Looking Ahead to 2013: Can Turner Still Burn? What About Welker?

Jan 15, 2013
Looking Ahead to 2013: Can Turner Still Burn? What About Welker?

As we previewed Sunday's Divisional playoff games between the Seahawks and Falcons and Texans and Patriots during Saturday night's (Jan. 12) edition of the FootballDiehards SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, we were once again joined by guests who cover each team. Co-host Mike Dempsey and I continued to milk them for some insights into their respective team's plans going forward with respect to players or situations of interest to fantasy owners.

And once again, mission accomplished -- at least with regard to the two teams we hadn't covered yet, Atlanta and New England.

Are the Falcons Ready to Move Past the Burner?

Michael Turner carried the ball 222 times during the regular season, well below his 2011 total of 301 carries (good for second-most in the NFL).

As Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer Carroll Rogers noted last week, entering the Falcons previous three playoffs trips, in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Turner had 376, 334 and 301 carries in the regular season, respectively. He led the NFL in that category in 2008 and 2010. In each of those three ensuing playoffs losses, Turner had no more than 42 yards rushing.

Turner rushed 18 times for 42 yards in 2008 against Arizona, 10 times for 39 yards in 2010 against Green Bay and 15 times for 41 yards in 2011 against the Giants.

In first-year coordinator Dirk Koetter's offense, the Falcons don't use the power run game like they have in the past. But Rogers went on to note that left Turner fresher, both by circumstance and by design. "I tore my groin the last two years, one side one year, the other side the next year," Turner said. "So I don't have those problems coming into this year. I'm good."

Indeed, his performance against the Seahawks 10th-ranked run defense suggested as much. Turner racked up 98 yards on 14 carries.

Jacquizz Rodgers, the man many of us expected to supplant Turner as the primary back over the course of the season, continued to play a complementary role, carrying 10 times for 64 yards (with two catches for eight more yards) in the win over Seattle.

Still, Atlanta's 2012 rushing attack was less than impressive. The Falcons finished the regular season ranked 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL with only 87.3 yards rushing per game.

From a Fantasy perspective, however, Turner scored a rushing touchdown in six of the final seven games and a 17-yard touchdown against the Bucs in the regular-season closer was his 10th rushing touchdown of the season.

Based on what he's seen this year, AJC beat man D. Orlando Ledbetter told our listeners Saturday night the team clearly needs to add talent at the position this offseason -- preferably through the draft.

But that doesn't mean Turner is going away. Necessarily.

The problem, as Ledbetter explained it: "Turner is not a $5.5 million back any more."

Ledbetter went on to tell us, however, the Falcons "want to treat him right." After all, the soon-to-be 31-year old has endeared himself to management.

"They climbed out of the Mike Vick hole on Turner's back," Ledbetter reminded us.

Seems to me all that really buys Turner is some good will in a re-negotiation. It's not going to mean a free pass at the full $5.5 million. It seems safe to assume Turner is aware of this and will be amenable to providing some relief. If so, the issue for Fantasy owners to ponder this offseason will once again be how much more does Turner have to offer?

I know I underestimated him this year. He was certainly effective enough in non-PPR formats to merit consideration again this summer. But how much consideration? And really, doesn't the question at some point become how much Turner cuts into Rodgers' production instead of the other way around?

What About Welker? Ridley?

Boston Globe Patriots beat writer Greg A. Bedard pointed out Saturday, there were times this season when it looked as if Wes Welker wouldn’t get back up, battling foot and ankle injuries that were much worse than he let on. Bedard added that it's to be expected when you’ve caught 768 passes in eight years, and are 31 years old.

But Welker always answers the bell.

And if that makes you wonder where the Patriots would be this season without Welker, you're not alone. Bedard went on to remind readers that Aaron Hernandez missed the better part of seven games. Rob Gronkowski missed five, and played one with one arm. Julian Edelman missed seven and Deion Branch six.

Despite all that downtime, the Patriots still set an NFL record with 444 first downs, scored 67 touchdowns (fourth-best all time), led the league with 557 points (third-most in league history), and their 6,846 yards were fifth all time. Welker, who became the only receiver in league history with five 100-catch seasons (118 in 2012), was in uniform for all of those marks.

I'll go ahead and remind you all this came after a 2012 offseason in which the Patriots and Welker failed to reach an agreement on a long-term contract. Without a long-term deal, Welker earned the guaranteed $9.5 million that came with the franchise tag.

If the Patriots decline to tag him this offseason, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If they franchise him again, the price goes up significantly (the tag will be $11.4 million for wide receivers and according to CBSSports.com, that, coupled with Tom Brady's $22 million salary-cap hit for 2013, would account for 27 percent of the team's cap space).

So when WEEI.com's Christopher Price joined us to talk about Sunday's game against the Texans, I asked about Welker's future with the club.

In addition to telling us that Welker talk "is going to consume us all over the offseason" -- whether he's tagged or not, Price went on to state unequivocally that he expects the veteran wideout to remain a Patriot in 2013.

"Earlier this year I thought no way he comes back," Price said. "But after seeing this year and seeing what he did this year, there's no way you can't bring him back..."

I also had a chance to ask Price how strongly he felt about Stevan Ridley's role going forward. Price believes the second-year man fully established himself as the featured back after finishing the regular season just 10 shy of 300 carries.

"He's the guy you can count on," Price said of Ridley. "This is his team from a running back standpoint."

Hard to argue in the wake of Ridley's impressive 10-carry, 68-yard, one-TD rushing performance in Sunday's win over the Texans (even though he was overshadowed by Shane Vereen's remarkable three-TD day in this one).

Texans Offense

As for the Texans, Lance Zierlein of SportsTalk790 in Houston & The Z-Report on the Houston Chronicle and TheSidelineView.com concurred with SportsTalk790 colleague Adam Wexler, who told us the week before that DeVier Posey was the man most likely to emerge as a play-making threat at the No. 2 receiving spot.

And then Posey backed their contention with a beautiful, juggling catch on his back in the end zone against New England. Initially ruled incomplete, the play was overturned via challenge. Unfortunately, Posey followed the touchdown up with a trip to the locker room on the cart with what the Houston Chronicle's John McClain is reporting as a torn Achilles tendon.

Yeah. That could put a damper on the whole No. 2 thing. You'll certainly want to watch for reports on his progress in coming months.

Zierlein also noted that even with a disappointing late-season run and Sunday's loss to the Patriots, Matt Schaub isn't going anywhere after signing a four-year extension for $24.75 million guaranteed, $62 million overall last September.

According to Zierlein, that deal all but guarantees a healthy Schaub remains the starter for the next two -- and perhaps three -- seasons. The question here might be whether owner Bob McNair's patience with head coach Gary Kubiak runs out before then.

Golden Tate

And finally, Seattle Radio Network sideline reporter Jen Mueller joined us and touched on Golden Tate's emergence. The third-year wideout had his most productive season as a pro in 2012, pulling in 45 catches for 688 yards and seven touchdowns (matching Sidney Rice's touchdown total).

According to Mueller, Tate was always considered better on deeper routes but the coaching staff began using him differently this year. Asked to run more short and intermediate routes, Tate has been especially effective against zone defenses this season. That tendency was demonstrated on Tate's 29-yard touchdown in the team's divisional playoff loss to Atlanta on Sunday.

Tate found a hole in the zone about 20 yards up the field before breaking two tackles en route to the end zone.

Tate wound up pulling in six catches for 103 yards, missing his career high by just two yards. The big issue for Tate, of course, has been playing with consistency. Mueller, however, believes the new approach with Tate could lead to more even week-to-week production in the future.

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