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32 Questions in 32 Days: Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos WR Wes Welker
Denver Broncos WR Wes Welker

Jul 27, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) walks off the field following the end of training camp at the Broncos training facility. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, Sports Jerks will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Denver Broncos – Will Wes Welker put the Broncos over the top?

As always, there were plenty of NFL free agents signing deals with new teams following last season. Few transactions, however, were bigger than the Denver Broncos landing All-Pro wide receiver Wes Welker.

Since landing in New England in 2007, Welker became the favorite target of quarterback Tom Brady. Not only that, but Welker was targeted so frequently that he was always among the league leaders in receptions. In five of his six seasons with the Patriots, Welker finished first or second in catches in the NFL. The other season? In 2010, Welker slacked off catching ‘only’ 86 balls to finish sixth in the league.

Welker isn’t the biggest guy on the field and he doesn’t get in the end zone as some other high profile wideouts (he’s never had ten touchdown catches in a season). Still, he is one of the most difficult guys to cover and finds ways to catch balls even though other teams know he’s going to be targeted.

As you might imagine, all those catches have led to a ton of yardage. In his six seasons as a Patriot, Welker averaged 1,243 yards a season. Here’s the thing, too – he’s getting better with age. Welker is 32, but his last two seasons have arguably been the best of his career.

Last season, Welker’s 118 catches were the second-best in the NFL and the 1,354 yards were good for second in his career. In 2011, Welker was even better with a whopping 1,569 yards receiving on a league-leading 122 catches. The 12.9 yards per haul were the most he’d had in New England and his nine touchdown grabs were a career-best. To expect the receiver to slow down anytime soon would be foolish.

Welker is also more than just a receiver. While he’s done less of it, he’s also a skilled punt returner. Last year, he returned 25 of them and has averaged 10.0 yards per return over his career.

Despite all of that, though, New England couldn’t hold on to Welker and he’s signed on with the Denver Broncos. The move gives quarterback Peyton Manning an even bigger advantage in the AFC West. As if Manning needed any more weapons, he now has one of the league’s most potent receivers.

So can Welker be the difference that leads the Broncos to the Super Bowl? Definitely.

That’s not to say that Denver should be punching their tickets to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for the game in February 2014, but the Broncos will have a better shot at getting there with Welker.

Some will argue that Welker is a product of New England’s system and that playing alongside  a future Hall of Famer in Brady was advantageous. It was, of course, but Welker isn’t exactly playing with the second coming of JaMarcus Russell. In Manning, Welker will be playing alongside an equally impressive quarterback.

The wide receiver joins an already talented squad with Manning leading the way. The Broncos were 13-3 in Manning’s initial year with the team and while they lost in the first round of the playoffs, that overtime defeat came at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens who simply got hot at the end of the year. Denver had a very, very good team.

Welker and Demaryius Thomas will provide one of the best one-two punches in all of football. The duo had nearly 3,000 yards receiving in 2012 and could approach that this year. Thomas will see his numbers fall off a bit with the addition of Welker, but Welker will be an upgrade over Eric Decker. Decker was a solid wideout last year with 85 catches for 1,064 yards, but he was also inconsistent. In many games he was limited to a handful of catches and four times failed to record even 25 receiving yards. He gave fantasy football owners headaches because you never knew what to expect out of him.

There’s no guarantee that Denver reaches the big game with Welker. The real factor could be the running game that was only mediocre with Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno last year. This season, it’s also a big question mark with McGahee’s departure and Ronnie Hillman, rookie Montee Ball, and Moreno manning the position. But with the Welker addition, the Broncos have a legitimate shot to get to the Super Bowl.

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