The New England Patriots 2019 season will be here before we know it. It is now 83 days until their quest for banner number seven begins, and to continue our Days to Kickoff series, let’s take a look at the best number 83 in Patriots history, Wes Welker.
83 Days to Kickoff: Wes Welker
With all respect to Deion Branch, who donned number 83 during his first tenure in New England, a four-year span that included two Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP, it is Welker who deserves the distinction as the best 83 in Patriots history. During his six-year stint in New England, he emerged as one of the best slot receivers in the game and became a huge part of the Patriots lethal offensive attack. He is a borderline Hall of Famer who will always be remembered as one of Tom Brady‘s all-time favorite targets.
Before New England
Wes Welker was born on May 1, 1981, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was a standout player at Heritage Hall High School and was named the Oklahoma State Gatorade Player of Year in 2000. However, due to his small stature, he was not heavily recruited. As you will see, being underestimated due to his size was a constant piece of adversity that Welker had to overcome throughout his career.
It was only after a recruit backed out that Texas Tech decided to give Welker a scholarship, and boy did it pay off. Welker had great success as a wide receiver, running back and punt returner in his four years as a Red Raider. Over his career, he accumulated 259 receptions, 3,069 receiving yards, 559 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns (21 receiving and two rushing). He also returned 152 punts for 1,761 yards and eight touchdowns. His return yards are still an NCAA record and his return touchdowns rank second all time behind Dante Pettis. He was named to the All-Big 12 First Team in his junior and senior seasons, both of which he tallied over 1,200 scrimmage yards.
Despite his great career Texas Tech, Welker went undrafted in the 2004 NFL Draft. In fact, he was not even invited to the scouting combine, most likely again due to his size. He ended up getting signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Chargers and made the team out of training camp. However, he was cut after Week 1 and was picked up by the Miami Dolphins.
Welker was used almost exclusively on special teams in his first season, where he returned both kicks and punts. He was used in that same capacity win 2005 and 2006, but he also started playing as a receiver. Over those two seasons, he made 96 receptions for 1,121 yards and one touchdown. He also returned 127 punts and 166 kicks for almost 5,000 yards and a touchdown in his three seasons in Miami.
Welker In New England
Wes Welker was traded to the New England Patriots on March 5, 2007, for a second-round and a seventh-round pick. It ended up being an absolute steal for the Patriots, as Welker went on to have one of the best six-year stretches by any wide receiver in NFL history. In his first season in New England in 2007, he had a breakout year, leading the league in receptions with 112 for 1,175 yards. He caught eight of Brady’s then-record 50 touchdown passes in that historic 16-0 regular season. Welker was named to the All-Pro Second Team and was one of the major cogs in that unbelievable Patriots offense, highlighted by Brady and Randy Moss. He was overshadowed by Moss that year, but the Patriots don’t have *almost* the greatest season in NFL history without Welker’s production.
Welker went on to make the Pro Bowl in his remaining five seasons in New England. He also appeared on the All-Pro First Team in 2009 and 2011, and he was named to the second team again in 2009. He led the league in receptions again in 2009 and 2011 with 123 and 122, respectively. His 123 receptions are good for the sixth most in a season in NFL history. In 2011, he set the Patriots single-season record for receiving yards with 1,569.
Welker surpassed 100 receptions and 1,000 yards in five out of his six seasons in Foxboro, with the only exception being his 2010 season, in which he was recovering from an ACL and MCL tear but still put together a Pro-Bowl season. He is the only player in NFL history with five seasons of 110 or more receptions. Perhaps Welker’s most incredible stat is that he owns the five top seasons in Patriots history in terms of receptions. He also has the most receptions in franchise history despite only playing there for six years.
Yet, with all of Welker’s accomplishments in New England, he is one of the few players to play extended time with the Patriots in the 21st century to not win a Super Bowl. He played in two Super Bowls, XLII and XLVI, but was never able to hold the great Lombardi Trophy (Eli Manning and the Giants may have had something to do with that, but we won’t get into that right now). Despite this, he still played extremely well in his nine postseason games for the Patriots, tallying 69 receptions for 686 yards and four touchdowns.
Overall in his six seasons in New England, he amassed 672 receptions for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns. He absolutely thrived in the Patriots system as Brady’s go-to receiver in almost every situation. He was a catching machine and one of the most reliable receivers to ever put on a Patriots uniform.
Welker After New England
After the 2012 season, Welker signed with the Denver Broncos, where he had two solid seasons but nothing compared to his production in New England. He did set a career high with 10 touchdowns in 2013.
Finally, Welker signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2015 and played in eight games that season, which would turn out to be the last eight games of his incredible career. He retired at the age of 34 and has since taken up coaching positions with the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers. He is currently the wide receivers coach for the 49ers.
Welker defined the slot receiver position, and is, in my opinion, a top-30 wide receiver all time. His six-year stretch in New England was arguably the greatest ever put up by a receiver. I think he could be a hall of famer at some point, but his candidacy is tough because his yardage numbers are relatively low compared to others with similar receptions, and he had the benefit of having two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (Brady and Peyton Manning) throwing to him for the bulk of his career.
Regardless, Wes Welker is the best number 83 in Patriots history, so we honor him today, the 83rd day before kickoff.
Embed from Getty Images