I just want to say that I love Wes Welker as a player, and he seems like a nice guy. I’ve lived in Boston and now New Hampshire for years, and although I wasn’t raised a Patriots fan I’ve long admired the Patriots for their organizational consistency and competitiveness—two things my Cowboys noticeably lack.
And Welker has been a staple on my fantasy teams for years, especially my dynasty teams. I loved the QB-WR connection I had going with Tom Brady and Welker (and at one point even Randy Moss) on my championship-winning “You Don’t Score Until You Score” and “I’m Out of Your League” franchises. Even the Brady/Welker-led “Tomosexuals” had a stellar run.
So, just to be clear, I love Welker. I love that a one-time undrafted free agent who’s about my size could persevere and become a two-time first-team All-Pro. He’s an inspiration everywhere to the white middle-aged guys with rapidly diminishing athleticism who worship him.
Having said that, I didn’t draft Welker in any non-PPR redraft leagues this year. And on Thursday night, just before game time, I traded Welker away from the last non-PPR dynasty team on which I had him rostered. Of course the guys in my league immediately gave me shit about the trade once Welker submitted his 9-67-2 performance. That’s fine. I saw him similarly dissect the Dolphins in Week 1 two years ago (the only year he’s been a top-10 receiver in non-PPR leagues). After watching Welker for years, I know what he’s capable of doing to a defense.
But I also know that Welker is aging, small, short, not all that fast to begin with, unlikely to receive in Denver as many targets as he got in New England, perhaps unlikely to be more efficient on a per-target basis in Denver than he was in New England, and, finally, only one of three (and now perhaps four) strong receiving options for Peyton Manning.
I knew all of that before Welker’s Broncos debut, and all of that still applies. The only difference is that now those people who own Welker and still want to trade him will be able to get a better return. Or, put another way, if you want to sell him short, now is the time to start. (And let me say that I’m not looking to sell Welker yet in PPR leagues. This is only for standard leagues.) Stock in the non-PPR Welker Corporation is unlikely to be this high again—and in dynasty leagues don’t we all know that within a fairly limited timespan this stock will begin to approach zero???
I grant that Welker, now 32 years old, could be a strong WR2 option for a few more years. And maybe he could surprise and, like Derrick Mason, continue to be a steady WR2/3 after he turns 35. But would you bet on it?
Or, rather, would you bet on him being a productive WR longer than Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones or Victor Cruz? Probably not. In a dynasty league—and even in a redraft league—if you could flip Welker for any of those players, you’d probably do it immediately, right?
But you probably can’t. The guys who roster those players probably wouldn’t agree to that trade, not without other notable players thrown in.
Could you trade Welker for maybe Andre Johnson or Roddy White, two players of similar age and production? Probably, but that would be a fairly lateral move.
And you could probably trade Welker for someone like Marques Colston, Michael Crabtree, James Jones, Mike Williams, and Steve Johnson—but Colston is already 30 and perhaps not likely to outplay Welker in any of the coming years; Crabtree has injury concerns and only one productive season under his belt; James Jones is already 29, a free agent in 2014, and no lock to duplicate his 2012 production; and Mike Williams and Steve Johnson haven’t proven themselves capable of consistently producing at Welker’s high level.
In trading Welker, what one ideally should look to receive is this: A WR who provides production roughly equivalent to Welker’s and who is likely to continue doing so for a longer time. Basically, you’re looking for a younger Welker. I have two suggestions, and they are both RotoViz favorites: Jordy Nelson and Eric Decker.
[Does it mean something that all of these guys are white? Does the general fantasy market undervalue white WRs for some reason?—because I think that’s how guys like Nelson and Decker can be acquired for an aging Welker (they’re undervalued), and I also think that Welker was undervalued in fantasy circles for years. Anyways.]
Jon Moore is basically RotoViz’s Jordy Nelson guru. He thinks that Nelson is a fantasy stud turned injury sleeper, and that a healthy Nelson is a fantasy steal. Perhaps Moore is just looking on the bright side of things, but I agree with his assessments.
Here’s the table with pertinent Welker-Nelson info:
|TotTDs||2-Pt Conv||FP||FP/G||High PR|
Nelson is four years younger, their contracts (with great QBs) expire at the same time, Nelson probably has a better chance of being re-signed to a long contract with his present team (because he’s younger), and he came very close to matching Welker over the last two years on a point-per-game basis in standard leagues. I grant that Welker had more yards and played more games, but Nelson had more TDs, was ranked higher than Welker in 2011 (when they both played 16 games), and is likely to be playing in the league longer than Welker—and playing longer with a premier QB.
What’s more, this table takes into account Nelson’s 2012 Week 8, a game that he started but left almost immediately and in which he recorded no stats. With that game taken out, Nelson FP/G jumps up to 12.4, which is higher than Welker’s average. And, while I’m cherry-picking, you may be interested to know that some people feel that Nelson wasn’t the same player in 2012 after returning from his Week 8 injury and that he’s just now returned to his old form. If that’s the case, you may want to know that Nelson scored 13.11 non-PPR FP/G from Week 1 of 2011 to Week 7 of 2012, outscoring Welker by just more than a point per game.
Yes, Welker could potentially be a top-3 WR with Manning in 2013, but Jordy’s already been a top-2 receiver with Aaron Rodgers, he’s been better than Welker (when healthy) over the last two years, and he’s likely to play longer.
The question is this: Do you think Nelson will yield Welker-like production longer than Welker will? If so, now is the time to get Nelson on your team, while Welker’s value is high and Nelson’s is still deflated.
If you can’t get Nelson, Eric Decker is a perfectly suitable consolation prize if you’re looking to trade Welker. RotoViz long ago made an argument for Decker as the #2 2013 redraft target, in part because he’s a TD-maker. Jon Moore even wonders if Decker’s 2012 breakout was inevitable.
Here’s a table that might interest you:
|Name||Present Age||Free Agent||Seasons||G|
Decker is six years younger, and with his youth he has a strong chance of being re-signed by the Broncos. Not only did he outscore Welker in 2012, but he did so with Peyton Manning, the guy who is still throwing him the ball. If you like Welker in dynasty leagues, don’t you have to love Eric Decker? He’s bigger, faster, more capable of scoring TDs, and very likely to yield solid production longer than Welker can.
And although 2012 is Decker’s only year of top-30 success he’s probably not going to be a one-year wonder. Not only did he have a strong record of productivity in college, but he also had great production in 2011 when paired with a “conventional QB,” i.e., not Tim Tebow. Even with a pocket passer as uninspiring as Kyle Orton, the 26-year-old receiver did well. In the four 2011 contests that Orton started and completed, Decker managed 12.78 non-PPR FP/G. I grant that this sample size is small, but it does suggest that Decker’s success is not entirely dependent on his being with Manning (as long as he has a QB who can actually throw, he’s fine), and it also suggests that his production is probably reliable. When Decker’s games with Orton are added to his 2012 totals, we see a receiver whose production is rather comparable to Welker’s:
|Name||Present Age||Free Agent||Seasons||G|
In the last two years, Decker hasn’t been quite as good as Welker when he’s had a traditional passer, but he’s been almost as good.
Again, the question is this: Do you think Decker will yield Welker-like production longer than Welker will? If so, now is the time to get Decker on your team, especially after Welker just studded it up as Decker seemingly stood there and watched.
A lot of reasons exist not to trade Welker. Maybe you’re in “win now” mode. Maybe you also have Peyton Manning and like benefitting from the QB-WR connection. Or maybe you just like him and don’t want to trade him away like a fungible commodity. I appreciate all of those, especially the last one. More than once on Thursday I found myself wanting to get excited for him only to realize, “Wait, I shouldn’t care anymore.” As Avi the waiter from Old School says, “Love, it’s a motherfucker.”
But if you think that you’ll want to trade Welker soon, just do it now. His value will likely never be as high in the future as it is presently—and the depressed values of the two acquirable younger Welker-equivalents will probably increase as the season progresses. Nelson is cheap because of his injury-plagued second-half in 2012. Decker is cheap because Welker and Demaryius Thomas outplayed him in Week 1 and their general presence in Denver raises concerns about his role in the offense. I prefer Nelson to Decker, but either one should do nicely.
Wes Welker indeed had a great Week 1. Let that be the way you remember him: Trade him, give him a hearty butt slap on the way out, and get a great replacement. This way, not only will you help your team, but you’ll also enable yourself to think of Welker as the guy who gave you everything he had and then left on a high note before he markedly declined.
Trade him before you hate him. To me, a guy like Welker deserves no less.