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Ten Patriots for 2009: No. 7, WR Wes Welker

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Here we go again; another "I love Wes" story from MaPatsFan.  This will, no doubt, be the collective response from long time readers.  They know, all too well, about my giant man crush for Wes Welker.  In my humble opinion, he is one of the most influential New England players to put on a Patriots helmet in recent years.  Many point to Randy Moss' 23 TD record and his many circus catches, but Wes is the chain mover, the guy grinding it out underneath, game after game.

We all know the history by now.  Considered too short to by many colleges, he finally landed at Texas Tech where he went on to be one of there most prodigous athletes.  Originally drafted by the Chargers in 2004, he was waived and picked up by the Dolphins in September of that year.  After the 2006 season culminated in a very disappointing AFCCG loss to the Colts, Belichick went about the business of acquiring targets for Tom Brady.

Good coaches watch players from other teams and remember the good ones.  Who knows?  They just might become available.  While on the Dolphins' squad, Welker had given the NE defense fits when trying to defend him.  When Wes became available, Belichick and the FO jumped at the chance and handed Miami a 2nd round and 7th round pick in the 2007 draft.  Crazy, right?  Not so fast.  This, from Wes' bio:

In 2004, Wes became the first NFL player in the Super Bowl Era (since 1966) to return a punt, return a kick, kick a field goal, kick an extra point and return a kickoff in the same game. He accomplished the feat against the Patriots.

Belichick notices this stuff.  That's what makes him the best coach in the NFL.  NE picked up Welker for the 2007 season and we all know what happened.  Posting 1,000+ yard seasons in both 2007 and 2008, Wes also ranks tied for first in 2007 and second in 2008 for receptions.  Stats like receptions, yards, and yards per game doubled when he made the jump to NE.  This suggests Miami either didn't know what they had or didn't have a quarterback who could take advantage of him.  Whatever the reason, he seems to have found his niche with the Patriots.  He is one of the best underneath receivers in the game today and we have him through 2011.

2007 was a storybook season, but I believe 2008 was the year we most needed him.  The newly minted starting quarterback, Matt Cassel, was having trouble connecting with Randy Moss and would check down a lot.  He needed a dependable safety valve and Wes became that guy.  Essentially throwing "long handoffs", Cassel would come to depend on Welker to move the chains.  Welker finished the year with only 3 touchdowns, down from 8 in 2007, but that wasn't his role.  His role was to be there when needed and he did just that.

I think #83 will again be a critical factor this year.  As Tom Brady gets his sea legs back, he'll need someone to go to when the pocket starts to collapse.  Wes did that for Cassel in 2008 and he'll do it for Brady in 2009.  Welker has said he thinks 2009 will be better; two years with the playbook has made him a hardcore veteran for the Patriots.  It's hard to imagine better production than 2007.

Or is it?