ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever John Elway describes the developmental process, the Denver Broncos’ chief football decision-maker will routinely offer, “We don’t draft All-Pros, we have to make them.’’
This week, we're taking a glimpse at a few key players on the Broncos' depth chart who are at various stages of the developmental process. Some have been named to the Pro Bowl, some will be starters for the first time in the coming season and 2013 ended with an injury for others.
But what they all have in common: More is expected of them than they could give, for a variety of reasons, in last season’s run to the Super Bowl.
Today: Wide receiver Wes Welker
For all Welker has done in his career, including five 100-catch seasons in his time with the New England Patriots, there is at least some question as to how things will unfold for the 33-year-old receiver in the Broncos’ offense this time around.
Start with the concussion history. Welker has had several in his career, including two this past season, which caused the Broncos to hold him out of the final three games of the regular season. There is at least some concern in-house, because of the propensity of players to suffer concussions with less impact after they have had at least one severe concussion, Welker could be sidelined in the coming season.
And the team's actions in recent months seem to reflect that.
There was the signing of Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. The Broncos see Sanders as a versatile option at wide receiver who can line up both outside and in the slot. Sanders was one of the best in the league this past season at forcing missed tackles after a catch, and his quickness as well as open-field speed has already been on display in the Broncos’ offseason work.
The Broncos also used a second-round pick in the May draft on Cody Latimer, a 215-pound receiver with legitimate 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. Latimer figures to get a long look in the Broncos’ red-zone work because he is so proficient at snaring passes in contested situations -- the “50-50 ball."
That leaves some playing-time decisions on the table, even for an offense that was so proficient at spreading the ball around last season. Welker, who is consistently lauded by teammates for his knowledge of the game, work ethic and proficiency at the most basic skill of finding a way to get open against a variety of defensive counters, did have a career-best 10 touchdown catches last season.
His 73 receptions, in 13 games, ranked third on the team, but his nine drops, including three-drop games against New England and New York, led the team as well. Overall, this is a player the Broncos believed was important enough that he carries the fourth-highest salary-cap figure on the team for the upcoming season at $8 million, the final season of the two-year deal he signed last year.
If healthy, however, Welker helps give the Broncos have the league’s biggest variety of targets who can work out of the inside positions in the formation. Or as tight end Julius Thomas put it: “We can do a lot of creative stuff … We’ll have a lot of ways to try to find the guy who has the best chance to make the biggest play."
Whether that means more, or fewer, than 73 catches for Welker remains to be seen.