Washington Football

History on tap, Patriots WR Welker set for Texans

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History on tap, Patriots WR Welker set for Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Jerry Rice never did it. Neither did Marvin Harrison. On Monday night, Wes Welker takes his swing for it.

Just eight more catches and the New England Patriots standout receiver will achieve another of his many milestones that he insists he doesn't dwell on.

He'll break a tie with those retired stars and become the first player with 100 receptions in five different seasons.

Is he looking forward to it? Is he excited for it? Does he even care?

``Maybe when I'm done playing,'' Welker said Friday. ``But right now, I'm just focused on however many catches I need to get to help us win.''

Welker has a decent chance to make those eight grabs on Monday night when the New England Patriots (9-3) face the Houston Texans (11-1) in a marquee AFC matchup.

After all, he's averaging 7.3 receptions per game in his six seasons since being traded from Miami, and he traditionally comes up big in key games.

He could add that mark to a long list of accomplishments on Monday:

- Welker is tied with Rice in NFL history with 17 games of at least 10 catches.

- Welker is on pace to break a tie with Cris Carter as the only player to catch 120 passes in a season twice.

- Welker has the most receptions in the past six seasons (646), by a large margin over Brandon Marshall (565).

And what really matters is this. The Patriots have won six in a row and they are already AFC East champions as they welcome the conference's top team.

``There's nothing more important in Wes's life than being a football player and thinking about football and making the big play and running the right route and getting open when it's most important,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``That's what quarterbacks dream about.''

Grabbing 100 passes seemed far from certain early in the season. Getting on the field, in fact, was a bigger issue.

Welker took part in just 70.5 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two games after participating in 88.9 percent of them during the 2011 regular season. Julian Edelman even started in his place in the second game.

``It's a long season so you just keep on battling, keep on working hard,'' Welker said Friday. ``That doesn't change, even now.''

Coach Bill Belichick never explained his reasoning, and Welker said he felt ``fine'' physically.

In the season opener against Tennessee, Welker sat out 25 of the 67 offensive snaps. But in the past four games, he missed a total of just 23 plays.

And in Sunday's 23-16 win over Miami, he had 12 catches for 103 yards, and was thrown to 18 times.

Now, he has an NFL-high 92 snares - one more than Marshall - and is seventh with 1,064 yards receiving.

And because of injuries - Edelman is out for the season with a foot injury suffered last Sunday, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is likely to miss his third straight game with a broken forearm - Brady could be looking for Welker even more than usual.

``There's pressure on everybody,'' Welker said. ``Everybody's got to step up.''

He prefers not to look back at the knee injury he suffered at Houston in the last game of the 2009 season that forced him to miss the playoffs. It's all about moving forward for Welker.

After all, that is the New England way.

``I'm really trying not to think about it too much. (I) appreciate you bringing that up,'' Welker said with a grin. ``I've just moved on from it and just worked hard and tried to get better.

``And, luckily, I'm where I'm at today.''

He also won't look ahead to where he might be next season, once his $9.5 million, one-year deal that came with his franchise tag expires. There will be a time to think about contracts. This weekend is not that time.

``I'm not worried about a contract at all,'' he said.

And when he says that, you get the sense that he means it. His statistics might not be this good otherwise.

In fact, special teams captain and wide receiver Matthew Slater has admired Welker's ``professionalism'' in the five years they've been teammates.

``A guy like that who's been able to accomplish all that he has here, he never loses his sense of urgency. He never loses the respect that you have to have for this game,'' Slater said. ``It would be easy for a guy like that to take a couple of days off or not practice as hard here and there, but he doesn't.''

That can motivate his teammates, of course. Yet another trait synonymous with the Patriots.

``If you see a guy who's caught 100 balls every year working harder than everybody else, you definitely better be working as hard as you can,'' Slater said. ``There's no room for slacking.''

So, as expected, Welker is preparing diligently to face the Texans and a secondary that's banged up. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph was limited in practice Friday after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury and Houston coach Gary Kubiak said a decision on whether he'll play will be made in the next couple of days.

Joseph said he expects to play. But nickel cornerback Brice McCain had surgery on his left foot on Monday and Alan Ball missed the previous game with a sore foot.

``You don't have as much film'' on players who will fill in, Welker said. ``But you can still study the games that they are in there, and really try and get an edge.''

Welker usually does.

As a slot receiver, he catches passes at the line of scrimmage as well as quick slants, then does a good job running after the catch.

He also can take advantage of certain defensive formations and break down the field. And he makes key contributions even when the ball is thrown to someone else. He doesn't give up on plays.

That's not likely the change.

``He busts his butt harder than anybody to make sure he's doing his job to clear out on a certain route or to take some coverage with him so another guy can get the ball,'' Brady said. ``I think that's what makes Wes really special, is his selflessness as a player.

``But the ball always seems to find a way to him.''

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Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

There were already some decent expectations placed on Antonio Gandy-Golden for 2020 — and then Kelvin Harmon went down. Now, the Day 3 selection is being labeled as someone who needs to really contribute to the Washington Football Team.

But is that too much to ask for a rookie who went on Saturday in the draft? Recent numbers indicate that answer may be yes.

From 2015 to 2019, 25 wide receivers were chosen in the fourth round, which is where Washington nabbed Gandy-Golden a few months ago. Here are some takeaways from looking back on how all of those guys performed in their first professional seasons:

  • Only one target topped 50 catches and 600 yards, and coincidentally enough, it was Jamison Crowder. Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two scores as a rookie for the Burgundy and Gold in 2015. The only other guy who came close to either of those marks was Antonio Callaway, who had 43 grabs for 586 yards and five touchdowns for Cleveland in 2018. Those are easily the two best performances by a fourth-round rookie wideout since 2015, so keep that in mind when discussing Gandy-Golden.
  • Out of that group of 25, 15 suited up for double-digit games for their teams during their first taste of the league. The average stat line for those 15 rookies was 17 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown in about 14 contests. That's meager. 
  • Just nine out of the 25 recorded a touchdown catch as a rookie, and only four (Crowder, Callaway, DaeSean Hamilton and Malcom Mitchell) visited the end zone multiple times.

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So, judging solely off of that data, it would appear that Washington shouldn't be prepared to lean heavily Gandy-Golden. And once you combine that history with other factors, such as the huge transition he's about to make from Libery to the NFL and the very limited offseason he's had thus far, then the outlook for Gandy-Golden becomes even dimmer.

There is a super simple counter argument, however, at least when it comes to comparing him to his past fourth-round peers, and it has to do with his potential playing time.

While the 22-year-old has to fight through a pandemic, something none of the above rookies can relate to and something that could be detrimental to his early career, he also may be in line for a massive share of snaps right away. Most players who go off the board where Gandy-Golden did are usually worried about simply making the team; he, on the other hand, very well could be a starter across from Terry McLaurin in Week 1.

That alone means Gandy-Golden could end up having enough involvement in the offense to come up with a Crowder-like, impactful debut. In 2019, McLaurin far surpassed other third-round rookie receivers due largely to the amount of opportunity he got with Washington (his ridiculous talent was a bonus of course, too). Gandy-Golden is tracking on a similar path. 

A fairly general rule for any franchise is that it's not exactly prudent to need a Day 3 pass catcher to immediately act as one of your primary weapons. Stats from 2015 to 2019 seem to back up that general rule.

Every rule has an exception here or there, though. Maybe Gandy-Golden, with his outstanding physical traits and possibly featured role in 2020, will be that next exception and make all this math and comparing a totally moot issue. 

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Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Whether it actually matters is debatable, but what position Rui Hachimura best profiles for long-term has been a point of contention among fans and media members ever since he was drafted by the Wizards ninth overall last summer. He is what not long ago would be described as a 'tweener,' or somewhat of a cross between a small forward and a power forward.

Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal has put some thought into it and has now weighed in. He thinks Hachimura will be a small forward.

"Honestly, I think Rui is going to end up being a three. When his career is over with, he's going to end up playing the three," Beal explained during Sunday's Wizards-Nets broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

"I don't know what that's going to look like next year or what we're going to jump to, but you can see spurts of it. You can see he can handle the ball, he's comfortable with handling the ball. Obviously, we can improve that and make that better. He shoots the three comfortably."

That last point could probably be picked apart a bit and it does hold some importance in the argument. If Hachimura is indeed going to be a small forward, he will need to add some perimeter skills to his game.

Three-point shooting would be included in there and so far there certainly seems to be room for improvement. This season, he is shooting just 27 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. 

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In the three games the Wizards have played in Orlando, Hachimura is 0-for-1 from long range. He didn't attempt any threes at all in their first two games of the restart.

The reason why it is an interesting debate is Hachimura doesn't fit the traditional norms for either the three or four position. And that could be a good thing, as former teammate C.J. Miles pointed out in November. When you don't match up perfectly with opponents in any specific position, sometimes that means you are a mismatch for anyone who is guarding you.

Beal himself went on to rave about Hachimura's versatility.

"He's super athletic, so he can use his size to post up. So, the versatility is there. It's just a matter of what we want to mold him into," Beal said. "I think the sky's the limit. He has the ability, he has the work ethic, so I'm definitely excited to see."

RELATED: NBA PLAYERS BRING UP KAWHI COMPARISONS DESPITE RUI'S ROUGH GAME

Hachimura not having a true position could be an advantage. What the Wizards will need to determine, however, is how to complement his skillset with other players as they continue to build their roster. 

Whether Hachimura is a three, a four or even a small-ball five, the best way to maximize his strengths will be to fill in the gaps around him. Putting a rim protector alongside him, for instance, would allow him to roam and switch on defense. Having teammates who space the floor will create openings in the midrange, where he is very effective scoring the ball.

Those involve more important questions than what position Hachimura will ultimately be defined by. But it's still a fun debate to have and now even Beal has been drawn into it.

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