Fantasy
Never underestimate Wes Welker

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Getting overlooked is nothing new for New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker.

Out of high school, only one college offered Welker a scholarship despite being named Oklahoma's high school player of the year.

Following a decorated career at Texas Tech, NFL scouts failed to see the talent that made Welker one of the best return men in all of college football. He wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine.

After going undrafted, Welker made it to training camp with the San Diego Chargers, but was cut after the team's first game.

Then Welker spent three seasons in Miami with the Dolphins before eventually being traded to the Patriots in 2007 for a pair of draft picks.

You probably know the rest of the story.

Welker has been brilliant since coming to New England, yet some of us are still hesitant to accept him for who he truly is: a once-in-a-generation talent.

His body of work over the past five seasons is almost unparalleled. Since 2007, Welker has recorded a whopping 6,105 receiving yards, an average of 1,221 yards per season. Only Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Roddy White have been more prolific over that span.

The 31-year-old Welker has gone over 100 receptions in four out of his five seasons with New England. To give you an idea of how difficult that is to accomplish, the trio of Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce and Tim Brown, all future Hall of Famers, have combined for just three 100-catch campaigns in 48 seasons.

Welker has reeled in an unbelievable 554 catches in his five years as a Patriot. Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver of all-time, only amassed 524 grabs during his most effective five-year period (1992-1996).

Though former Indianapolis Colts great Marvin Harrison has the same number of 100-catch seasons as Welker, he's only been above the 110-reception mark on two occasions. Welker has reached that threshold four times.

Clearly, some fantasy owners out there haven't fully comprehended the gravity of these achievements. Welker wasn't off the board until midway through the third round in my brother's fantasy draft and a friend of mine told me he was able to snag Welker as late as the fourth round in his 12-team league.

Though I don't agree with it, I understand why some fantasy owners might be skeptical of Welker heading into this season. The emergence of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as receiving options means the Patriots won't have to be as reliant on Welker as they have in year's past. The presence of All-Pro wideout Brandon Lloyd, a favorite of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (who coached Lloyd in Denver and St. Louis) could shift some of the attention away from Welker as well.

Welker's 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame seems like it's one bone-jarring hit away from breaking and the frightening ACL injury that ended his 2009 season is still fresh in the mind of many fantasy owners.

The other knock on Welker is that he's not a touchdown scorer. During his tenure with New England, only about 5 1/2 percent of Welker's catches have resulted in touchdowns. Compare that to end zone prodigy Calvin Johnson, who has scored on 16.2 percent of his receptions over the past two seasons.

There's some logic in each of those criticisms but not enough to get me to hop off the Welker bandwagon just yet.

Let's poke a hole in that first theory. Gronk and Hernandez are good but they were last year, too, and Welker did just fine. Better than fine, actually. Welker set a career-high in yards (1,569) and finished one catch shy of matching his career-best in receptions.

The only real threat to Welker's production is Lloyd and even that shouldn't be a huge concern to fantasy owners. If you recall, Welker had to coexist with superstar Randy Moss in New England and it never posed much of an obstacle for him. In three full seasons alongside Moss, Welker averaged 115 receptions and 1,229 yards.

Fantasy owners worried about Welker getting hurt shouldn't fret, either. Welker's torn ACL happened years ago, and since entering the league in 2004, he's only been inactive for four of a possible 128 regular-season games.

The belief that Welker can't find the end zone is also a myth. Even with most of the red zone targets going to Gronkowski last season, Welker still managed to collect a career-high nine touchdowns, good for sixth in the NFL. His 99- yard touchdown reception in Week 1 against the Dolphins was the longest in league history.

Welker has two more factors working in his favor this season. Following the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England will be forced to use the unproven duo of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen at halfback this season. With those two leading the charge out of the backfield, the Patriots will be airing it out more than ever in 2012, which means more targets for Welker.

And then there's Tom Brady, a future first ballot Hall of Famer who has developed a remarkable chemistry with Welker during their five years together. Welker has been Brady's best target for half a decade, so why would he stop throwing to him now?

In this case, the pros of drafting Welker early in the draft far outweigh the cons. He might be only 5-foot-9, but I expect Welker to stand tall in 2012.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.