The New England Patriots' wide receiver Wes Welker may not be the biggest guy on the field, but his talent is certainly super-sized.
Size no barrier for Patriots' Welker
For a group photo shoot of the NFL's superior wide receivers, Wes Welker would be stationed front and centre. It is the spot reserved for the shortest student in a class photograph or a toddler in a family portrait with lots of adults.
If the positioning were based solely on achievement, Welker would belong front and centre among his peers. The 5ft 9ins veteran with the New England Patriotsis the statistical pacesetter this year in a role that prizes tall types who can dunk a basketball from their tiptoes.
Through three-fourths of the season, Welker has rung up 93 catches for 1,253 yards, both league highs. Welker has spat out comparable numbers annually since the Patriots pried him away from the Miami Dolphins five seasons ago. With such consistency, he ascended last week to No 3 for career franchise catches. His season has included a 217-yard game and a 99-yard grab-and-run.
"He's definitely a monster elite receiver in the slot position," said Antrel Rolle, the New York Giants safety, applying a Goliath metaphor to one of the league's shortest stars.
Welker engenders extra respect for his intrepid nature. Unhesitatingly, he runs patterns in the middle of the field, as a slot receiver must, extending hands and body to complete the play.
Fearlessness has exacted a price in the form of concussions and neck injuries, but repressing the daredevil approach would reduce Welker to a back-up, at best.
"I enjoy it and try to put myself in a different type of mindset, especially when I'm out there on the field," he told The Boston Globe. "I do think you have to be a little bit crazy and kind of have the attitude of, 'Let's go out there and do this', and not really worry about the ramifications of your body sometimes."
Welker's football odyssey rings familiar for those of average size in a sport dominated by the super-sized.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by San Diego, he was acquired by Miami primarily for special teams duty when the Chargers cut him. In one game, he displayed unprecedented versatility, recording a kick return, punt return, field goal, extra point and a tackle. In another, he took a punt 71 yards for a touchdown.
New England were the suitably-impressed opponent on both occasions. They sent a second and a seventh round pick to Miami in 2007 and introduced Welker to Tom Brady. The two promptly clicked. In their third year as a tandem, Welker gathered in 123 passes.
"He's the heart and soul of this team," Brady said.
The collaboration has benefited Welker but has not defined him. In 2008, when an injury finished Brady after one game, Welker amassed 111 receptions that season, the third-highest total of his career.
Got the picture?