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What can we expect from Welker?

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Posted Aug. 26, 2010 @ 1:06 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

This is the 47th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.

I can’t blame PFW’s resident fantasy expert, Michael Blunda, or the knowledgeable fantasy folks at Yahoo! Sports for ranking Patriots WR Wes Welker in the 50s in our fantasy preview magazine this summer.

That would be in the 50s … among wide receivers.

Reminds me of the old ESPN commercial where Charley Steiner is stalked by Evander Holyfield for allegedly saying he was among the 50 best heavyweights — in Georgia.

It made perfect sense to question what Welker, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 17, could really offer this season. But that was before he appeared to be way ahead of schedule, running around in minicamps, making hard cuts at nearly full speed, albeit with a cumbersome knee brace. And certainly it was before Welker quickly returned to full-contact practice during training camp, coming off the physically-unable-to-perform list, and catching two passes in the Patriots' second preseason game.

Now, where the heck do you draft the guy?

Well, for the record, Welker sat at 24th among receivers and 65th overall in PFW's current print edition, on newsstands now, which makes him a No. 3 WR for 10-team fantasy leagues that start three wide receivers or use a flex position. But I would take him higher.

Expect both rankings to rise as the season draws closer, too. A 16-game Welker is a near-star in fantasy leagues, only falling short in TD production. He was impossibly productive from Week Five to Week 16, averaging 108.6 yards in those games. And Welker is a monster in points-per-reception leagues.

Remember, he was coming off a lesser knee injury, a sprain he suffered in Week One last season, when he missed two games and came back slowly in Week Four. So it’s very realistic to think Welker will be limited when the Patriots open with the Bengals, Jets, Bills and Dolphins in their first four games.

But after their Week Five bye, Welker will have been more than 10 months removed from the injury and should be able to be a second-tier fantasy performer — not quite fantasy royalty but very strong and dependable — from that point on.

The fact Welker has even seen the field to this point is a minor miracle. I can’t imagine that Bill Belichick, as smart as any coach about handling injuries, would put Welker out there if the player was going to do any further damage or wasn’t close to being ready to go full speed.

Draft Welker with a good insurance policy in the form of a wideout who can start the first quarter of the season for you. If your league uses a flex player, even better; a wideout or running back could be ready to substitute if needed. Even though Brandon Tate might be ahead on the depth chart, Julian Edelman would see a big kick in production if Welker suffers a setback.

But, heck, Welker could stun us all. He could have eight catches against the Bengals in Week One and hardly look back. Is he going to catch 123 balls again this season or approach 1,400 yards? No, likely not. But what about 85 and 1,000? That’s reasonable for as hard a worker and as determined a wideout as you’ll see out there.

 

For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.

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