With all the attention being paid to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s assault on the NFL’s passing records, there hasn’t been quite as much attention on Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who’s likewise on a pace to blow away the league’s single-season receiving records.
Welker currently has a league-leading 31 catches for 458 yards, which would put him on a pace to catch an astonishing 165 passes for 2,443 yards this season. The NFL record for catches in a season is 143, by Marvin Harrison in 2002, and the record for receiving yards in a season is 1,848, by Jerry Rice in 1995. It’s not realistic to think Welker will keep up his current inflated pace, but it is realistic to think that the records — especially Harrison’s record — could be in jeopardy.
In December of 2009 I wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Welker was on his way to becoming the first player in history to average nine catches a game. Unfortunately, Welker tore his ACL on his first catch of the final game that season, lowering his average to “only” 8.79 catches a game that year — which is still the second-best average in NFL history, behind only Harrison’s record-shattering 2002 season.
Welker didn’t appear to be back at full speed when he returned to the field last year, and his production declined markedly. But this year he appears to be as fast as ever. In fact, Welker’s 14.8-yard average is his best since 2005, when he was a role player for the Dolphins who averaged 15.0 yards a catch in spot duty.
This year Welker is doing things we’ve never seen him do with the Patriots. Even if you take out his 99-yard catch in Week One against the Dolphins, Welker would be averaging 12.0 yards a catch, which is a full yard more than his highest average in his previous four seasons with the Patriots.
In talking to reporters today, Brady gushed about Welker.
“He’s just a great player,” Brady said. “And he’s been that way since the day he got here. He had a great game last week, an individual effort that made some incredible plays. He always seems to do that. In Miami he did the same thing. He’s done that in practice every day. Every day in training camp he never misses a day. He’s just a tough, hard-nosed, football player. You can never underestimate someone that has had to work the way he’s had to work ’cause he hasn’t had all the opportunities that maybe a lot of other guys had early in his career. He still works as hard today as he’s ever worked. I love being out there with him. He’s a great teammate, and incredible player, receiver, leader on this team and teams are trying to find ways to try to take Wes away.”
It’s good to see that Brady knows how lucky he is to have Welker.