Oh the luxury of being a Broncos fan these last two off-seasons. First, arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game comes to Denver, that being Peyton Manning, and now one of the greatest slot receivers of all time in Wes Welker gets poached from the Patriots after signing a two year, $12 million deal on Wednesday.
John Elway is turning out to be about as good of a businessman as he was a quarterback. Within almost exactly a year of each other, he’s inked what may turn out to be the two biggest free agents in Denver Broncos history. Elway’s prowess and deep pockets have solidified the Broncos as a top Super Bowl contender for at least the next two years, but he and the Broncos have also given fantasy football geeks a lot to be excited about, although it may not seem like it at first.
The trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker being on the same team seems only virtually possible, a dream team of receivers. This threesome may remind some of another wide receiver corps Manning broke records with in 2004, the year the former Colts quarterback threw for 4,557 yards and 49 touchdowns. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley were the main benefactors of Indy’s aerial onslaught that season, Stokely largely playing the slot role that Welker is expected to assume in Denver. The 2004 stat lines of Harrison, Wayne, and Stokley are as follows in order of catches, yards, and touchdowns:
Harrison- 86 Rec, 1,113 Yards, 15 TD’s
Wayne- 77 Rec, 1,210 Yards, 12 TD’s
Stokley- 68 Rec, 1,077 Yards, 10 TD’s
The 2004 season was only the fifth time in NFL history when three wide receivers on the same team each had at least 1,000 receiving yards, the last time being the 2008 Arizona Cardinals with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. What’s surprising about the Colts 2004 campaign is that Manning only had 497 pass attempts, the second lowest in a season of his career.
Call me optimistic, but I would be surprised if Thomas, Decker, and Welker didn’t have a similar 2013 season with a healthy Manning at the helm and one of the best offensive lines in football, especially with newly signed guard Louis Vasquez. What adds to the fantasy potential of Denver’s dynamic receivers is that the Broncos have the easiest road to the playoffs according to the 2013 strength of schedule. And with a relatively cloudy backfield, Manning may be forced to throw at least 550 balls. He may want throw it more than that with the weapons he has. I’d argue that this is the best offense Manning has ever had, at least on paper, with an exception at running back.
Naturally it would behoove us to have lower expectations for the Broncos receivers with Wes Welker coming to town, but that would be a disservice to the Hall of Fame quarterback they have throwing to them. Sure, the numbers Thomas, Decker, and Welker had last season probably won’t be as good in 2013, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were each Top 12 fantasy receivers, especially in PPR leagues. According to Fantasy Football Challenge, Harrison, Wayne, and Stokley finished 2nd, 7th, and 13th, respectively, in fantasy points among wide receivers in 2004. So you see, it’s worked before, it can work again. Don’t forget, Manning had only 497 attempts in 2004 and the Colts relied heavily on the run; Edgerrin James had 334 rushes.
Manning is the best in the league at spreading the ball around and it will be difficult for defenses to double-cover Thomas, Decker, or Welker on any given play. So while others take a pessimistic fantasy approach towards Welker joining the Broncos, I’ll continue being a hopeless optimist and take my chances in upcoming drafts.