Ed Barkowitz: Where's Welker in Patriots' plans?

Posted: September 21, 2012

A NUMBER OF players are off to slow starts for a variety of reasons. Although it happens every year, none is more troubling than Wes Welker's sudden lack of production.

It has been only two games, but Welker's numbers are the stuff of secondary wide receivers. Lance Moore of the Saints has better stats. Yet, the numbers aren't the greatest concern; the playing time is. And Welker's is down.

Last week, Julian Edelman started ahead of Welker, who sat Velcroed to the bench until tight end Aaron Hernandez went out with a right ankle injury. The fact that the 5-9, 185-pound Welker, a wide receiver, can replace the 6-1, 245-pound Hernandez, a tight end, speaks to how potentially dynamic the Pats offense can be. It also is a big reason why Welker, 122 catches last year, was generally a second-round fantasy pick this summer.

"I think if you look at his production through the time he's been here, it's been pretty consistent," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

He's right. Except this year.

ProFootballFocus.com estimates that Welker has played about 15 percent fewer offensive snaps this year than last. Who knows how much worse that number would be if not for Hernandez' injury. Hernandez will be out for several weeks, which should only help Welker. Or Edelman.

Conspiracy theories abound. Edelman, 26, is a Welker clone and 5 years younger. Maybe the Pats want to get a look at Edelman before deciding what to do with Welker, who will be a free agent at season's end. Though the circumstances are different, this is the same organization that dealt Randy Moss in midseason in 2010. New England is among the most creative and unpredictable teams there are. This year's trade deadline is Oct. 30.

Another thought is that the Patriots are cutting into Welker's playing time as a punitive measure for his delay in accepting the franchise tag. It seems hard to believe, however, that New England is playing games with a player making $9.5 million.

"I love Wes and he's a great player on this team and has been since the day he arrived, so nothing has changed in my mind," said quarterback Tom Brady.

"I wouldn't read too much into it. Wes Welker's still a great receiver, and I'm sure New England, Brady and everybody knows that," said safety Ed Reed of the Ravens, New England's opponent this week.

Besides being future Hall of Famers, do you know what Brady and Reed have in common? Neither one drafted Wes Welker in the second round. They can afford patience.

The fantasy upshot is to keep playing Welker and make sure Edelman is stashed on the roster. It's not often a wide receiver has a handcuff. It's even less likely that a guy goes from 122 catches to the second string before fall has even started.

Triviality

Philip Rivers needs 200 yards to become the eighth active quarterback with 25,000. Name the other seven. Some are easy, a couple are not.

Contest result

Tony Pisitilli, of Deptford, N.J., won last week's contest that asked readers to pick which running back would rush for more yards, LeSean McCoy or Ray Rice. The tiebreaker was total rushing yards, and Pisitilli, who said Rice would have more yards and the total would be 184, came closest. Rice had 99, McCoy 81 for a total of 180.

Bye reminder

Those pesky bye weeks begin next week and last through Week 11. Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are off next week.

Position watch

Quarterbacks: Tony Romo has 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in three career games against Tampa Bay. All are Cowboys victories. Matthew Stafford has 2 weeks and two favorable opponents (at Tennessee, Vikings at home) before Detroit's bye week. Peyton Manning is 16-2 all-time against Houston with a staggering 42 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. But we're not in Indy anymore, and the Texans are as good as they've ever been defensively.

Running backs: Ryan Mathews was thisclose to playing last week and will make his 2012 debut against the visiting Falcons on Sunday. He should be in all fantasy lineups. Buffalo's C.J. Spiller is the only running back in the league with at least 100 yards rushing in each of the first two games. How much money could have been made on that proposition in August? Daryl Richardson, of the Rams, will deserve consideration as a No. 3 back if Steven Jackson doesn't play. At the very least Richardson should be stashed. Even though the Saints already have given up four rushing touchdowns, don't hesitate to bench KC's Jamaal Charles if there are stronger horses in your stable.

Wide receivers: Reggie Wayne, who just passed Michael Irvin for 20th place in receiving yards, had only seven targets last week after getting a whopping 18 in the opener. It's probably a good thing, however, that Andrew Luck isn't locked in on one guy. Kenny Britt should see more playing time this week and goes against a struggling Lions secondary. Shame Britt doesn't have a reliable QB, so give him a look only as a WR3. Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson's three-game ban for substance abuse is up after this week. Simpson had 50 catches (four TDs) and 725 yards with Cincy last year, easily his best season.

Tight ends: Strictly name-dropping here, but Rob Housler will be the Cardinals' tight end if Todd Heap doesn't play. Housler, a second-year pro out of Florida Atlantic, is massive (6-5, 250), but very raw. He had 12 catches as a rookie and five drops. Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph is off to a slow start, but should remain on the radar for leagues that require a tight end. His chemistry with Christian Ponder is developing, but Rudolph is an obvious no-play this week against the Niners.

Answer, please

The seven active quarterbacks with 25,000 passing yards are Peyton Manning, (55,322), Drew Brees (41,406), Tom Brady (40,531), Matt Hasselbeck (33,193), Eli Manning (28,590), Ben Roethlisberger (27,099) and Carson Palmer (26,117).

Fantasy island

LOUSY RECEPTION

Wes Welker had been a great starter in his previous five seasons with the Patriots, but not so much this year. Here is a look at how Welker has fared in New England's first two games each year he has been there:

2012: 8 receptions, 109 yards, 54.5 avg., 0 touchdowns

2011: 15 receptions, 241 yards, 120.5 avg., 2 touchdowns

2010: 14 receptions, 102 yards, 51.0 avg., 3 touchdowns

*2009: 12 receptions, 93 yards, 46.5 avg., 0 touchdowns

2008: 13 receptions, 123 yards, 61.5 avg., 0 touchdowns

2007: 14 receptions, 152 yards, 76.0 avg., 1 touchdown

*One-game total. Welker missed the Patriots' second game in 2009 with a knee injury.

TARGET PRACTICE

Most targets among wide receivers heading into Week 3:

1. Victor Cruz, Giants: 17 rec., 28 targets

t2. Danny Amendola, Rams: 20 rec., 25 targets

 Reggie Wayne, Colts: 15 rec., 25 targets

t4. Percy Harvin, Vikings: 18 rec., 21 targets

 Brandon Lloyd, Patriots: 13 rec., 21 targets

 A.J. Green, Bengals: 12 rec., 21 targets

 Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: 11 rec., 21 targets

 Hakeem Nicks, Giants: 14 rec., 21 targets

t9. Brian Hartline, Dolphins: 12 rec., 20 targets

 Vincent Jackson, Bucs: 9 rec., 20 targets

 Brandon Marshall, Bears: 11 rec., 20 targets

FROM THURSDAY'S CHAT

Q: Matt Stafford or RG3 this week?

A: As much as I'd hate to bench the kid, I'd go with Stafford for one more week. If he can't light up the Titans, then Detroit has problems.

Q: Trent Richardson or The Law Firm?

A: Richardson. Though I suppose it's asking for trouble to play a Brown. I just think he's all they have.

Q: Is this the week to pull Kenny Britt out of the garage or is the quarterback just too bad?

A: Britt should be a full go this week for the Titans, and he has killed it against the NFC in the past. If you are thin at WR, he may be worth a start, but I would hold off until I see a little more out of him. And more out of Jake Locker.

Q: Flex decision, pick two: Mike Wallace, Brandon LaFell, Jamaal Charles.

A: I'd go with LaFell and Wallace.

--

Look for the fantasy chat with Ed Barkowitz and philly.com producer Matt Mullin each Thursday at noon. For a full transcript of this week's chat, visit philly.com/FantasyChat.

Ed Barkowitz, who always forgets about Carson Palmer when it comes to active passing leaders, has been writing about fantasy football since 2001. Send email to barkowe@phillynews.com.

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