When Patriots pundits — be it in print, on the radio or on television — speak of the 2010 season, it almost assuredly includes a comment that there's no chance Wes Welker will be out on the field. If he can play, they say, he will be a shell of himself, unable to make the quick cuts that have made him the most reliable pass-catching option in the NFL.
But wait one second — isn't this Wes Welker we're talking about?
If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, it is Welker. Yes, even the most optimistic of optimists would struggle to state in April that Welker will be fully recovered from his knee and shoulder surgeries to suit up on Sept. 12 against the Bengals, but most analysts are already writing off Welker's entire 2010 season.
That could be a mistake.
Let's say that there's a 99 percent chance that Welker will be unavailable to start the season. Given that nine months shouldn't be enough time to recover from a torn MCL and ACL (with some shoulder surgery to boot), that seems reasonable. In fact, it wouldn't be out of line to say there's an 85 percent chance that 10 or 11 months won't be enough time, either, and Welker's chances of suiting up at all in 2010 are slim.
That's all well and good, but it's important to remember that Welker has made an entire career out of capitalizing on that 15 percent. Nobody has accomplished more with less than Welker, and that dates all the way back to high school.
He got no scholarship offers after tearing up the Oklahoma gridiron. He only received an offer from Texas Tech after the immortal Lenny Walls backed out of the Red Raiders' offer and decided to go to Boston College. Not surprisingly, Welker proved to be among the most versatile players in the college game, but just as unsurprisingly, NFL teams deemed him too small to be drafted.
No matter, as Welker signed with the San Diego Chargers after the 2004 NFL draft … and was cut before the season. He got his chance with the Dolphins that year and made the most of it when he etched his name into the record books when he became the second player in NFL history to return a kick and a punt, successfully kick a field goal and extra point and make a tackle in a single game. Later in the season, Welker's 71-yard punt return helped set up a Miami touchdown in a surprising victory over the Patriots.
Needless to say, Bill Belichick took notice.
The Hall of Fame coach stole Welker from the Dolphins in 2007 and paired him with one of the best quarterbacks in history. Welker was instantly a major player in a team that came dangerously close to finishing off a perfect season (though had Welker been asked to cover Plaxico Burress, he without question would have done a better job than Ellis Hobbs).
Welker's value to the Patriots over the past three seasons has been infinite. He's caught the most passes (346) in the NFL since then, and he led the league in receptions last year, despite playing in 13 games (and a few minutes against the Texans that need not be mentioned).
Just as Welker has left an indelible mark on the Patriots, the image of him crying on the sidelines in Houston will be hard to forget. As Welker wept shortly after tearing his knee ligaments on a non-contact play, those watching on television saw a man who was devastated that he would not be a part of the playoffs. It was also a man who never took one minute on a football field for granted, and it was a man who will do everything he can to get back on one as quickly as possible.
There were questions surrounding Brady, after he tore his ACL and MCL, as to whether or not the quarterback could return in time for the start of the season. Brady recovered in time, but he had 12 months; Welker's window is much tighter.
So no, you probably shouldn't count on Welker to be a contributing member of the 2010 Patriots, but until we see him (somewhere other than at the Playboy Mansion), you simply can't count him out.