Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski Unlikely to Unseat Calvin Johnson as NFL’s Receiving Yards King

Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski Unlikely to Unseat Calvin Johnson as NFL's Receiving Yards KingWhile Wes Welker has led the NFL in receptions in two of the past three seasons, a New England Patriot has never topped the league in receiving yards for a season. Oddsmakers at Bovada believe it's a semi-long shot that any member of the 2012 Pats will change that this year.

However, one current Patriot has led the league in receiving yards, albeit with a different club.  Offseason free-agent addition Brandon Lloyd led the league with 1,448 yards with Denver in 2010. Lloyd isn't a betting option on that prop this season, though.

Welker is 18-1 to lead the league after totaling a career-high 1,569 yards last year — to go with nine touchdowns, also a career high — to finish second to Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Welker's previous high was 1,348 yards in 2009.

In the early part of 2011, it looked like Welker not only would lead the league in receptions and yards but also potentially set league records for both. Through New England's first five games, Welker led the NFL with 45 catches for 740 yards, boosted in large part by a huge game against Buffalo in Week 3 where Welker caught 16 balls for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Had Welker maintained that pace, he would have finished with 2,368 receiving yards, smashing Jerry Rice's NFL record of 1,848 yards. But while Welker had four 100-yard receiving games in his first five contests, he had only four more the rest of the season. Five times in that stretch Welker was held under 50 yards, but he still easily broke the Patriots' record of 1,493 yards, set by Randy Moss in 2007.

Welker's teammate Rob Gronkowski had a record-setting season for a tight end last year and is 20-1 to win the yardage title in 2012. Gronk set single-season league marks for receiving yards by a tight end (1,327) as well as receiving touchdowns by a tight end (17). Gronkowski also led all NFL players in receiving touchdowns in 2011, the first tight end to do so in NFL history.

Gronkowski posted a combined 232 yards in wins over the Broncos and Ravens in the Patriots' first two postseason games, but was slowed by an injury in the Super Bowl loss against the Giants as he tallied just 26 yards on two catches.

The addition of Lloyd could mean fewer balls for Welker and Gronkowski. A tight end has never led the NFL in receiving yards since the 1970 merger, so Gronkowski or New Orleans' Jimmy Graham (18-1) could make history this year. Graham was nearly as good as Gronk last year, catching 99 balls for 1,130 yards and 11 scores.

Detroit's Johnson is the 7-2 favorite to repeat as the yardage king this year after setting a Lions record with 1,681 yards a year ago. The previous career high for "Megatron" was 1,331 yards in 2008, which was the last time before 2011 that Johnson played all 16 regular-season games. A Johnson has won the receiving title in four of the past six years, with Houston's Andre taking it in 2008 and 2009 and Cincinnati's Chad, the former Patriot, in 2006. Calvin Johnson was the first NFC player to win the title since Carolina's Steve Smith in 2005.

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald is the 9-1 second-favorite at the book, followed by the Texans' Andre Johnson (10-1), Falcons' Julio Jones and Giants' Victor Cruz (both 14-1).

Fitzgerald finished fourth in the NFL last year with 1,411 yards despite musical chairs at quarterback in Arizona, and it still doesn't appear the Cards have a true No. 1 quarterback for this season between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Injuries have hampered Andre Johnson the past two seasons after consecutive 1,500-yard seasons in 2008-09. Cruz, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010, came out of nowhere last season with 1,536 yards to finish third in the league. He also scored the opening touchdown in the Super Bowl vs. the Pats.

The longest shots on the board at 100-1 are two likely future Hall of Famers who sat out last year, the Seahawks' Terrell Owens and 49ers' Moss.

Photo via Facebook/Calvin Johnson

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