Wes Welker Erases Concerns of 2013 Fantasy Letdown in Opening-Night Blowout

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2013

Afraid he would become a lost man in a crowded Denver Broncos passing attack, many drafters shied away from pass-catching machine Wes Welker in their fantasy football leagues.

If Thursday night's annihilation of the Baltimore Ravens proved anything, that was a bad move. There's plenty of space for Welker to flourish in the Mile High City.

It's rare for fantasy matchups to be decided before Sunday morning begins, but many owners woke up to find the head-to-head scoreboard torpedoed by a record-setting night from Peyton Manning and Co. If you were among the poor souls tasked with facing Manning, his seven touchdowns put you in a hole larger than the Grand Canyon.

If you happened to also be facing newcomer Julius Thomas, stud Demaryius Thomas or Welker, there's always next week.

In his Denver debut, Welker caught nine passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, quickly erasing a sour taste left by muffing a punt return deep in enemy territory. And while one of those receptions would have been overturned had John Harbaugh tossed the challenge flag, points-per-reception participants will gladly accept the extra point(s).

Snarky jabs on Twitter about Welker entering postseason mode with a drop quickly transformed into praise for the 32-year-old. CBSSports put it best in simple terms:

The first week usually welcomes Overreaction Road, where an expected trend from Week 1 fades into a pure aberration. At risk on falling under the same spell: Holy cow, did you see Denver's offense last night?

It was a flawless masterpiece of fantasy football beauty. Manning piled up stats that would seem outlandish in Madden through a hyperquick offense that left Baltimore huffing for air and NBC's cameramen rushing to keep up with every snap.

Best of all, John Fox, who orchestrated a far-too vanilla scheme last season, let Manning air the ball out all night.

The Broncos spread out 21 carries between their trio of Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, but they mustered a combined 67 yards. Meanwhile, Manning attempted 42 passes on the night, compiling 462 yards through the air. As RotoExperts.com's Sarah Bojarski pointed out, Denver eschewed the running game last night, instead often relying on Welker to move the chains: 

Maybe you're not buying Welker's two-touchdown game as a harbinger for things to come. Manning won't hurl seven touchdowns every week (or any other week), and there are several mouths to feed in the red zone. Eric Decker, who snagged 13 scores last season, won't fall into oblivion the entire year. 

But the fact that they're throwing in goal-line situations is encouraging, and Manning clearly has Welker's number on speed dial with all the focus directed to the flankers. Welker's owners should gladly accept seven or eight touchdowns from their route-running aficionado, as they will be supplemented by 100-plus catches and plenty of yards.

Welker quickly etched a role in Denver's juggernaut offense, offering Manning a short-yardage target as he takes a break from burning defenses deep with Demaryius Thomas or torturing them down the middle with his new Thomas toy at tight end.

It's now Decker owners who are worrying over, but they can also take solace in him receiving seven targets despite his two catches. 

The touchdowns have always been icing on the cake for Welker, who led the NFL with 118 receptions last year. Since becoming Tom Brady's top target in New England, Welker has averaged 115 catches per 16 games, a number that should not budge much after swapping all-time elite signal-callers.

Manning targeted Welker 11 times on Thursday night, the same amount of throws directed Demaryius Thomas' way. Denver took a page out of New England's playbook by running a no-huddle offense that caused fans foolish enough to grab a beer to miss a key snap or two. This pace produces ample opportunities for everyone to get looks.

Will Denver score 49 points on a weekly basis? Of course not, but nobody would have batted an eye if you told them on Thursday morning that the Broncos would become the NFL's top scoring offense in 2013. 

Wes Welker will play a substantial role in that, solidifying his spot as a top fantasy wideout and PPR monster.