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28 Jun 2007

Welker? I Hardly Know Her.

by Bill Barnwell

The additions made by the Patriots at wide receiver this off-season have been a frequently discussed topic, both by the usual suspects and here at FO. It's a fascinating move, really -- part throwing stuff at the wall, part success-cycle capitalization -- and it can be taken as either a rejection or acknowledgment of the fungibility of wide receivers.

Wes Welker, one of the new wideouts, is a player who pretty much everyone at Football Outsiders, writer or reader, has championed for a couple of years now. He's a player who does a lot of things that help a team win games: He returns punts and kicks, he can be a gunner, he's a solid blocker, and as a receiver, he runs good routes, has very good hands, and has a nose for the first down marker. (He can even kick in emergencies.)

As a result, Welker is a player who has succeeded even in the dire passing attack of the 2005-2006 Miami Dolphins, and he would naturally be expected to improve in 2007 for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Welker's only 26; entering his fourth season, he could be expected to improve with experience. Second, Tom Brady is way better than anyone Miami has put behind center over the past two seasons. Welker will also have a better supporting cast around him to open up space underneath, with defenses concerned about the speed of Donte' Stallworth and Randy Moss. Indeed, those are three valid reasons to expect a reasonable bump in Wes Welker's numbers this upcoming season.

So then, why would anyone suggest that Welker's numbers will stagnate or even decline this year? Well, for each of the reasons that listed above, actually.

1. Age and DPAR ... Buddies?

Perhaps due to the research done by Bill James in analyzing player career patterns in baseball, many people think that the career paths in football peak around age 27 and slowly decline. Well, football is different. The table below lists the average DPAR recorded by wide receivers that were targeted over 20 times at ages 25-35 from 1996 through 2006.

All WR/TE DPAR Averages By Yards per Catch, Age 25
Age Avg. DPAR 9-12 YPC 12-15 YPC 15-18 YPC 18+ YPC
25 8.9 4.8 11.7 12.1 14.5
26 7.3 7.9 8.2 10.9 11.7
27 8.7 5.7 9.8 13.2 9.4
28 8.2 6.5 8.9 9.7 3.2
29 9.0 10.2 8.7 12.5 7.0
30 10.5 9.6 10.1 9.1 5.9
31 9.9 4.8 10.8 10.9 5.2
32 12.1 6.5 13.2 19.6 6.5
33 13.2 4.7 14.0 7.3 10.9
34 14.0 28.1 6.3
35 8.9 4.2

As you can see, wide receiver DPAR remains consistent, with the DPAR of older wide receivers actually surpassing that of younger ones. However, keep in mind that most wide receivers are out of the league by that point; while 191 receivers recorded 20+-target seasons at 25, only 42 did at age 32. The players still around at that age tend to be nifty. This shouldn't be taken as an indication that wide receivers are not affected by age-related decline, because many receivers decline from "good enough to be in the league" to "not good enough to be in the league."

The splits on the right side of the table list the DPAR for players based on their yards per reception at age 25, Welker's age in 2006, when he recorded 9.6 DPAR despite averaging only 10.3 yards per reception. The DPAR of those players over the rest of their careers was then tracked to see if there were differences in the aging patterns of players with low yards per catch figures as opposed to those who were more of big-play threats.

The players with below-average yards per catch at age 25 (9-12) experience stunted DPAR over most of their career; they get to be about average around 29 and 30, when players hit their peak, but there's very little upside to these players. To make another baseball comparison, this aging curve looks similar to the one for young starting pitchers who don't strike anybody out.

The list of players who had such low yards per reception figures at the age of 25 includes two hopeful figures: Hines Ward and Joe Jurevicius. Marty Booker and Arnaz Battle represent a second tier of passable wide receivers. The rest of the group is an operative list of guys whose careers stagnated or never developed: Alvis Whitted, Isaac Byrd, E.G. Green, Jacquez Green, Larry Foster, Tai Streets, Peter Warrick, Rod Gardner, Antonio Chatman, Randy Hymes, and Charlie Adams. In other words, Welker will have to develop against the odds.

2. Tom Brady > > > > Gueynte Harrottepepper

Yes, Tom Brady's a much better quarterback than the Miami mess, even if Miami's quarterback were actually an amalgation of Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper, and Joey Harrington and had six arms, six legs, and about four healthy shoulders. He's a much more accurate quarterback; Brady has completed right around 62 percent of his passes, while the combined completion percentage of primary Miami starters Frerotte and Harrington hovers around 55 percent, a figure which would be scarily low if it were not for Welker himself. Welker caught 67 percent of the passes thrown to him in 2006, and 56 percent in 2005, both above average for his team.

Catching 67 percent of the passes thrown to you is a pretty gaudy figure; while part of that success is due to Welker's low yards per attempt and shorter-than-average routes, it's also a sign that Welker has good hands. The problem with using that to forecast future success is that guys simply don't catch 90 percent of the passes thrown to them. Since 1996, 67 receivers have caught 67 percent of the passes thrown to them. (Numerical coincidences are fun!) These receivers averaged a catch rate of 62.6 percent the year after; if you widen that range out to include all receivers who caught between 65 to 70 percent of throws, a range Welker sits smack dab in the middle of, those receivers caught 61.4 percent of throws in their direction the year after -- textbook regression to the mean.

Ah, but those receivers weren't going from Joey Harrington to Tom Brady, you say. That's true. Will that actually improve Welker? Hard to say. 116 receivers over the last 11 years moved to a new team with an incumbent quarterback. The correlation between the difference in a receiver's catch rate the year before and after the move to the difference in his old and new quarterback's completion percentage the year before making the move (thereby measuring the completion percentages of the quarterback before the arrival of the new wideout) is relatively slim at .15, so it doesn't have much predictive value in telling us whether Welker will catch more of the balls coming his direction with Brady in 2007. The average receiver moving to a new team saw his catch rate rise by less than one percent.

In other words, the more dominant variable in catch rate when it comes to Welker is his own high catch rate as opposed to the completion percentage of his new quarterback. While Welker is likely to again run short routes and show off his good hands, expect him to catch somewhere between 60 and 63 percent of the passes intended for him in 2007.

3. "I want ... some competition."

This year, Welker has more competition for passes than he did in Miami -- the area once occupied by the fearsome Derek Hagan is now occupied by Reche Caldwell or Kelley Washington, while Donte' Stallworth is actually the player that people think Chris Chambers is. Randy Moss and Ben Watson are probably upgrades on Marty Booker and Randy McMichael, respectively, even if Moss is not the superstar of 1998 that some Patriots fans think they are getting.

There's one problem with this situation. Even if the Patriots improved across the board at receiver (and they have), they only get to play with one ball. That presents a serious problem for those people who are forecasting career years for multiple Patriots wideouts in 2007. Instead, by looking at how the Patriots passing offense has been used in the past four seasons, several trends appear that serve as a guide to what we might expect in this upcoming campaign.

First, let's make several assumptions. Let's peg the Patriots wide receivers to be Stallworth, Welker, Moss, Caldwell, and two players from the Washington/Troy Brown/Chad Jackson/Jabar Gaffney quartet. The tight ends and running backs will be as they appear at the moment, and we'll assume an injury-free season for the key players.

Patriots Targets By Position, 2003-2006
2003 2004 2005 2006 Avg
WR 56.0% 64.9% 62.1% 52.1% 58.8%
TE 21.1% 17.2% 17.6% 27.8% 20.9%
RB 22.9% 20.4% 20.2% 20.1% 20.9%
Att 538 485 565 526 529

Note that all figures may not add up to 100 percent or be consistent with official numbers due to rounding and omission of players who were targeted fewer than ten times.

The targeted by position splits make enough sense; in 2006, the absence of wide receivers and the presence of Ben Watson caused an increased focus on the tight ends; in 2003, Kevin Faulk and Larry Centers were targeted a total of 100 times. The similarities between the 2004 and 2005 seasons is pretty amazing when you consider that Deion Branch only played half a season in 2005. The averages there seem like a pretty good guideline to how the Patriots offense will shake out in 2007; Kyle Brady will see the ball less often than Daniel Graham did, and Kevin Faulk will see some of his touches usurped by Welker and Sammy Morris. Since the Patriots will be winning to run a whole lot in 2007, that pass attempts total seems just about right.

Patriots Target Percentage By Role, 2003-2006
2003 2004 2005 2006 Avg 2007 Estimate
WR1 20.3% 22.8% 23.0% 20.1% 21.6% 114
WR2 11.8% 20.4% 17.6% 15.0% 16.2% 86
WR3 10.8% 11.0% 10.8% 9.3% 10.5% 55
WR4 6.7% 6.2% 6.3% 3.9% 5.8% 31
WR5 4.1% 4.5% 4.4% 3.7% 4.2% 22
TE1 12.2% 10.3% 9.9% 17.9% 12.6% 67
TE2 8.9% 4.3% 4.6% 6.7% 6.1% 32
TE3/WR6 2.2% 2.6% 3.1% 3.2% 2.8% 15
RB1 13.0% 6.9% 6.8% 11.0% 9.4% 50
RB2 6.7% 6.5% 5.5% 5.9% 6.1% 33
RB3 3.2% 4.5% 4.8% 3.2% 3.9% 21

Again, if we look at how Tom Brady split his passes over the previous four years, they're pretty consistent across the board. Last year, the secondary wideouts lost a good amount of targets that were directed towards Ben Watson, but Reche Caldwell was still thrown 102 passes, many of which he could actually see clearly.

The question here is who necessarily will fill the roles above at wideout. Wes Welker is commonly thought of as a replacement for Troy Brown; Brown was the WR2 in 2003 (60 targets) and 2006 (76 targets), but was the WR4 in 2004 (29 targets as he played a lot of defensive back) and WR3 in 2005 (59 targets) when the Patriots had Deion Branch and David Givens to work with. With the presence of Stallworth and Moss as likely receivers on the line, Welker's probably going to see a lot of time in the slot. That would peg him as somewhere between a WR2 and WR3 for the Patriots in 2007.

With all that in mind, let's try and project the Patriots wide receivers' performance in 2007. We'll base their catch percentages and yards per catch on their average for the last three seasons, giving the new arrivals a generous (based upon the data in Question 2) two percent increase in catch percentage for playing with Tom Brady in a solid, well-rounded offense. We'll say that Moss and Stallworth are WR1A and 1B, and that Faulk and Morris will be RB1A and RB1B. (It should also be noted that RB1 is referring to their usage in the passing game, not on the overall depth chart.) We'll give the touches Daniel Graham saw last year to David Thomas, and give most of Kyle Brady's touches to Ben Watson since Brady will be used almost entirely for blocking.

Expected Patriots Performance, 2007
Targets Catch % Yd/Rec Rec Yds
WR1A Donte' Stallworth 100 55% 15.4 55 847
WR1B Randy Moss 100 51% 15.2 51 775
WR3 Wes Welker 55 64% 12.7 35 445
WR4 Reche Caldwell 31 62% 14.1 19 268

Troy Brown 22 61% 11.5 13 150

TE1A Benjamin Watson 82 54% 14.2 44 625
TE2 David Thomas 32

69% 14.5 22 319
RB1A Kevin Faulk 42 81% 8.9 34 303
RB1B Sammy Morris 42 69% 6.7 29 194
RB3 Laurence Maroney 21 73% 8.8 15 132
Total 527 60.2% 317 4058

Throw in about 10 catches on 20 throws from assorted flotsam and jetsam and you have a vintage Tom Brady peak season: 327 completions on 547 attempts, and a 60 percent completion percentage (owing to the deeper routes run by Stallworth and Moss), with around 4,200 yards passing.

(Ed. note: We should point out here that these projections are done solely in the context of this article, and are not the same as the KUBIAK fantasy football projections for these players that will be published in PFP 2007 and available on the site in the next week or two.)

Obviously, the above projection assumes that the Patriots offense will remain injury-free in 2007, an extremely unlikely proposition. An injury to Brady or Maroney would be catastrophic, but a much more reasonable expectation would be to slice 2-4 games off of the projections of Moss and/or Stallworth, both of whom have proven themselves injury-prone. Even if you gave 20 percent of each of their targets to Welker, getting to 95 attempts -- a figure Troy Brown hasn't come close to since the pre-Deion Branch days -- would peg his 2006 production as his peak performance, not the precursor to it. It's not that Welker won't be valuable or a worthwhile use of a roster spot; instead, Welker has become, in a sense, a victim of his own success.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 28 Jun 2007

68 comments, Last at 12 Jun 2012, 4:10pm by Anonymous2012


by Ilanin (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 6:07pm

WR3 in 2005 (59 targets) when the Patriots had Deion Givens to work with.

By which you mean Deion Branch. And David Givens.

Otherwise, good article. I will now leave it to the Patriots fanboys to dissect, because I know nothing about New England.

by Tom (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 6:14pm

If not for John Shoops ineptness at OC. Marty Booker would be one of 5 receivers ever to have back to back 100+ reception seasons. Maybe even two 100+ reception seasons in their careers. I'm not sure about that.

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:12pm

I know I hate the Patriots, and root for them to lose every game they play, but I'm actually very interested in watching their WR situation shake out this year. I don't know that I've ever seen a collection of WRs I believed so capable of being either (a) dreadful or (b) fantastic.

Oh, and just to indulge my contrarian nature: Wes Welker has always struck me as the epitome of all those cliches announcers use to describe white players to make them sound good, or at least better than they are.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:20pm

Bill's point is good for almost every NE receiver who's supposed to be good this year. In his full seasons, Brady generally throws for about 3700 yards, and he spreads around to a whole lot of different receivers, including random guys like Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass. And he uses the TE heavily too. NE is not a WR numbers factory. It never has been.

I wouldn't be surprised if Welker had 40 catches for 500 yards, and they were perfectly happy with that.

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:30pm

Welker was my favorite player on the dismal '04 Fins, and one of my top 3 faves last season. It KILLS me that he's on the Pats now, but at the same time I know that if the Pats win the Super Bowl (again) it won't be because of him. He'll just be a cog in the machine. Still, I can see him catching the winning TD against the Fins at least once in '07 :-(

It makes perfect sense to me to guess the number of completions Brady will have, then divide that fairly evenly between the WRs, since the Pats have always liked to spread the ball around.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:34pm

Bill look out, you'll anger the Pats fans! Run for your life. . . too late here they come!


by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:34pm

"I know I hate the Patriots, and root for them to lose every game they play, but I’m actually very interested in watching their WR situation shake out this year. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a collection of WRs I believed so capable of being either (a) dreadful or (b) fantastic."

Wow, who knew I'd actually agree with NewsToTom about something?

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:51pm

Amazingly enough, I don't disagree with much that this article says. If Moss and Stallworth stay healthy and play decent by their standards, they should get targetted quite a bit. It is a likely possibility that Welker's stats aren't going to be uber-impressive at the end of the year.

That said, what this article fails to touch upon is how important the slot WR is to NE's offense. Last year, they had significant trouble converting 1st downs because their best slot guy, Brown, was both old and outside to help the team break in the new WRs. Despite the obvious WR issues NE had, their best set was the spread. The love to have other teams get their nickle and dime CBs on the field, or have a WR/LB matchup and take advantage by having better than average 3rd and 4th guys. Obviously the 1 and 2 guys need to be good enough to command some attention, but NE generated a lot of their success in 2003 and 2004 with those spread matchups. Because of this, and how often NE spreads the field, a #3 guy to NE was much more valuable than he may be to another team.

Because of all of this, Welker seeing time in the slot is in no way a denegration of his ability. Unlike many teams who just line up their best guy off left and their second best off right and their third best guy in the slot, NE doesn't have that "rank by position". The slot is nothing more than where the WR will line up. If anything, the most important ranking is "where is the WR on Tommy's confidence list?" At this point, Welker is a solid #2, right behind Brown. And Brown and Welker won't be fighting for the same ball very often.

I completely agree that expecting more than 70 catches and 800 yards is really pushing it. I won't be surprised if it is closer to 50-60 and 600-700. But reading between the lines, I get the feeling that you think that Welker is not that good of a receiver. If that is what you are really getting at, I couldn't disagree more.

by lanny (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:51pm

I am enormous Patriots fan and the article seemed very reasonable to me.

Given the nature of football...i.e. 1 ball, clearly multiple offensive players can't have ridiculous gaudy numbers.

What I care about is the overall efficiency of the offense, time of possession, etc...

If these guys all play well we should have a top 10, top 5 type of offense and a good seed for the playoffs.

by Vince (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:58pm

3. “I want … some competition.�

Oh Lord.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 7:58pm

"...as a receiver, he runs good routes, has very good hands, and has a nose for the first down marker."

Ah, but is he a fan favorite with deceptive speed?

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 10:40pm

"Reche Caldwell was still thrown 102 passes, many of which he could actually see clearly."

I just wanted to call attention to the joke for those who missed it.

by tanner \'08 (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2007 - 11:41pm

And this article would incur the wrath of us frothing pats fans why, exactly? Too thoughtful? Too well researched? The relevant question seems to be will Welker play better than Jadougeche Gabgaffwell, and the answer seems to be (likely) yes.

by Zac (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 12:28am

I don't understand, Oswlek. If you agree with the article, how can you be projecting Welker for 50/60 catches for 600/700 yards? All the numbers are right there. He's not going to be a starting WR, which at best makes him the #3. NE's #3 WRs average 10% of the QB targets. Welker's expected catch percentage is at best 64%. 520*10%*64%*=33 completions. If you think he's going to get 50 catches, one of those numbers must be wrong. So which one is it?

You seem to be saying that you expect Welker to be the #2 in this offense. With Stallworth and Moss ahead of him, that's pretty hard to believe. It could just be that I've seen so many return specialists unable to make the transition to WR.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 1:11am

I must be missing something (and maybe being out of Massachusetts the last two years has something to do with it) but was anybody thinking Welker would be anything more than a good multi-roleplayer? I agree with Bill to a 'T' here, but I'd been under the impression that this is what everybody already thought Welker would provide. It's a very good article. Does it disprove anything as much as it reinforces what most people already think about Welker moving to the Pats or is there some Welker-becoming-Chad-Johnson bandwagon at which I'm missing the opportunity to chuckle?

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 2:47am

Is Stallworth really any kind of upgrade of Caldwell and Gaffney? (we don't need to talk about Moss again) I mean, Gaffney's 04 campaign with Houston trumps any of his last 4 seasons, DPAR-wise. I know he's been anounced as WR2, but do his credentials really warrant it? With Moss and Stallworth at WR1 and WR2 you're going to have two starting WRs who have a good chance to put up catch percentages of below 50%, which is not good.

It just seems to me that the Pats are stockpiling mediocre WRs. They do have a decent mix of deep threats (Moss, Stallworth, and C. Jackson?) and possesion guys (Gafney, Welker, Caldwell), but having lots of OK WRs is no where near as usefull as having one very good WR and a bunch of other guys. (I'll preempt a Steve Smith reference by pointing out that having a good running game and QB are important too)

And Caldwell and Gafney have been getting bashed a bit too much for my taste, none of the recent additions are really substantially better, Moss and Stallworth simply have a different skill set. Gaffney's 03-04 seasons rank solidly by FO metrics in an abysmal offensive enviroment, and Caldwell did well in limited action in SD from 04-05 and just fine for the Pats in 06, and even Gabriel also put up good metrics in 05 in Oakland of all places. Stallworth hasn't outperformed any of these guys (except Gabriel) over his career excluding his rookie year. With one good season followed by 4 average ones, best bet is to assume he's just average.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 10:14am

Does anyone know the salary breakdown for Welker?

by Shawn Siegele (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 11:15am

This is a great article, mostly because it makes you want to dig deeper on all of the current and former Patriots seasons, receivers, drive charts, etc.
Having done that, there are some serious flaws in the reasoning (which are not obvious).

1. In order to project this season, it makes much more sense to use the recent season(s) with the most similar personnel. Of the four seasons Bill uses, 2003 and 2006 are very dissimilar, because the WRs were lousy. (In all deference to jonnyblazin, whether you assess their recent seasons by yards, receptions, or DVOA, the Pats three leading receivers in the postseason last year all profile out as players who would be WR4/5 on most teams). But 2003 wasn't much better. Branch and Givens were second year WRs, Patten was injured, and Brown missed 4 games. In both of those seasons the target percentage to the TE was much higher and for the RB1 it was almost double.

2. The #3 WR gets fewer targets because he's the guy who gets hurt. In 2003 this was Troy Brown (previous year's WR1b, David Patten, missed the whole year). In 2004 this was Deion Branch who would have definitely been the #1. The stats for the WR3 are artificially lower, not because they don't target WR3, but because WR3's stats often reflect a partial season.

3. The Patriots have only had a good #3 receiver once in those four years. 2003 is interesting because all three WRs posted very high DVOAs, but Branch was the only one highly targeted. Givens and Brown were targeted roughly the same number of times (which disproves the dropoff to #3 theory). In 2004, the Pats had 3 good WRs, but Branch missed half the season. If you correct for his games missed, the top 3 receivers were targeted almost the exact same number of times. In '05 Patten was gone. And '06 is obvious.

4. Bill notes Welker's high catch percentage and that some regression to the mean is expected, but if we now assume that his targets won't necessarily drop because Pats WR3 often get a lot of targets then there is a more important factor:. Pats offensive efficiency vs. other offenses. It's instructive to note how Caldwell improved his DVOA from -2.5% to 9.4% when joining the Pats. More striking is the falloff of the Big 3, Branch, Givens, and Patten when they left. In their year immediately after leaving the Pats, Branch went from 19% DVOA to -3%, Givens from 5.5% to -32.5%, and Patten from 15% to a whopping -38%. Their falloffs were complicated by injuries and other factors, but they were so ludicrously bad while on the field one has to question if the Pats have ever had even one good WR in the past (although I expect Branch to be a good sidekick for DJ Hackett's breakout season this year in Seattle).

1. With 3 good WRs (and the possibility of contribution from Caldwell and Jackson), the Pats targets will almost certainly most closely reflect other seasons in which they had 3 WR threats. That means the targets for the TEs and RBs are almost certainly much, much too high in Bill's chart (keep in mind Watson played poorly a year ago; he and Shockey were the only two TEs in the top 20 DPAR to post negative DVOAs).

2. In predicting Welker's targets, it's likely he will see almost as many as Moss and Stallworth before taking injuries into the equation (based on Pats offense '04). When you consider Moss and Stallworth are much more likely to be injured, there is a great chance he will finish with the most targets (although not yards or touchdowns).

3. Considering the relative success of the Patriots with truly terrible WRs in '06 and what appears to be the vastly overrated trio of Branch/Givens/Patten the Pats should feel confident going into '07. The Pats were 5th in Pts/Dr and 4th in Drive Success Rate a year ago. The Colts were #1 in both metrics, but the bigger issue is by how much. There is a huge gap from the Colts to #3 in Pts/Dr (Chargers 2nd), and a huge gap from the Colts even to #2 in Drive Success Rate. The Pats obviously want to close those gaps (and should).

4. On a minor note, the use of two 3rd down backs in previous years is largely due to how one dimensional the Pats lead rusher has been. In '06 Maroney and Dillon split the RB2/RB3 responsibilities in the offense from a receiving perspective, and it is incredibly unlikely that Maroney will see as few targets as he is slotted for in Bill's projection.

Again, great article and for those who would accuse bias, the Pats rank about 26th on my list of favorite teams so I hope I have overestimated their prospects for the coming season.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 11:16am

Is Stallworth really any kind of upgrade of Caldwell and Gaffney?
Stallworth may be Just Another Guy (I'll skip debating it), but he's Just Another Guy with Speed (JAGwS), making him some kind of upgrade on the 2006 Patriots' receiver corps. For evidence: his career YPC is about 3 yards higher than Gaffney's and Caldwell's.

And yes, he gets injured a lot. But so does Moss, and so did Chad Jackson last year, so between all these guys, the Patriots should have at least one deep threat playing in every game. Which would be about one more than last season.

by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 11:31am

I like this article, but I've got to say at the end there, with the "projections", isn't it a little unreasonable to have out of your top 7 WR/TE, everyone above 50% catch percentage, and 4 of them above 60%? Has this happened to a team before?

by welker joe (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 12:14pm

welker beat odds, be great receiver in 07. brady better than harottepepper throw catchable ball. welker get 1000 yards go to phoenix in 08. bet on it.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 12:16pm

"Throw in about 10 catches on 20 throws from assorted flotsam and jetsam and you have a vintage Tom Brady peak season: 327 completions on 547 attempts, and a 60 percent completion percentage (owing to the deeper routes run by Stallworth and Moss), with around 4,200 yards passing."

So, they upgrade pretty much every recieving position, and Tom Brady is going to have the lowest completion percentage in his career? I doubt it.

Yeah, Moss and Stallworth may have low catch percentages, but they can't be any lower percentage than last year's deep threats. I think I saw Brady throw 40 passes over 30 yards last year, and I can only recall 2 of them being caught. Moss and Stallworth wont have the catch percentage of Gaffney/Caldwell, but they will BOTH have a significantly higher catch percentage on deep balls than both of them.

Ben Watson is no longer gonna be doubled every single play, so I'd expect his % to go up quite a bit. Also

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 12:27pm

Re #20
Check out last year's Pats:
Caldwell 60%
Brown 58%
Jackson 68%
Gaffney 55%
Watson 54%
Graham 62%
Thomas 69%
Faulk 77%
Maroney 73%
Dillon 94%

by asg (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 12:44pm

Is it wrong that, for me, the most exciting sentence in this article was:

"...the KUBIAK fantasy football projections for these players that will be published in PFP 2007 and available on the site in the next week or two."

by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 1:11pm

#22 - Rich - I think the idea is that they're going to run more deep routes with Stallworth & Moss, resulting in a lower completion percentage but higher ypa & ypc. It's the 'East Coast Offense' theory.

by the K (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 1:19pm

Interesting thing about the older WRs having higher DPAR than the younger ones. I realize a big part of this is the recievers still in the league at that age are really good, but could a part of it also be, the opposing team's #1 DB is covering a younger hotshot reciever, leaving the old-timer on a #2 DB? (see: Wayne, Reggie and Harrison, Marvin.) I'd bet many teams put their top WR on Wayne, not Harrison, which likely helps his DPAR.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 1:35pm

"#22 - Rich - I think the idea is that they’re going to run more deep routes with Stallworth & Moss, resulting in a lower completion percentage but higher ypa & ypc. It’s the ‘East Coast Offense’ theory."

They were already running plenty of deep routes, and NONE of them were getting caught. I can't see any way the completion percentage could go down.

by JDP (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 2:07pm

I find it interesting that Bill would skew his % caught numbers the way he has. Career wise, Stallworth is running about 52%, while Moss is running around 60%. Yet, Bill has Stallworth catching a higher percentage. I just don't see it. In fact, when Moss had a good QB throwing to him (something that he hasn't had since 2004), he closer to 62-63% caught.

I see no reason Moss wouldn't return to that. Stallworth could see his numbers increase, but Stallworth has an issue with drops. He's averaged almost 6 drops a season the last 4 years. And drops are almost entirely on the receiver.

by milo (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 2:11pm

Re #20:
2006 Saints
WR-Colston 61%
Horn 61%
Henderson 59%
Copper 55%
Jones 60%
TE-Campbell 62%
Conwell 62%
Miller 64%

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 3:47pm

Welker reminds me of James Thrash. Kind of an unsung multi-faceted role player, whose absence is felt more strongly than his presence. Thrash was never a great WR, but Gibbs & Co. busted their butt to bring him back to WAS in a trade. Since then, his numbers have never been impressive, but I think he has always been a dependable player and will play hard at any and every position. Welker and Thrash are definitely "cog" players.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 4:33pm

A point that needs making - Welker may have less catches than last year, and still be a critcal part of a Super Bowl winning team. Since he is going to a team that has a quarterback and offence that has a history of spreading the ball in the passing game, there's no reason to expect that he will have career completion numbers. What's important is that he be in position to catch the balls thrown to him. If he does that, and produces first downs consistantly, he can be a huge success with less catches than last year. So in other words, all the data-trolling above is irrelevant. If he brings the skills that are represented in last years stats, then he can produce the value the Pats are looking for, regardless of the number of catches he ends up with. It's all about the wins, baby!

by MattBay (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 4:47pm

Love the FO articles for stirring up the thought processes in the old noggin, but Sterling Sharpe said it best - Tom Brady's favorite receiver is the open one!

One flaw in statistics is that it relies upon past data and extrapolates out into the future. The Patriots are known to have a diverse offense/defense squads so the coaches can game plan each opponent differently and attack their weaknesses/deny them of their strengths.

That being said, the final stats for Welker will depend on who is matched up against the Pats on any given play on any given week in any given

I agree with #31. Case in point: Both Ben Roethlisberger and Trent Dilfer have Super Bowl Rings, but don't have overwhelming QB stats. At the end of the day, stats can help you get a feel for player production, but it hasn't effectively measured the impact of teamwork and ultimately, NFL championships.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 5:17pm

re: 31 But is the value he brings equal to what he was traded for (2nd/7th rd. pick) and signed for ($18mil, $9mil guaranteed)? It's never a question of being "just about the wins", it's how you invest your resources.

re: 28

"The correlation between the difference in a receiver’s catch rate the year before and after the move to the difference in his old and new quarterback’s completion percentage the year before making the move (thereby measuring the completion percentages of the quarterback before the arrival of the new wideout) is relatively slim at .15... The average receiver moving to a new team saw his catch rate rise by less than one percent."

Moss has posted 2 years of sub-50% catch percentages. This trend should continue regardless of QB play.

re: 18

There is no trend in WRs gaining DVOA coming to NE. Caldwell's and Gaffney's 06 DVOA ratings were approximate or worse than they were in 04, Gabriel's 06 was worse than his 05 #s.

by Zac (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 5:30pm

Click my name for Welker's base salary information. IDK what his signing bonus was.
2008-$1.4 million
2009-$1.65 million
2010-$1.9 million
2011-$2.15 million

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 8:26pm

#32: In 2005, the year the Steelers won the Super Bowl, Roethlisberger lead the league in yards per attempt and touchdowns per attempt, and the Steelers lead the league in yards per completion. That's awfully overwhelming.

by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 8:29pm

Re: 15

They traded a 2nd and 7th for him and paid him a good amount of cash. Generally you would not expect to give all that up for "a good multi-roleplayer." If this analysis is correct, it's hard to justify the Pats' acquisition of him.

by Matt Schlub (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 10:10pm

Ed. note: We should point out here that these projections are done solely in the context of this article, and are not the same as the KUBIAK fantasy football projections for these players that will be published in PFP 2007 and available on the site in the next week or two.)

Ahhh.... what happened to "by July 1". But I agree with the post above that this is the best part of the article. Let's get those projections out soon!

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 11:28pm

"Gaffney’s 03-04 seasons rank solidly by FO metrics in an abysmal offensive enviroment"

Sorry for nitpicking, but I don't think there's any way the '04 Texans can be called an abysmal offensive environment. The team's passing DVOA as a whole was -0.1%, Carr's was -0.6% - both pretty much right on league average. Gaffney got to line up opposite Andre Johnson, who was having a pro-bowl season, while the running game was actually slightly above average (0.9% DVOA). 2003 was considerably worse: the Texans ranked in the mid-low 20s in most offensive categories, but Johnson was still pretty good on the other side. Bad, certainly, but abysmal seems like a stretch. Bear in mind that Carr's problems as a quarterback are not with passing the ball: they lie primarily in his inability to spot blitzes, his tendency to hold the ball too long and his poor pocket presence in general, which hurts him and his team, but not his wide receivers. And the fact that Corey Bradford was inhumanly awful makes Carr's and the team's passing statistics from that era look slightly worse than would be a fair reflection of the offensive environment as a whole.

I agree that "New England have magical fairy dust that makes wide receivers play hugely better" is nonsense, but it would be very strange indeed if a colossal upgrade at quarterback didn't help a wide receiver.

by MRH (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2007 - 11:49pm

Good article. I'd like to know how many WRs are in those DPAR/YPC/age tables.

What if: Moss and Stallworth only play 12-13 games each and Welker plays all 16. Could he end up as the most-targeted WR? If he catches 64% @ 12.7 ypc of 114 targets, that equals 926 yards. That seems like a reasonable best case as no one will be surprised if Moss and Stallworth miss some time. To get Welker over 1000 yards, you'd have to assume about a 70% catch rate, or higher ypc, or more targets than the "WR1" typically gets in NE, so I can't see it. But I can see him ending up as the most targeted WR in NE, and certainly more than 55 times.

by Bill Barnwell :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 12:13am


#3 - That's entirely true.

#8 - Wes Welker, one of the new wideouts, is a player who pretty much everyone at Football Outsiders, writer or reader, has championed for a couple of years now. He’s a player who does a lot of things that help a team win games: He returns punts and kicks, he can be a gunner, he’s a solid blocker, and as a receiver, he runs good routes, has very good hands, and has a nose for the first down marker. (He can even kick in emergencies.)

It’s not that Welker won’t be valuable or a worthwhile use of a roster spot; instead, Welker has become, in a sense, a victim of his own success.

#12 - I appreciate you getting my joke's back.

#18 - 2003 and 2006 are dissimilar to 2004 and 2005. It's not impossible to fathom that 2003 or 2006 could be a comp for this season, though, if Moss/Stallworth go down with injury, and the Patriots offense instead relies more on Watson/Morris/Faulk in a short passing attack.

In 2005 and 2006, the WR3 was not an injured guy.

There's not a relationship between targets and the previous year's DVOA, so you can't make that assumption about offensive efficiencies and how it affects potential usage patterns.

The targets for RBs has been markedly consistent and I'm very confident about them. In addition, despite Watson's poor DVOA, the Patriots aren't taking his DVOA into account. He was a first-round pick and he's a focal point of their offense. If anything, the TE projection is too low.

I would argue that Maroney is not likely to see much time as a third down back, which will limit his targets. I appreciate the feedback, though.

#21 - This made me laugh. I don't know about anyone else, but it made me.

#22 - Brady's DVOA on deep passes (>16 yards) was above league-average. I don't think you can expect him to perform much better on those passes. #25 is right, and I think Brady's completion percentage of 60.2 would be tied with his 2003 year and entirely expected considering the type of offense he's going to work with this year, the situations the Patriots are most likely to be in (few opportunities to gain cheap completions late in games as they'll likely be winning and running the ball, for example), and the receivers he'll be playing with.

#24/#37 - YES. Jerks.

#26 - Most teams don't match up man vs. man that frequently.

#28 - see #33.

#31/#32 - This point actually was already made (see the last sentence of the essay). I'm not sure if you actually read the essay or not, but I apologize that it and the stats therein did not measure teamwork. Suffice to say the Patriots and Welker will all work really hard together.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 4:25am

Best part of the article/posts: The fact that Bill responded to about a dozen posts specifically above. Cool. 21st Century journalism at its best.

Let's see David Halberstam do that... oh wait, bad example.

I found it to be very well reasoned and credible, plus I LOVE the compound names!

Is Moss really a 50% receiver? Yikes!

by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 2:12pm

what does title of story mean? Welker I hardly know her?

Welker not bad, but not good. Just average guy. If Patriots know what is good for them they would have kept D Gabriel. D Gabriel better WR than Welker. Gabriel more speed, better hands. Welker maybe better across middle of field.

by Whale Touch (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 2:52pm

Sorry to break it to you and ruin your whole Raider love thing, Raiderjoe, but Welker is a better player than Gabriel.

I have been lurking here for several months and I must say that you have the most despicable writing style I have come across in years.

by Blind Scarab (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 3:13pm

re: 42

welk means to touch physically

Hope this helps.

by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 3:41pm

yes, that helps.

Touch her? I hardly know her. makes sense now.

I am right. Gabriel is better than Welker. Maybe you need to watch more football. Writing is not concern of mine. My comments are what issue is and my comments are among best on this site. No offense to guys who run site.

by Matt Schlub (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 4:36pm

Re #24/37 - no reason to call us JERKS! The article is very good. It's just that there is a great deal of excitement to see the KUBIAK numbers. Lots of respect for what FO does with its innovative stats. And for fantasy football fans are excited about how you translate that to projections. I really love this site and everything FO does, though the occasional "nose up in the air" approach to fantasy footballers is annoying. The folks at BP get that part of their value is "real baseball fans" that appreciate how the stats affect the "real game", but they also realize that their audience includes "roto geeks". I think you guys could gain a greater audience if you treated the fantasy footballers with a little more respect. At times, it feels like FO treats the fantasy footballers the same way the baseball establishment once treated Bill James and sabremetricians. I think you guys could make some money to pay for "pure" research you want to do if you would be a little kinder to fantasy football community (even when we get a little excited about the mere mention of projections coming out instead of a very good substantive article. Peace.

by Bill Barnwell :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 7:12pm


I think you took my comment a little too seriously. I do write the fantasy column here, ya know.

by Matt Schlub (not verified) :: Sat, 06/30/2007 - 7:48pm

Touche. Sorry for missing the joke.

by \'joe Blow (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2007 - 10:24am

Welk does not mean to touch.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2007 - 1:34pm

My comments are what issue is and my comments are among best on this site.

Agreed, although perhaps not in the manner intended.

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2007 - 2:43pm

I had no idea "welk" actually meant "to physically touch" but I still got the joke :-) It's all about the context, see.

My only hope is that the Pats implode like pretty much every other team who's tried to buy a title (coughpost2000Yankeescough). It would make me feel at least a little better about the '95 Dolphins' complete and abject failure to do so.

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2007 - 2:51pm


Oh puh-LEASE. You fantasy footballers, much like American teens in the last decade, have it way too easy as it is. What do you want Aaron company to do, give each of you a pony? If you ask me, this site caters enough to fantasy footballers as it is.

by Zac (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2007 - 5:46pm

Re: 42. Welk is a pretty obscure word though. It's only found in unabridged dictionaries. I think Bill was just playing off the old "Poker? I hardly know her" joke, which was common knowledge back to at least 1992, when it was the name of an episode of "Night Court". It's probably much older than that.

by Matt Schlub (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2007 - 6:43pm

52: What's your problem, old man? Comparing fantasy footballers to "teens in the last decade" shows your age. It's a billion dollar industry. Aaron and team realize that they need to make some money (note all the pleas to not copy the KUBIAK stats becuase they have to feed the kids). They get it, but not enough. They really could jump interest and revenues for the site with more fantasy footballers.

In case you think they cater too much to FFers, note that the KUBIAK stats are not quite out yet and it's July 1.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2007 - 2:04am

Come on, does nobody else remember the punchline "Rectum? Damn near killed him!" Same idea for the article title. (since this is a family-friendly site, I won't even remind you of other punchlines then essentially encompass their entire jokes, like "Lady, I can't take 67 more of those" or the much cleaner, "That's okay your Holiness, the smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my napsack.")

DolFan316, buy them a pony. THAT is a freakin' riot! Next time someone half my age asks for impromptu tutoring at work, that'll be my rejoinder: "Ah, next thing you know you'll want me to buy you a pony...."

by johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2007 - 1:05pm

How much does the volume of passes thrown at Chris Chambers effect Gueynte Harrottepepper completion percentage? Meaning Welkers QBs in Miami might be slightly better than though when you consider they throw a large percentage of their passes to one of the games worse targets.

by langsty (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2007 - 1:26pm

brady had a lot more responsibility when it came to running the offense last year. the passing game had to be catered to the limitations of a receiving group that could not consistently create seperation, meaning they relied pretty much entirely on scheme to get open looks, and that brady was given a lot more freedom when it came to his options in the huddle and in checking out of plays. i still find it hard to pin down what welker's primary role is gonna be, but maybe that's the point. he's the Ty Wiggington of football.

by Vern (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2007 - 2:15pm

Re: 51

Ok to hate the Pats of course, but get your reasoning straight. Stallworth and Moss COMBINED are making about what Branch is making in Seattle - and with no longer term commitments for either. This team hardly went on a spending spree.

Right now, the Pats are a Walmart special -- ridiculously low prices for brand name goods. So you have to wonder, at those prices, if the goods are really what they are supposed to be.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2007 - 7:08pm

Come on, does nobody else remember the punchline “Rectum? Damn near killed him!� Same idea for the article title.

Actually, it all goes back to the most famous greeting card ever made, back in the 30s, which showed a young couple under a tree, with the boy asking "Do you like Kipling?" and the girl responding "I don't know you naughty boy, I've never kippled."

by John C (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2007 - 9:58pm

#15 said it best...Bill's article is reinforcing the conventional wisdom around Welker--he's coming to NE to be good all purpose role player/receiver, not to put up monster receiving numbers. I've never heard anybody say otherwise.

by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2007 - 12:15am


What does welk mean? You say it doesn't mean to touch, but you don't tell us what it does mean. Shame on you.

by Not saying (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2007 - 8:04am

Welk: 1. To cause to wither; to wilt.
. . .
3. ... also, to beat severely.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2007 - 9:44am

#15 said it best…Bill’s article is reinforcing the conventional wisdom around Welker–he’s coming to NE to be good all purpose role player/receiver, not to put up monster receiving numbers. I’ve never heard anybody say otherwise.

Bill Simmons has said "I can't wait until my fantasy draft so I can draft Wes Welker six rounds too early," suggesting that in some circles there's some irrational exuberance about Welker's performance next season.

by Chris (not verified) :: Mon, 07/09/2007 - 11:22pm


Stallworth and Moss were both injured last year. It wouldn't suprise anyone to see them missing time and Welker in the starting lineup. When I had similar catch totals and receiving yards for Moss, people laughed.

by The Reverendum (not verified) :: Mon, 07/16/2007 - 9:38pm

How come the whole thread became stupid somewhere in the early 40s?

Incidentally, insofar as this column--which I think is very interesting--from my point of view, insofar as it analyzes a player's performance in terms of production measured in terms of individual statistics, *is* a fantasy football article makes some of the above not worth mentioning (though I suppose I just did).

I have to assume that a coach considers whether or not the acquisition of a player--for the money (see #33/#40)--improves overall team DVOA.

As for Raiderjoe--I do hope you are joking. Actually, screw it--I've decided to believe you are playing an act as my life is better, however marginally, with that belief in place.

Be excellent to each other--and fear the Pats!!

by Tyler (not verified) :: Thu, 10/25/2007 - 9:52pm

Whoops... let's call this one a mulligan, okay?

by hwc (not verified) :: Sat, 01/05/2008 - 1:28pm

Now that the regular season is over, we should probably append the actual results:

Donte Stallworth, predicted to be the Pat's leader in receptions

Predicted: 55 catches, 847 yards
Actual: 46 catches, 697 yards

Randy Moss

Predicted: 51 catches, 771 yards
Actual: 98 catches, 1493 yards

Wes Welker

Predicted: 35 catches, 445 yards
Actual: 112 catches, 1175 yards


In fairness: The original analysis was superb, but was marred by a simple typo. The author typed "Wes Welker" instead of "Jabar Gaffney":

Jabar Gaffney

Actual: 36 catches, 449 yards

by Anonymous2012 (not verified) :: Tue, 06/12/2012 - 4:10pm

Woah. This is quite an embarrassment of a article.

The best part of the commentary is in post #21, someone points to Welker as being a 1000 yr receiver and a pro bowler for 2007. Yet, the response from our author? "This made me laugh. I don't know about anyone else, but it made me."(In post #40)

How embarrassing. How embarrassing.