker racked up 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns, and owners should expect similar numbers for Sanders in 2014, especially if Welker misses substantial time recovering from his latest concussion.
Sanders is coming off the best year of his career as well. The former Pittsburgh Steelers third-round pick racked up 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns as the No. 2 option under Ben Roethlisberger. Under the tutelage of Manning, fantasy owners should expect each major offensive statistic to climb significantly.
There is some concern about injuries after Sanders missed time in the preseason with a thigh issue, but after playing in all 16 games in each of the last two seasons, it is clear that Sanders is as durable as Denver needs from a receiver.
No fan wanted to see Welker go down injured. Many owners already drafted the Broncos star to their roster, but the true No. 2 in Denver this season looks to be Sanders moving forward.
Even when Welker returns, owners should benefit from Sanders’ rapport with Manning.
*Stats via NFL.com.