When draft day rolls around in fantasy leagues across the country this year, one of the wide receivers that fantasy players will be largely split on is Eric Decker of the New York Jets. Some will covet his position as the number one wide receiver on a team that's likely to be trailing a lot, thus throwing the ball more often than a lot of teams. Others will claim that he was simply a product of his situation in Denver, so his fantasy success is unlikely to continue on a new team. Furthermore, he had three other elite pass-catchers to run with in fellow wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, as well as tight end Julius Thomas. The Broncos had a top-five running attack that kept defenses honest too.
There is also that not-so little fact that, in 2013, Decker was catching passes from a guy who could very well go down as the greatest quarterback of all-time during the greatest season he's ever had. Peyton Manning was indeed a luxury Decker will likely never again enjoy. So, the questions are legit in fantasy land. Where do you take him? Would you want him at all? Can he put up numbers with the Jets? Will his quarterback be Michael Vick or Geno Smith? Let's explore and see if we can answer some of these questions.
Decker, a 2010 third-round pick of the Denver Broncos, enters the 2014 season as a 27-year-old in his fifth season. He enjoyed his second straight 1,000-plus yard, 10-plus touchdown season. He is 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 214 pounds. Those are great measurements for a receiver by anyone's calculations.
He showcased his great hands by making several amazing; highlight-reel catches over the past two seasons. The former Minnesota Gophers wideout has shown that he has big-game potential (as evidenced by his eight career 100-plus yard games). Decker has never been more brilliant than in 2013 and was probably wise to cash-in on a new contract. During a Week 13 showdown with divisional foe Kansas City, he essentially sealed the division by hauling in eight catches for career highs in yards (174) and touchdowns (4). Even though most of our educated readers just did the math, I'll lay it out clean and clear. That is 49.4 fantasy points in PPR leagues. Only Calvin Johnson (50.9 in Week 8) and Andre Johnson (49.9 in Week 9) had bigger receiving games. This is impressive, to say the least.
One simply cannot place a value on the importance of having a signal-caller like Manning has on his receivers. For example, Brandon Stokley had a 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown season with Manning as his quarterback, for crying out loud. He never eclipsed 650 yards or five touchdowns after he left Indianapolis. Manning is royalty when discussing quarterbacks. If he's not on the Mt. Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks yet, he likely will be by the time he retires. He's one of the best to ever play the game. That's always good for a wide receiver's fantasy value, right?
Decker entered the offseason as one of the most coveted free agent WRs on the market. On March 13, he signed a five-year, $36.25 million deal with the Jets. The deal included $15 million guaranteed. Five days later, Decker's wife (country music beauty Jessie James) gave birth to their first child. (In case you haven't seen, the Deckers are truly one of the best-looking couples you'll probably ever see. It's disgusting). Needless to say, it was a great offseason for Decker.
On a fantasy level though, what can we expect from Decker in 2014? First off, nobody knows for sure who the quarterback is going to be for the Jets. We currently have Michael Vick projected as the No. 22 quarterback in fantasy. Other sites have him listed as the backup on the Jets depth chart to Geno Smith. Vick has said it is Geno Smith's job. Everyone knows Vick has more talent, but Smith is "the future." My personal opinion on the matter is that Rex Ryan wants to win. Vick gives him the best opportunity to do so. I think Vick begins the season as the starter. However, if the Jets start off with one too many losses, look for them to start working on the "the future" and going to Geno. Either way, it's not a situation built on solid ground. So, Decker's traded one of the best ever for a quarterback controversy. If that's what you're looking for in a fantasy wide receiver, Decker's got one check mark in his favor.
Last season, Decker rarely (if ever) saw double teams. D. Thomas is an unquestioned elite receiver. He had more receiving yards than the top-three Jets pass-catchers in 2013 combined. Let that sink in. He demanded much of the attention if and when double teams were thrown at the Broncos. However, that wasn't often. With J. Thomas at tight end and Welker working the slot, the Broncos had one of the most lethal passing attacks ever seen and defenses had to play them straight up. Decker has traded these excellent teammates for Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and Jeff Cumberland.
One thing the Jets did do that could help Decker's cause to an extent was adding running back Chris Johnson. While Johnson has lost some of his fan-base in the fantasy world the past couple seasons, the fact of the matter remains: He's never rushed for under 1,000 yards and he's never caught fewer than 40 passes. The former ECU speedster is a threat out of the backfield the Jets haven't had in recent years. New York loves to run the ball and Johnson is a guy defenses will have to respect. If not, he'll torch them. He still has breakaway speed, although he does seem to pick and choose when to use it.
Overall, I don't think you're ever going to get the numbers from Decker that you've seen the past two seasons. That should be a foregone conclusion. Unless the Jets sign Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, Julian Edelman and Jimmy Graham, Decker will never have the same type of running mates he enjoyed in Denver. That's the downside. What's the upside? Tim Tebow isn't going to be his quarterback again. In 2011, with Tebow at quarterback, Decker caught 44 balls for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. What you can probably expect from him in a Jets uniform this season is something in between these two extremes. Expect about 70 catches for 900 yards. Much of that is because the Jets don't have a ton of other options. Decker should be the king of garbage time. Due to his size, Decker should still be a red zone threat and could manage to catch at least a half dozen scores.
His 75.65 ADP (WR32) makes him a mid-sixth to early seventh round pick. This is a fair evaluation. Drafting the No. 1 wide receiver on a bad team in the seventh round is not that bad since Decker wouldn't have to be an every-week starter. He can float in and out of the starting lineup based on the matchup. Plus, you never know. Maybe Smith blows up in his second year at QB. OK, maybe not.