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The Patriots’ Wes Welker Conundrum

May 23, 2012 Leave a comment

While the image of Wes Welker dropping what most likely would have been a Super Bowl clinching catch just 3 and half months ago is probably still seared into the minds of Patriots (and Giants) fans, there are plenty of reasons to think that Welker will be in a position this year to atone for his drop (on an admittedly tough, but catchable, pass). After all, the Patriots have only gotten stronger on offense and their secondary has nowhere to go but up. Chances are good that Welker and the Patriots will be once again playing big games in January and, perhaps, February of 2013. However, what happens to the diminutive WR after that is a mystery.

Currently, Welker is franchise tagged and (unlike teammate Logan Mankins) decided that signing his franchise tender and getting into camp on time was a good way to ensure a good season and a potentially lucrative extension. Welker has reportedly turned down a 2 year, $18M contract which was rumored to have been fully guaranteed. Presumably, he is looking for a longer deal. The question is: is Wes Welker really worth re-signing for more than 2 years? If Tom Brady had his way, Welker would probably ride off into the sunset with Brady and Belichick in 3-4 years after winning another Lombardi trophy. While some Pats fans might not want to admit it for fear of sullying their image of Belichick the cold-hearted mastermind, Brady’s desires probably do have a little clout in the minds of Belichick and player personnel man Nick Caserio. After all, Tom Brady is not a QB who finds (or can create) chemistry with the average receiver – despite making plenty of average receivers look pretty good. Part of the Pats’ struggles to develop a young WR have come from Brady not trusting anyone other than Welker, Branch and his young TE’s. Keeping Brady happy is certainly a selling point for Welker and there is no denying that, with the exception of that one (very memorable and significant) pass in February, no one works as well with Brady as Welker does. In fact, were it not for the Brady/Welker chemistry, it is likely – or even probable – that this would be Welker’s swan song in Foxboro. As it is, he’s likely to end up with a contract extension in New England at some point between now and September of 2013.

The problem the Patriots have, and it’s a certainty that their front office knows it, is that Welker is small, takes a lot of vicious hits over the course of the year and is at the point of his career where small WR’s break down rapidly. Take a look at the yearly reception totals of the top 15 non-Welker WR’s 5’10 or shorter since 1990:

How many of those guys were worth big money after the age of 32 (which Welker will reach in 2013)? Mason, certainly. Steve Smith likely. The rest? Not so much. While Mason lasted forever and Smith looks to still be highly productive consider this:

Touches (receptions, rushes, punt returns, kick returns) through age 30:

Derrick Mason – 737
Steve Smith – 891
Wes Welker – 1063

Welker has 326 more touches than Mason did by the time each receiver got through their age 30 season. Even the 172 touch differential between Welker and Smith is nearly 2 full seasons worth.

None of this is to say that Welker cannot be productive beyond the next two years. However, most Patriots fans can attest to the fact that he gets knocked around pretty badly through the course of the season. As did Wayne Chrebet, whose style was more similar to Welker’s than Mason or Smith (the latter two being more frequently used on the perimeter than Welker). He disappeared into oblivion quickly due to injuries and concussion problems. Like running backs, small WR’s tend to age very poorly and the Patriots’ (well deserved) reputation for preferring to get rid of guys a year too early rather than a year too late seems to indicate that they will hesitate to keep Tom Brady’s security blanket in town for too many years.

“Super” Undrafted WR’s

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TD’s

122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 TD’s

Two of the most statistically gaudy seasons by NFL WR’s in recent memories. Both undrafted players, both playing in Super Bowl 46 in less than two weeks. The Giants’ Victor Cruz and the Patriots’ Wes Welker are a reminder that many of our favorite sports’ best players have not been coveted draft prospects. However, before we start anointing every middling 2012 WR prospect as the “next Welker (or Cruz),” we should put these two Super Bowl wide receivers’ numbers in perspective.
Since the AFL/NFL merger there have been 561 undrafted wide receivers to appear in at least 1 NFL game.

156 of them never caught a single pass

55 caught 1 pass

151 caught between 2 and 9 career passes

Wes Welker, in 2011 alone, caught more passes than 518 of the 560 (92.5%) other receivers to play in a game since 1970 have in their entire careers.

Victor Cruz, with 82 receptions in his career, has more career receptions than 502 of the 560 other receivers.

Of the top 10 undrafted WR’s with the most career receptions, only 3 have ever won a Super Bowl – Rod Smith (2), David Patten (3) and Drew Pearson (1)

The Top 20 undrafted WR’s (below) account for 40.1% of all undrafted WR receptions and 40.5% of all undrafted WR receiving yards:

Two other names on that list stand out: Lance Moore and Davone Bess. It’s very likely that within 5 years, both guys will be in the Top 10, possibly Top 5, all time. Of course, finding a quality undrafted WR is a little bit easier since the draft was cut down from 12 rounds, so it’s not surprising that many of the top guys in this list are from recent years.

Who will be the next great undrafted WR? An undersized guy like Fresno State’s Devon Wylie, Oregon State’s James Rodgers, Connecticut’s Kashif Moore or Tulsa’s Damaris Johnson? A position change, like Appalachian State QB DeAndre Presley? Or maybe a smaller school guy like Liberty’s Chris Summers? Maybe a guy who is projected to be a mid-late rounder who slides out of the draft entirely.

One thing is for certain: the success of Cruz and Welker will ensure that scouts leave no stone unturned in the yearly quest to find the best long-shot receiver in the nation.

Kendall Wright: Does Size Matter?

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

 
Baylor standout and 1st round hopeful Kendall Wright is an impressive wide receiver prospect. However, listed at (a generous?) 5’10 190, Wright is smaller than most potential 1st round WR’s . While he might be the most exciting of all the top players in the 2012 WR class, Wright is looking to become just the 15th WR shorter than 6’0 selected in the top 20 picks since 1980. Not only is it unusal for a WR of Wright’s stature to go early in the draft, but it’s becoming increasingly rare. Take a look at these numbers:

Since 1980, there have been 72 WR’s selected in the top 20 picks of the NFL draft. Of these, only 14 (19.4%) have been under 6’0. Between 2000-2011, there were only been 4 such receivers:

Shortwr_medium

As you can see, it’s not exactly a list littered with future Hall Of Famers. In fact, most of those guys are considered to be huge disappointments. In the same time span, there were 58 6’0+ WR’s selected in the top 20.

Outside of the top 20, there have been 37 WR’s selected in the 1st round since 1980 –  14 (37.8%) of whom have been shorter than 6’0. Like the others, the list is mostly comprised of mediocrities (with a few notable exceptions):

Shortwr2_medium

As with the first list, the bulk of these guys were drafted before 2000. Between 2000-2011 there were 48 WR’s selected in the 1st round, only 9 of whom (18.8%) were shorter than 6’0. While smaller, more agile WR’s are becoming en vogue (e.g. Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson) and increasingly coveted, the league’s drafting tendencies haven’t caught up to the trend quite yet.

Despite the success of recent draftees like Brown and Jackson, the league is still dominated by 6’0 or taller receivers. In 2011, there were 184 wide receivers who caught at least one pass – 130 (70.6%) of whom were 6’0 or taller.  In total, there were 5884 passes caught by WR’s league-wide. Only 1510 (25.6%) of those receptions came from WR’s shorter than 6’0. Of the 1089 Games Started by WR’s, only 231 (21.2%) were by < 6’0 receivers.

Wr_catches_medium

All of this is not to suggest that shorter receivers can’t succeed or that Wright has a higher chance of busting than a taller receiver would. After all, two of the game’s best receivers are shorter than Wright’s listed height: Carolina’s Steve Smith and New England’s Wes Welker. Unlike Wright, neither of those guys were highly regarded coming out of school. Smith was a 3rd round pick of the Panthers, and Welker was an undrafted free agent signed by the Chargers. That said, there is some reason to think that while he is rumored to be shooting up draft boards, the chances are slim that Wright’s draft stock rises above the middle of the first round.

 

Wes Welker’s Continued Cooling

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Last time we checked in on Wes Welker’s pace, he had predictably cooled off from his torrid start to the season. However, even a month ago he still was on track to top Jerry Rice’s all time receiving yards record. Since then, he’s had two very quiet games (totaling a mere 8 catches for 58 yards) between two big games (17 catches, 251 yards). As a result, he’s fallen off the pace to break Rice’s record. Although, it should be noted that Rice finished his record-setting season with a staggering 26 catches for 452 yards in his final 2 games. Had he maintained the pace he set through his first 11 games that season, he would not have set the record. So there’s still hope for those who hope to see Welker break the record. Here’s how things shape up through 11 games:

At his current pace, Welker will end up with 120 catches for 1662  yards.  Certainly a great season – it would land Welker at 8th overall. In order for Welker to top Rice’s 1995 yardage, he will need to average 141.2 yards per game from here on out. That seems very unlikely, even with the Patriots’ cushy schedule down the stretch. Most likely, Welker will end up with an impressive (but not record breaking) 1500-1600 yards.

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Quick Hit: Welker’s Cooled Off, Still On Pace For Record

October 31, 2011 1 comment

A few weeks ago, Wes Welker was on pace to shatter NFL receiving records. Predictably, he’s cooled down a bit –  stymied by some good defensive play. The good news is, he’s still on pace to break some records if he can maintain his pace. Let’s take a look at the best receiving performances through 7 team games since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger:

After 5 games, Welker was #1, now he’s dropped to #3. Steve Smith is also holding steady in the top 5. Of the top 20, we should ignore Chandler and Clark in 1982 (shortened season) and Terrell Owens in 2005 (injury ended his season prematurely). For the others, we see an average receptions-per-game decrease of 0.7 and yards per game decrease of 29.39. Those numbers tell us that the historic paces these guys were on were buoyed by big plays (inflating their yards) as opposed to volume (since there isn’t much change in Rec/G). Since big plays are flukey and unpredictable, it’s no surprise these guys fell off pace.

Next, let’s look at the top 10 receiving performances by total yards since 1970, and how those guys started/finished:

As you can see, the guys atop the all-time receiving yards list are a mixed bag of fast starters (Moss 2003, Irvin 1995, Harrison 1999), guys who excelled in the 2nd half of the year (Rice 1995, Smith 1999) and guys who were pretty steady throughout (Harrison 2002, Holt 2003).

If Welker maintains his pace, he will end up with 129 catches for 1883 yards. Still good enough to top Jerry Rice, but there is little room for him to slow down. With the Patriots’ schedule getting considerably easier after the 9th game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Welker get close to or beat Rice’s record.

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Quick Hit: Wes Welker’s ridiculous pace

October 10, 2011 2 comments

5 weeks into the 2011 season and Wes Welker is on pace to not just break, but shatter, NFL receiving records. His 740 yards receiving is nearly 100 yards better than the next highest amount for any receiver in the first 5 games of the season. Unfortunately, history tells us that Welker can’t possibly sustain his pace. Here are the top 20 “first 5 games” :

Of the 18 guys from before 2011, only Brandon Lloyd was able to maintain his pace (he actually increased it) but he ended up missing 5 games to injury. As a group, there was an average 24.3 yard per game decrease. If we apply that average to Welker, he still ends up at a staggering 1979 yards.

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