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Ten catches, 107 yards, 1 touchdown. Just another day at the office for New England’s diminutive wide receiver, Wes Welker.
After Sunday’s drubbing of Tampa Bay in London, Welker now ranks as the No. 1 receiver in the NFL with 96.8 yards per game, No. 1 with 46 receptions, is tied for third with 4 TDs, and ranks 13th in receiving yards with 484.
If you didn’t notice, Welker’s posted these impressive stats in just five games – he sat out weeks two and three due to a knee injury.
In a word: wow. At 5’9”, 185 pounds, Welker appears out of place among the giants of the gridiron. But the sixth-year receiver has proven he not only belongs on the field, he’s earned a place among some of the NFL’s all-time greats.
Pause for Christopher Walken-esque dramatic effect.
Yes, dear readers, Wesley Carter Welker—the man no one wanted in the 2004 NFL Draft, the man who was cut by the San Diego Chargers after just one game, the man who the Miami Dolphins traded for a second round and seventh round pick—has already chiseled his name on the sacred tablet that logs the accomplishments of the NFL’s greatest receivers.
And Welker’s name isn’t just on the list, it’s near the top and rising.
Put the ball in Wes Welker’s hands and he’ll make plays. He’s been doing it since his high school days in Oklahoma where he played for Heritage Hall, a small, 800-student private school in the state’s second lowest athletic class.
In four years at Heritage, Welker did everything but paint the lines: he rushed for 3,235 yards and 53 touchdowns; he caught 174 passes for 2,551 yards and 27 touchdowns; he made 581 tackles, 22 picks (returning 3 for TDs), and 9 fumble recoveries; he even kicked 35 field goals (including an unheard-of-in-high-school 57-yarder), 165 extra points, and returned 7 kicks for touchdowns.
Welker was the real life, high school version of Bo Jackson’s Nintendo Tecmo Bowl character. By the end of his senior year, Welker had scored a four-season total of 818 points, an average of 16.7 per game, earning him the nickname “The Natural.”
Roy Hobbs or not, none of it was good enough for Division I NCAA scouts.
No D-I program offered a scholarship; a dozen schools told Welker he was too small. Then a player that had orally committed to Texas Tech signed with Boston College instead. First-year Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who had heard of Welker after spending a season in Oklahoma as offensive coordinator, unexpectedly had a scholarship available. He decided to give Welker a shot.
Welker responded by logging 259 catches for 3,069 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Red Raiders. He also set the still-standing D-I record for punt return touchdowns with eight.
Despite his stellar college career, every NFL team passed on Welker in the 2004 draft. Pro scouts told the receiver and return guru, as he had been told time and again, he was too small.
San Diego signed him as a free agent and cut him after one game. The Dolphins claimed him off waivers, and Welker promptly proved his worth and notched an NFL record—the first of many.
On October 10, 2004 against our beloved Patriots, Welker filled in for the Dolphins’ injured kicker Olindo Mare. He became the first player in league history to kick off, kick an extra point, kick a field goal (29 yards), return a kickoff and a punt, and make a tackle, all in a single game.
Welker earned a spot on the Dolphins’ receiving corps in 2005, and in 2006 led the team with 67 receptions for 687 yards and one touchdown. He also became the Dolphins’ all-time kickoff return leader, both in total returns and yardage, and their all-time leader in total punt returns.
In a head-scratcher of a response, Miami offered Welker a one-year, $1.35 million contract. The Patriots swooped in, traded their 2007 second and seventh round picks, and brought The Natural to New England. The little big man has been adding his name to the record books ever since.
Brady to Welker. Brady to Welker. Watching the average Pats’ game on TV, you see it more than Peyton Manning pitching one of the 68 products he represents. In his first two full seasons with the Pats, Welker rang up the two highest single season reception totals in franchise history, with 112 in 2007 and 111 in 2008.
It’s a mark that becomes more impressive when you consider Welker is just the eighth player in the history of the NFL to have back-to-back 100-reception seasons. If No. 83 repeats this year, he’ll become just the second player to ever record three straight 100-catch seasons. Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison jointly hold the all-time record of four straight 100-reception seasons.
Rice, Harrison, Welker.
How about this one: no WR in the history of the sport has totaled more all-purpose yards in their first five seasons than Wes Welker’s 9,304.
Include all players in the equation, and Welker ranks fourth all-time, behind only LaDainian Tomlinson, Bruce Harper, and Gale Sayers, and ahead of Eric Dickerson.
The stats jump off the page when you recall Welker didn’t play WR until his second season, and didn’t begin getting significant reps at wideout until his third year in Miami.
Compare every WR’s third season to fifth season (2006 through 2008 for Welker), and Welker ranks first all-time with 290 receptions, ahead of Torry Holt, Chad Ochocinco, and Marvin Harrison.
And there is one more impressive stat Wes Welker could very well be king of: yards after catch, or YAC. YAC is not an official NFL stat, and it’s damn near impossible to find historic rankings, but it says a great deal about a wide receiver: after you caught the ball, how many yards did you gain?
Welker led all NFL receivers in YAC in 2007 and 2008, compiling an impressive 640 and then 758 yards after the catch, respectively. Think about it. Of the 1,175 yards Welker gained as a receiver in 2007, 54.5% were made after he caught the ball. In 2008, catching balls from Matt Cassel, that number jumped to a ridiculous 62.2%. No other NFL receiver came close to that mark.
After the London game, a Boston Herald reporter pointed out Welker’s YAC proficiency. Welker replied: “When you’re catching 5-yard routes, you’ve got to be able to do something with it afterward, or I’ll be out of a job pretty quick.”
You can hear the fight in Welker’s words. Told he was too small to play in college, and definitely too small to play in the NFL, Welker is scratching and clawing for every catch and every yard. In the process, he’s leaving his mark as one of the best, and most unique, wide receivers to every play the game.