The New England Patriots are both lucky and unlucky to have Wes Welker on the roster. They are lucky because Welker is an elite, sure-handed receiver who is as productive as any wide receiver playing these days. They are unlucky because Welker is virtually irreplaceable due to how he makes Brady a better quarterback so any game he misses will lead to the Patriots struggling on offense. That is especially poignant as Welker recovers from ACL surgery.
Of the three seasons Welker has played with the Patriots, Tom Brady has been the full-time starting quarterback for two of them, missing almost all of the 2008 season with his own torn knee ligaments. In 2007, when Tom Brady was putting together the best season ever for a quarterback, he had Wes Welker to thank for it.
By looking at the play by play data compiled by NFL’s Gamebooks, I extracted all the attempts and completions Brady had when throwing Wes Welker’s way for both seasons. On the passes Brady threw to other receivers in 2007, he completed 65.8% of his passes and had an adjusted yards per pass attempt mark of 9.1.
Both of those numbers were above average, but throwing to Welker elevated Brady to a whole other stratosphere. Once Brady’s passes thrown to Welker are put back in the mix, Brady completed 69.1% of his passes for 9.0 adjusted yards per pass attempt in the regular season and playoffs. To achieve such a high completion percentage while maintaining an equally high adjusted yards per pass attempt is spectacular, and it was all because of Welker.
Just on the throws to Welker, Brady completed 79.0% of his passes and had 8.5 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Virtually every pass Brady threw to Welker ended in a completion.
For as great as Welker made Brady in 2007, he made him even better in 2009. As you might remember, Welker missed the three complete games, including the Patriots’ playoff game, and barely played in week 17 against Houston because that is the game in which he tore his ACL.
When Brady was not throwing to Welker, he only completed 61.0% of his passes for 6.9 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Last season, that completion percentage would have put Tom Brady between Kyle Orton (62.1%) and David Garrard (60.9%), which is the opposite of impressive for a quarterback of Brady’s caliber.
Fortunately for Brady, he did get a chance to pass to Welker and when those attempts and completions are taken in account, Brady completed a much more Brady-like 67.9% of his passes for 8.2 adjusted yards per pass attempt. There is no denying Welker’s presence improved the Patriots’ passing game significantly.
On throws just to Welker, Brady completed 71.3% of his passes on 8.0 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Those statistics might not be as impressive as the ones in 2007, but they certainly made a bigger difference to Tom Brady’s level of play.
Those who are not fans of the New England Patriots should wish that Welker’s recovery from his ACL injury experiences multiple setbacks since without him, the Patriots are just an ordinary offense and Brady is an inferior quarterback.