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Wes Welker: Full Go For 2010?

When the New England Patriots report injury news, I always take it with a grain of salt. From 2005-2007, Bill Belichick listed quarterback Tom Brady as ‘probable’ with a sore right shoulder. Apparently, Brady wasn’t seriously hurt as he amassed a league-high 100 touchdown passes and more than 12,000 passing yards during that time frame. The Patriots are notorious for using the injury report to their advantage. Everyone in football knew Brady was going to play, but there was always that ‘What If’ angle that crept into the minds of defensive coordinators.

However, Wes Welker’s ACL injury is a completely different animal. Typically, athletes need at least 10-12 months, post-surgery to completely recover from the injury.

According to Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed Brady’s ACL surgery in 2008, Welker’s progress is ‘a great sign.’ Dr. ElAttrache also commented that the three most difficult parts of post-ACL surgery, full-motion of the knee, no pain and the ability to participate in exercise, have come relatively easy for Welker.

Let’s also keep in mind that Welker’s injury came in a ‘non-contact’ situation. Brady was viciously hit by a rushing Benard Pollard. Obviously, an ACL tear is a tear, but it’s encouraging that Welker’s tear came when he was not hit by an opposing player.

Injury situations aside, Brady and Welker use their legs in completely different ways. Welker ferociously cuts, slants and dives to catch passes. Brady, not known for his mobility, just needs to keep defenders off his legs. Welker is a much higher risk of re-injuring his ACL.

Historically, NFL athletes who returned from ACL injuries only produce at ‘2/3 of their pre-injury state’. But, is this necessarily a bad thing for Welker owners?

Over his first three seasons in
New England, Welker has averaged 115 catches, 1,229 yards and five touchdowns. Welker grabbed a league-high 124 passes in only 14 games last season. If we assume that Welker’s floor falls inline with the ‘2/3 principle,’ we are looking at 76 catches, 811 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.

Obviously, this is a situation that we all want to monitor heading into training camp. Welker has not had any contact since December and I’d feel much safer drafting him after seeing him take a few hits.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Patriots are telling the truth with this situation. If Welker does not positively respond during training camp, the team may place him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, forcing him out of the first six weeks of the season. Does this sound ‘Patriot-like’ though?

If you decide to draft Welker in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues this season, you will need to grab him in the late fourth round. Fantasy Football Calculator currently pegs Welker as the 48th player drafted and with the encouraging news in
New England, we can only expect his average draft position (ADP) to rise.

Compared to the other wide receivers with similar ADPs (Chad Ochocinco, Percy Harvin, etc), I’m taking Welker as my ‘risk-reward’ WR2 in 12-team PPR leagues. Obviously, I’m expecting Welker to be limited early in the season, but we all play for the fantasy playoffs. Welker’s progress is truly remarkable and I expect Welker to produce at a WR1 PPR level during the second half of the season.

Fantasy Sharks Projection:
75 catches, 850 yards, 3 TD

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