Peyton Manning and Wes Welker: A Fantasy Football Dream and Scary Real-Life Duo

The new Broncos teammates grace the national cover of this week’s SI along with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker

33COVBroncosv28PromoWith fantasy football drafts around the corner, this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED previews the top fantasy football players at each position and also takes a closer look at some of the NFL’s star players. Among the highest rated at their respective positions in SI’s fantasy rankings—Peyton Manning (No. 3 QB) and Wes Welker (No. 14 WR), along with Broncos teammates Demaryius Thomas (No. 6 WR) and Eric Decker (No. 15 WR)—appear on the national cover of this week’s SI, on newsstands now. Senior writer Chris Ballard spent time with both Welker and Manning for this week’s issue and writes that the fantasy dream duo is now the league’s most frightening reality. Ballard also reveals more about the little known Welker.

Despite making five Pro Bowls, playing in two Super Bowls and setting an NFL record by catching more than 110 passes in each of his five seasons with the Patriots, Welker is still somewhat unknown. “After six seasons inside Bill Belichick’s cone of silence, in which thou shalt not raise any individual above the team, it turns out we know surprisingly little about Wes Welker,” writes Ballard. (PAGE 32)

Upon becoming a free agent last winter, Welker says “there were only two places I was going to play [Denver and New England], in my mind.” Once the Broncos came into the picture, Welker texted Manning, who enthusiastically wooed him. “Reminded me a little bit of the old college recruiting days,” Manning says. (PAGE 32) After being offered a two-year, $10 million deal from the Patriots, Welker decided to sign with Denver for two years and $12 million, joining Manning as two of the most unlikely free-agent pickups in sports history. Asked if they’ve talked about their parallel narratives, Manning pauses for a moment. “We haven’t really shared that,” he says. “I think each situation is unique. I know that was not an easy time for him. For me, I know I became more comfortable when I got back on the field.” (PAGE 38)

Toward the end in New England, Welker says Belichick got on him in a way he never had before, admonishing him in front of the team. “It was just kind of hard,” Welker says, “one of those deals where you have to endure him, put up with him. . . .But he does it to everybody, it’s the way he is.”  (PAGE 34) Belichick’s ways still affect Welker. “When I’m answering questions from the Denver media, I’m not worried about what the Broncos’ people are going to think,” Welker says. “I’m worried about what Belichick will think. Isn’t that crazy?” (PAGE 34)

So what does he think of his former quarterback, Tom Brady? At first, he couldn’t stand him. “He was very intense, wanted it done a certain way and was like, You can’t do it a different way,” says Welker. He says he soon came to appreciate Brady’s intensity; that he’s one of the toughest players in the NFL; that he is a slave to “the best moisturizers”; and that, in the end, he became a combination of Welker’s big brother and best friend. (PAGE 31)

Welker is working hard to learn Denver’s new offensive system. He says, “In New England, if the middle of the field was closed, I’d run a seam route. It’s something I’ve been doing for six years now, so I have to teach my brain to do it the way he’s [Manning] expecting me to do it.” Asked if he could still try to be creative on his routes, Welker laughs. “At the end of the day you run it the way he wants it, or he won’t throw it to you,” he says. (PAGE 38)

A key to Welker’s success is his renowned work ethic—he says his mantra is “Dominate every day”—and he believes it’s a key to his success .“Guys will play basketball with their boys and think that’s their workout for the day,” Welker says, amazed. “That’s not a workout. I wish they gave us more time off, to be honest. This is where I gain on other players.” (PAGE 33)

Welker, who has been doubted since his high school days, says he doesn’t mind flying under the radar. “Most people growing up just want to get famous, then they get famous and want to be normal people,” he says. “I blend in a lot more than most.” He adds, “Everything in the game is about making something look one way, and it actually being the other.” (PAGE 39)


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