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Where’s Wes? Panic sets in for Welker owners, following quiet opener

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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Wes Welker has a few questions to answer (US Presswire)

On Monday morning, fantasy owners awoke to dire headlines about New England receiver Wes Welker, most suggesting that he'd become a rotational player for the Patriots. Welker was on the field for 43 of 67 offensive snaps on Sunday afternoon, while Julian Edelman played 23. Wes finished with just three catches for 14 yards on five targets. So that's somewhat alarming if you have Welker shares in the portfolio.

Wes is playing on a one-year, $9.5 million deal this season after failing to land an extension during the summer, and there's been plenty of speculation about the possibility that No. 83 could be deemphasized in 2012. This might very well be his last campaign with the Pats. Welker finished as the No. 3 scorer at his position last year, leading all receivers in catches (122) and finishing second in targets (173), but of course he also dropped the biggest opportunity he's ever seen, a killer failure in Super Bowl XLVI. He definitely entered this season under the microscope, and the early returns weren't great.

I spent my morning re-watching the Pats' 34-13 victory at Tennessee, with an eye on Welker's usage. Here are a few of the key details, bullet-style...

First of all, it's not accurate to say that Welker and Edelman were in a strict rotation. In fact, they were on the field together on multiple snaps. If you need confirmation, here's a screen grab:

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Edelman & Welker

There's 11 and 83, coexisting. It happened a few times on Sunday; we'll no doubt see it again.

That said, Edelman did take a series in each half. I won't dismiss that fact. If there happens to be some nagging injury issue with Welker, we'll never hear about it from the Pats, so there's almost no point speculating.

Wes didn't appear to be hurt on Sunday, although his hands weren't working properly on this first-quarter target...

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Doink!

Honestly, that might have been the worst drop of the day, in any game. Tom Brady made a perfect throw, hitting Welker in the facemask for a sure first-down, yet the ball wasn't caught. We don't see that too often from this player, not on chain-moving opportunities over the middle.

The Titans were very aware of Welker underneath. It's not as if he were allowed to run free all afternoon while Brady ignored him. The Pats eventually targeted Wes on a couple of quick-hit screens, tossing a few bones to the PPR community. Nice of 'em to do it. Much appreciated.

New England seized control of the game fairly early, leading to an uncharacteristic run-pass ratio (35-to-31). Brady exceeded 31 pass attempts in 17 of 19 games last season, playoffs included. The team ranked third in the league in passing volume in 2011 (38.3 attempts per game). In a more competitive game, the ball likely would have been in the air quite a bit more, benefiting Welker.

In the end, I'm just not ready to panic here. I've rostered Wes in a league or two, and he won't be dragged to the bench any time soon. We're not there yet. This guy has averaged 9.8 looks per game in his Pats' career; a single five-target line in a runaway win shouldn't send you out on the ledge.

They're all about winning in New England, so it's ridiculous to think that Welker is being de-targeted because he's on a one-year deal. Let's give this situation a few games, see how other teams choose to defend the Pats. You obviously shouldn't toss Wes on the trade block today anyway, since you'd be selling ludicrously low.

If you're more of a pessimist, or if you simply need to vent about Welker's 3-14-0 stat line, we encourage you to bring the rage in comments, as always...

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