Wes Welker's Absence Makes Broncos WR Andre Caldwell Fantasy Must-Have

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2014

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 23:  Wide receiver Andre Caldwell #12 of the Denver Broncos has a reception for a first down against the Houston Texans during a preseason game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 23, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos and fantasy owners everywhere were left shaking their heads at the news that wide receiver Wes Welker has been suspended for the first four games of the season.

It came as the result of amphetamine use, according to ESPN.com's Adam Schefter:

The good news for both the Broncos and fantasy owners is that there are contingency plans in place that should prevent any drop in production. The names of Cody Latimer and Emmanuel Sanders immediately got mentioned as beneficiaries of Welker's absence. 

However, Sanders likely doesn't help anyone needing a replacement for Welker since he's a known commodity from his time in Pittsburgh and likely got taken on draft day. Latimer is a rookie and doesn't really fill Welker's role since he is 6'3" and 216 pounds. 

If the Broncos are looking to find a pure slot receiver who can make catches over the middle, the name to watch out for is Andre Caldwell. The six-year veteran has 75 games under his belt, including 16 starts, and has nine career touchdown catches. 

Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com even noted that Caldwell seemed to be the preferred choice for Denver during the preseason:

During those exhibition games, Caldwell had three catches for 52 yards. It's not enough to say he's a surefire starter every week in fantasy circles, but the fact the Broncos were comfortable with his skills enough to play him as much as they did is telling. 

While Caldwell isn't a direct physical comparison to Welker—granted, very few players in the NFL are—he is going to get a lot of love from Peyton Manning. The two have a brief history together, and The Waiver Hounds noted on Twitter that Caldwell's value went up when Welker missed time last year:

While that doesn't sound like substantial value, it does plant the seeds moving forward. Manning builds a rapport with receivers early in their career, then gradually increases their production over time.

Reggie Wayne didn't do much in his first two years with the Colts, recording 76 catches and 1,061 yards, before emerging as a solid playmaker in 2003 and superstar in 2004. 

Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports even pointed out how even in limited time last year, Caldwell fared well in the Welker role:

"Caldwell, meanwhile, is a crafty veteran who has experience working out of the slot within Adam Gase’s system. Last season in the Mile High City, he logged just 143 snaps and 29 targets, but saw action in the Welker role 18.9 percent of the time."

Caldwell certainly doesn't have Wayne's ceiling and may not be at the level of Welker, but he is a proven wide receiver. Plus, if you were to ask the Broncos in an honest moment, they are likely excited to see what they can get from the 29-year-old.

Welker's production dropped off last year with 73 catches and 778 yards, both his lowest totals since 2006. He's 33 years old and entering the final year of his contract, so the Broncos have a decision to make after the season. 

If Caldwell plays well in Welker's absence, it will make the decision easier. The nature of fantasy football means there are going to be a lot of flavors of the week. Caldwell is the hot name on the block.

The good news he's in a perfect situation to put up huge numbers, even over a short period of time. Manning doesn't lock in on one target; he's a master of spreading the ball around, with five players recording at least 60 receptions last year. 

Even in a season when he was virtually a non-factor, Caldwell still had three touchdowns, just two fewer than Marques Colston had in 2013. Everyone in Denver's rotation will get a chance to contribute valuable fantasy points. Caldwell is the next in line to catch passes from Manning. 


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