Against the Flow: Welker's Impact in Denver

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

On Mile High Report one of the great things is the difference of opinions, it's always existed from the early days with Guru and Hoosier Teacher to the new administration with Kyle, Pete and everyone you see here, we always disagree. Mike will tell you he and I have never seen eye to eye on running backs and Tim will tell you how I've pissed him off more times than anyone else. But we also agree on a number things as well, but you as members will always get each staffers opinions, because I've never seen a topic we all agree on, besides maybe wanting the Broncos to succeed.

Having said that I want to disagree about something, I don't expect the Wes Welker signing to make a massive improvement on the offense. I can hear the yelling already but hear me out and while at the end we may still disagree, I hope I make my case well enough.

The 2012 and 2013 Broncos Offense

So to properly study Welker's impact in Denver we need to understand what the offense looked like prior to his arrival.

2012

- Total targets (removes throwaways and spikes): 529
- Thomas targets: 138
- Decker targets: 120
- Stokley targets: 57
- Tamme targets: 80
- Dreessen targets: 57
- McGahee targets: 31
- Moreno targets: 24
- Others: 22

So here’s how it breaks down:
- WR’s: 340 targets
- TE’s: 137 targets
- RB’s: 52 targets

Projecting 2013

Changes to Peyton

I seriously doubt Peyton's overall attempts go up since the Broncos had a top 10 passing team in terms of attempts but it may go up slightly, let's say another 20 to 30, but not likely more since Peyton's average in attempts is 557. As for each position, they are all on par with Manning’s career averages, though the tight end numbers are a bit high, but only by about 20 targets. So let’s try and project next season from the skill positions.

Running Backs

We shouldn't expect the running back numbers to change since the top three backs in camp, Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee and Montee Ball are all decent to good receivers and Hillman is as well. These are on par with his career numbers and this is a very talented running back group in terms of receiving. So likely that won't change.

- Receptions Added: 0-5
- Total Receptions so Far: 0-5

Tight Ends

That brings us to the tight ends. While the Broncos lack an amazing tight end like Dallas Clark, the tandem of Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen were actually one of the more effective tight end tandems in the NFL. So while the Broncos lack that elite tight end they are still getting elite production. If you combine Tamme and Dreessen you have some great numbers. 7 touchdowns, 93 receptions and 911 yards, that's pretty amazing. That also didn't include the rising Virgil Green who saw his role grow as the season went on. Dallas Clark only had one season better than that. Throw in Dreessen's dual skill set and Tamme being a solid receiving tight end and you have flexibility.

Having said that, of all the tight ends Jacob Tamme has the most to fear from Wes Welker since Tamme almost split him time as an inline tight end and as a slot receiver. Tamme's role differs greatly from that of Dreessen since Dreessen nearly doubles his time as a blocker and a receiver (333 snaps as a receiver and 614 as a blocker), meaning Welker won't be cutting into his playing time since Welker isn't any form of a blocker. If we look at Tamme it's a different story (325 snaps as a receiver an 242 as a blocker). So if Peyton or the gameplan is going to be more run centric or requires flexibility (which almost every game does) Dreessen will be the tight end seeing time, not Tamme. Especially in the red zone where Dreessen saw nearly every snap and had 5 touchdowns.

Now that's not to say Tamme won't play at all, he's a good receiver and talented, but if you have to cut receptions from a tight end, Tamme is in much more danger than Dreessen.

- Receptions Added: 10-15
- Total Receptions so Far: 15-20

Receivers:

This one is a bit more interesting. We can assume Welker is going to assume the minimum receptions that Stokley had of 45. So that's Welker's floor. But who does he take away from. Outside of the top three receivers, the remaining receivers only had 13 receptions and over the course of Peyton's career he only throws an average of 21 receptions to any receiver below the top 3. So the 2012 Broncos were a bit low but in all likelihood that won't change much so Welker isn't taking any receptions there. That leaves Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The more you review last season you see teams couldn't decide who to cover, and that benefited every player on the Broncos but that's likely to change next season as DT has gotten a lot of press recently and will likely be the receiver most teams try to help cover. So while Decker could see his receptions dip a bit, DT is more likely to lose targets, not many but he could see his receptions drop about 8-10, or about one every other game.

- Receptions Added: 55-65
- Total Receptions so Far: 70-85

And if we apply Welker's average yards per reception of 11.2 we get about 780 yards. Not too shabby. Here's a look at his projected numbers:

- Receptions: 55-65
- Yards: 780-952
- Touchdowns:4

Hardly bad and nothing to be ashamed of.

What Does This Mean?

Welker has posted five 1,000 yard seasons but that was because he was either the #1 or #2 receiver on the Patriots. While Welker is a slot receiver he was also the main receiver for the Patriots since their scheme emphases smart passing and Welker was almost always a running a short route. Since the loss of Randy Moss Welker was clearly the #1 receiver even with the rise of their tight ends. That won't be the case with the Broncos. While the slot receiver does receive attention in Peyton's offense, it isn't nearly at the Patriot's level. On average Peyton's slot receiver (also includes tight ends when they line up in the slot) had only 51 receptions so 50-55 is a bit above that and while my prediction model suggests about that many receptions, schematically it's a bit of a tough sell to see a slot WR in this scheme reaching the upper end of that spectrum or above.

So what kind of upgrade does Welker bring? Let's compare some of his career numbers to Stokley:

Yards per Reception
-
Stokley: 13.6
- Welker: 11.2

Touchdown Percentage (touchdowns divided by receptions)
- Stokley: 10.2%
- Welker: 4.9%

Drop Percentage
- Stokley: 4.26%
- Welker: 9.3%

Wow, pretty clear about those numbers. Now to be fair to Welker he does average way more receptions than Stokley but that really doesn't matter when it comes to these numbers since total receptions has no real impact on them. He isn't a red zone weapon and won't break the big plays, he's a guy who will get the first down though, especially in the middle of the field. These are two very similar players overall in terms of skill set though Stokley was used more in the red zone than Welker was so that's most of a scheme difference but Peyton may use Welker a lot more in the red zone than the Patriots did so his touchdown numbers will likely be higher.

Now do I think the Welker signing was bad, no, the Broncos got him for a fairly low salary and he's younger and more productive than Stokley. so they upgraded in that sense. Do I think Welker will have a good season, yes I do, but I'm also predicting he might miss the Pro Bowl, likely to at least one of the other receivers on the Broncos. Welker will also provide an impact in terms of taking attention away from Decker and the tight ends, which will benefit them, so look for Decker and the TE's to see an increase in yards per reception.

So to wrap up, I think Welker is going to be fine here and produce good numbers but don't look from him to have the same production he had in New England. The slot receiver almost never has an impact on a team unless he's their focal point like on teams like New England, St. Louis and the Panthers. Welker likely won't add a bunch of wins to the Broncos or take this offense to meteoric levels but what he does add is another option for Peyton and another threat for opponents to deal with. That doesn't mean he won't help or be successful.

We need to remember the Broncos had the #1 passing offense in terms of yards per play, we can't forget it's hard to improve something massively that's already working well, we need to think of this from the standpoint of how Fox, Gase and Peyton Manning view this, which isn't a huge upgrade, instead it's a minor upgrade that while Welker won't make a huge impact numerically he'll have an impact on his teammates.

So do you think Welker makes the Pro Bowl, I don't know yet, now that doesn't mean a bad season. So if you think he does, please explain why in the comments. And something to keep in mind, if you think Welker makes the Pro Bowl, is he the #1 WR on the team and if he isn't the #1 WR which Bronco WR misses the Pro Bowl for him?

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