Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions last year, and it wasn’t close. He had 1,569 receiving yards — putting him behind only Calvin Johnson in that category — and while that’s a pretty sexy number, for fantasy purposes the far more appealing crooked figures were those 122 receptions, which placed him well ahead of Roddy White, who was second with 100.
The fantasy points lie in the yardage, and the resulting touchdowns (Welker scored nine times in 2011), but in our game which provides so very few avenues for security, and even fewer assurances that production won’t fade, Welker’s exceedingly high volume of targets and receptions gave that feeling of safety.
Sure, we knew that with the Patriots increasingly shifting their focus in the passing game to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Welker’s numbers could suffer slightly. But the assumption — or at least my assumption that’s still not necessarily incorrect — was that the tight end shift alone wouldn’t be enough by itself to lower Welker’s value over the course of an entire season. His slot skills and abilities as a small, shifty receiver are too unique, and Welker was still able to lead the league in receptions while Gronk busted records last year, and the two TEs had 2,237 receiving yards combined.
So we’ve already seen that the Patriots’ tight end dominance alone has a negligible impact on Welker’s production. But combine Gronk and Hernandez with the introduction of Brandon Lloyd, and what happens? Week 1 of that experiment produced a volcano of suck.