Wes Welker's Injury Makes Broncos' Andre Caldwell a Late-Round Fantasy Steal

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVAugust 25, 2014

Denver Broncos wide receiver Andre Caldwell catches a pass during an NFL football organized team practice at the Broncos training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Monday, June 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker went down again with a concussion on Saturday night against the Houston Texans.

The upcoming absence of the Broncos' No. 2 wideout will cause a chain reaction of opportunities for Denver pass-catchers just waiting for a chance in a stacked receiving corps. 

The 33-year-old suffered his third concussion in less than a year's time on the hit from D.J. Swearinger. And given what head coach John Fox told ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold on Monday, the team won't be rushing him back to the field.

Our first priority is his safety and well-being. ... I know as an organization his well-being is our first priority. ... We just take it one day at a time. We'll see how he gets through today, and I get updated on every day medically on every player, including Wes in this case. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Welker has been called on by many to retire in the wake of yet another dangerous head injury, but per Legwold, Fox said that the subject has "not been brought up at all" in talks between him and the wideout.

Whether he does or not, the Broncos won't be rushing Welker back to the playing field as they begin the 2014 season.

And when one door closes in the NFL, even for a short period, it can set off a chain reaction of doors opening deep down the depth chart. 

Andre Caldwell will be a huge beneficiary of that early on in 2014.

JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

The former University of Florida star caught just 16 balls for 200 yards and three scores last season, but his biggest game came when Welker was out late in the year with a concussion.

He caught six passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns—all game highs—in the Broncos' 27-20 win over the Chargers in Week 15.

Caldwell has also been on the Broncos since Peyton Manning's arrival. Although he hasn't been able to build much in-game chemistry with the gunslinger, a few years learning the system and getting practice reps will separate him from some of the younger receivers.

Aug 7, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) lines up against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane (20) during the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Manning came onto the scene in Indianapolis, at least his top four targets have typically been worthy of starting in fantasy.

He carried that over to Denver, where Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Welker and recently departed Eric Decker could be counted on to put up big numbers and never really take stats away from their fellow receivers.

Of course, Decker has headed to the Jets, and Emmanuel Sanders has come from Pittsburgh to replace him.

Now, Sanders would seem to be the perfect man to take Welker's spot for the time being, especially after his 128-yard, two-touchdown performance in Saturday's preseason game.

But who takes the spot of Sanders, who was meant to replace Decker? Well, Caldwell certainly seems to fit the mold.

The 29-year-old won't blow past cornerbacks for deep gains, but that is what Demaryius Thomas and Sanders are for.

Instead, Caldwell can excel by running solid routes that will take advantage of the fact that he's almost always lined up against safeties and linebackers. 

And when your quarterback is coming off an unbelievable, 55-touchdown season and loves to spread it around, getting open and proving to be reliable is all it takes to succeed in a Peyton Manning offense.

Caldwell certainly isn't the only player who could emerge on the outside in this situation, as Cody Latimer is another intriguing player.

However, the rookie second-round pick has failed to see much of the field with Manning in the preseason, and the growing pains will be obvious in such a complicated offense. 

Per Rotoworld's Adam Levitan, Caldwell played noticeably earlier than Latimer in the third preseason game—a regular-season dress rehearsal in many aspects:

Caldwell's fantasy stock will seemingly hinge upon the status of Welker and the play of his teammates.

Should the former New England Patriot get back to the field sooner rather than later, Caldwell might return to fantasy irrelevance as a receiver waiting for his chance in football's most high-powered offense.

But as long as he's the odds-on favorite to become the No. 3 guy on the outside for Manning, fantasy owners will have orchestrated one of the biggest steals in their respective drafts if they nab Caldwell with a late-round pick.