Shortly after Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos the Patriots signed receiver Danny Amendola to a 5 year deal that is worth $31 million. As I said earlier Amendola is about as good as a replacement you will find for Welker, but he is not even in Welker’s class as a slot receiver. Amendola is definitely more athletic than Welker, but he also is not nearly as durable as Welker and does not show the same type of skills needed to be an elite slot receiver in the game.
Of all the skills that Welker showed during his career with the Patriots I think the most impressive one was his durability. In 5 years with the Pats Welker missed a grand total of 3 games. For comparison, fellow slot receiver Amendola missed 20 games over the last 2 years. Slot receiver probably requires the toughest players in the NFL to play it, because of all the hits they take over the middle. Slot receivers are also in general smaller guys, and when a 5’9 180 pound receiver meets a hulking linebacker like Brandon Spikes, then I guarantee the linebacker wins every time. This is why it seems that slot receivers always miss time during the season, and us Patriot fans have been spoiled by Welker’s durability and toughness over these last 5 years.
Another reason why Welker will be missed is his reliability to make the big plays when they are needed. It seems that all people remember are his drops, but when you compare those with all of the actual catches he makes, the catches severely outweigh the drops. In 2012 Welker has 72 catches for first downs, as opposed to 9 dropped passes. If you watch the Patriots offense play you see Brady always look to Welker when he really needs something. On all of the big third down plays it seems that Welker is always on the receiving end of one of Brady’s missiles, and he almost always hauls it in. Sure Welker has had some untimely drops, but if you look at receivers across the league, every player that is targeted as much as Welker drops some passes. Remember the days of Troy Brown, when the Pats were winning their Super Bowls? Brown was Brady’s security blanket, when he needed something he went to Brown. Imagine those championship winning teams without the services of Brown, I for one could not. I could make the argument that the Pats would not have won a few of those championships if it weren’t for Troy. Well, in my opinion Welker is a better receiver than Brown was. He is quicker, has better hands and of course is extremely reliable. By no means am I saying that Brown wasn’t any of these things, because he was. Welker was just a little better in those categories.
Welker will be missed, and I think you will notice it pretty damn fast. Those moments when nobody seems to be able to get open and Welker makes another play for Brady, will turn into a sack or an incomplete pass, and a punt. Amendola will undoubtedly make a lot of plays in 2013, heck he may make more than Welker. But I don’t think he will be as reliable as Welker was, to be on the field, and to make the “big” plays when they really counted. Being without Welker’s services will be tough for Brady and the offense. I think it will make it that much harder for Brady and Belichick to hoist that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy.