Now that Wes Welker is sharing the field with two other prolific receivers in Denver, he may not be the fantasy no-brainer he was with New England
COMMON FANTASY wisdom says that two receivers is company, three's a crowd. So while the addition of slot man Wes Welker to an already potent Broncos offense may have Denver fans celebrating, fantasy owners are left guessing: Whose production will suffer?
In 2012 the trio of Welker (then with New England), Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas (both with Denver) combined for a mind-bending 297 receptions, 3,852 yards and 29 TDs. Only 10 teams passed for that many yards, and only six threw as many TDs.
But consider the limited success of receiving trios on the same team. In NFL history, only five such threesomes have put up 1,000 yards per receiver in the same season. The most recent: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston on the 2008 Cardinals, who went to Super Bowl XLIII. Before the new Broncos' trio, the 1995 Lions came closest to matching 297 catches (excluding TEs and RBs), with 275, but Herman Moore (123) and Brett Perriman (108) had 84% of the receptions; the Lions' No. 3, Johnnie Morton, had only 44.
Under first-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase, the Broncos' offense should mimic that of another team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning: the 2004 Colts. They had three 1,000-yard receivers (Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley), but Manning completed 122 passes to other players, and the team rushed for 1,852 yards.
"We want to spread it out as much as possible," says Gase. "The great thing about this group of skilled guys is that it's so unselfish. It's about what's best for the team."
That's good to hear. But will it work?
Welker has been one of the NFL's most productive receivers since 2007. Last season he ranked fourth in the league with 166 targets and finished 12th in standard scoring formats, seventh in PPR leagues. But a significant reduction in looks for a fantasy volume scorer would mean fewer chances to score fantasy points, and that means Welker is overrated as a fantasy player heading into 2013. Furthermore, Welker, despite having been relatively healthy throughout his career, could be susceptible to a physical drop-off at 32. Buyer beware.
Meanwhile, Thomas and Decker are coming off career-best seasons in which they meshed increasingly well with Manning down the stretch. Only once after Denver's Week 7 bye did Thomas fail to score or to amass 77 receiving yards in a game. Decker scored five of his 13 TDs in the final three games and caught no fewer than six passes in each of the final four.
This season the Broncos might be even more explosive than they were in 2012 and, from the fantasy owner's perspective, one of the elite scoring units in recent history. But consider, too, that Denver drafted Wisconsin's Montee Ball (77 rushing TDs in four years) into a backfield that includes Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball, and that the team already boasts a capable offensive line and a tight end duo, Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, who combined for seven TDs last season. Yes, Denver should be collectively strong, but this versatility just might be a bummer for fantasy owners hoping for one leading man.
PETER READ MILLER/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
TOUGH COMPETITION Welker's production may suffer because of Thomas (88), who racked up 1,434 yards and 10 TDs last season.