Spin Doctors: Wes Welker vs. Andre Johnson

Roto Arcade

Fantasy sports are based on disagreement, and we never run out of things to argue about on the fake gridiron. Today we throw a couple of veteran receivers into the ring, Wes Welker and Andre Johnson. Who's your WR2 huckleberry in the 2014 War Room? Scott Pianowski and Dalton Del Don can't settle the score; please break the tie in the comments.

Pianow Opens: Wes Welker and Andre Johnson had similar fantasy seasons last year, per-game anyway. Welker's three-game holiday pushed him down the accumulated-point leaders. I'm not going to consider Welker any more injury-prone than Johnson; Welker's missed six games in seven years, while Johnson's been absent for 19 over that span.

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Both players have touchdown-allergic reputations, but is that really fair? Welker's compiled 32 spikes over the last four seasons (10 last year), while Johnson's posted just 19 over that juncture (and he's never made it into double digits). Sure, Welker's had the benefit of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning through the years, but there's no reason we should hold that against a player. I want to go where the points are. (The Broncos liberally used the undersized Welker on unstoppable options routes in the red zone last season, and I figure we'll see plenty of that again this year.)

Manning's not going to throw 55 touchdowns again, we all understand that. But regression isn't an answer on its own – it's regression to what level? Say Manning throws 37 or so, like he did in 2012 – how many does Welker get? Something like 7-8 sounds right to me, along with a gaggle of catches and work between the 20s. And maybe Welker will push double-digit scores again; the Broncos don't mind reusing the same plays over and over if the opposition can't stop them. And Eric Decker's departure could open up some red-zone opportunities (though solid replacements were added, too).

Maybe Johnson sympathizers can blame the touchdown frustration on the exiled Houston regime, but is the new group any better? Does anyone consider Ryan Fitzpatrick a star maker at quarterback? Fitzpatrick's Titans had a couple of busy wideouts last year, Kendall Wright (94-1079) and Nate Washington (58-919). While neither player is anywhere near the class of Johnson, let's note they combined for five measly touchdowns.

I wanna play pinball in the Mile High air. Pass the quarters.

D3 Closes: Over the last two seasons, Johnson has averaged 110.5 catches and 1,502.5 yards (second only to Calvin Johnson among all wide receivers over that span). Of course, he’s totaled just nine touchdowns during the two-year stretch, which is one fewer than Welker scored over 13 games during his first season in Denver last year.

Considering Johnson is 6-3, 230 and Welker is 5-9, 185, it’s odd I’m on the losing side when it comes to TD production (although to be fair, Welker had never reached double digit touchdowns in his career before last season) but so is the case. The crux of the issue with Johnson’s lack of scoring has everything to do with Houston’s offensive system and nothing to do with his capability.

While Johnson saw seven looks inside the 10-yard line last season, Welker saw 14 (in 13 games), which were the second most in the NFL. Despite Johnson leading the NFL with 181 targets, not a single one of them came inside the five-yard line.

Welker remains in the same situation in Denver, so I’m not saying he can’t once again approach 10 TDs, but Houston’s entire regime will look different, and it’s safe to expect new coach Bill O’Brien to feature his team’s best offensive weapon more inside the red zone. Moreover, the Texans’ QB situation can’t get any worse than it was last season. Johnson has topped 1,400 yards in four of the past six seasons (including 1,575+ in three of them) and should once again be a threat to lead the NFL in targets.

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