Wes Welker, whose strange and unrepeatable red zone production was scheduled to regress in 2014, will miss the season’s first four games after being slapped with a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.
The fantasy football implications could be far reaching here, going well beyond the first month of the NFL season. No one is going to guess the exact ramifications of Welker’s absence, but here’s my best guess based on an offseason of quiet intrigue surrounding Denver’s pass-catching options.
Emmanuel Sanders, who has seen his average draft position skyrocket since going nuclear in a preseason game that saw Welker leave with a concussion, is expected to occupy the slot position in Peyton Manning‘s offense — a wonderfully productive spot for anyone with a pulse over the past 17 years.
Those who invested a fifth round pick in Sanders might just see their investment pay off in the early going, though I think this is the time to sell Sanders at the peak of his perceived value. Many of your league mates might think they’re buying Eric Decker‘s 2012 and 2013 production on the cheap (they’re not).
If you can sure up your running back stable or land an every-week starter at tight end in exchange for Sanders, make the trade. You may miss a big stat line or three, but the season is long and Welker will return. Then there’s this: Broncos beat writers expect tight end Jacob Tamme to take some of the slot snaps in Welker’s absence — something the old Peyton staple did when Welker missed action last year after a series of concussions.
It should be noted that Sanders has displayed all the traits of what’s known as a JAG (Just A Guy) for fantasy purposes.
Ben Roethlisberger, during Sanders’ with the Steelers, posted a 6.05 average yards per attempt (AYA) when targeting Sanders. That’s an abysmally low number. Roethlisberger had a higher AYA even when targeting Heath Miller, who is anything but a yardage eating monster.
The play here is to scoop up rookie Denver wide receiver Cody Latimer. The 6-foot-3 217-pound Latimer has impressed coaches and teammates by using his big frame to dominate defenders in the red zone, and reports charge that Denver had specialty red zone packages ready for Latimer even before Welker was suspended.
There were reports this spring that Latimer was fully expected to compete for a starting gig in Peyton’s offense this year. I think that’s telling.
It’s anecdotal, I know, but I think it matters: The Broncos, unlike most NFL teams, stock up on receivers who score touchdowns — big-bodied guys whose size comes in handy in close quarters. Latimer is one of those guys, and Sanders — plainly and simply — is not.
Grab Latimer if he’s on your local waiver wire and see how Denver’s pass catching pecking order shakes out. Demaryius Thomas will remain the No. 1 option, of course, and Julius Thomas will likely be Peyton’s No. 2. That No. 3 spot in Denver’s offense comes with a whole lot of fantasy production, and a simple waiver wire play on Latimer seems a much more logical move than a grab for Sanders at his peak perceived value.