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Player Spotlight: Eric Decker

A detailed look at Eric Decker's fantasy prospects for 2016.

here we go again

Eric Decker gets drafted too late literally every season and somehow the majority of fantasy owners haven’t picked up on it yet.

There have been no shortage of excuses for Decker’s Rodney Dangerfield treatment over the years:

2012: “He’s not the top target on his team.”

2013: “The addition of Wes Welker means there’s not enough balls to go around.”

2014: “Bwahahahaha he’s on the Jets now.”

2015: “He’s not the top target on his team (again), there’s not enough balls to go around (again), and he’s still on the Jets bwahahahaha (again).”

After exceeding expectations for five consecutive seasons and finishing last year as the cumulative WR14, one would think Decker had finally gained the respect of the fake football community. But here we are preparing for 2016 fantasy drafts and Decker is coming off the board at the curiously low ADP of WR28 in PPR leagues.

A fresh batch of excuses has conspired to suppress his ADP (again), making the perennially underrated Decker one of the best early(ish) round wide receivers you can invest in.

Excuse: Decker has a Low Weekly Ceiling

Decker eclipsed 100 yards receiving just once last season and managed only one elite PPR scoring week (minimum 23 fantasy points). So no, Decker is not Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., or even teammate Brandon Marshall who surprisingly finished with the same number of elite PPR scoring games (seven) as Antonio Brown last season.

While Decker is unlikely to win you any given week on his own, the notion he doesn’t have a high weekly ceiling isn’t necessarily true. The minimum threshold for a WR1 performance in 12 team leagues was roughly 17.5 fantasy points last season. By that measure, only 10 wide receivers had more weekly WR1 finishes than Decker’s six last year.

The argument that Decker lacks week-to-week upside is further diminished by his scoring prowess. Decker tied DeAndre Hopkins for the league-lead in red zone targets last year and his 43.3% red zone target market share trailed only Hopkins’ 48.3%. There were 12 separate games (out of 15 games played) in which Decker caught a touchdown, which tied Marshall for the most in the NFL.

Decker’s ability to score touchdowns borders on historic. Since 1990, here is the list of players who scored at least 50 touchdowns through their first six NFL seasons -- impressive company to keep for a player who “lacks weekly upside”.

Excuse: The Jets Quarterback Situation is unsettled

After this article was first published, Ryan Fitzpatrick finally re-signed with the Jets on a one year deal worth $12 million. Fitzpatrick's presence in New York means the Jets unsettled quarterback situation (i.e. the prospect of Geno Smith) will no longer weigh down Decker's draft stock, so expect a slight bump in his ADP as we get into August.

While Decker's solid statistical floor remains intact, there are reasons to expect some regression from Fitzpatrick after his career best performance in 2015. Here's our Cian Fahey with some relevant excerpts from his outstanding Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalog:

Even in the face of those damning statistics, the surrounding talent and scheme are important to keep in mind. Decker and Marshall are more than capable of making bad throws look good and Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback when playing for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey:

  Games Pass Att/G Pass Yds/G AY/A Pass TD/G  Pass FPPG
Fitzpatrick with Gailey 61 34.1 231.8 6.30 1.67 14.8
Fitzpatrick without Gailey 50 27.9 180.8 5.48 1.04 10.5

Whether or not you believe Fitzpatrick is the answer at quarterback for the Jets, there's no denying his chemistry with Decker. The Wall Street Journal's Michael Salfino notes Fitzpatrick's passer rating on throws to Decker was 106.3 last season, compared to his season-long rating of 88.0. Ultimately, it's tough to see Fitzpatrick's signing as anything but a shot in the arm for Decker's 2016 draft stock.

While Decker's prospects with Smith at quarterback are not nearly as relevant today as they were only a day ago, it still bears mentioning there wouldn't be much of a need to downgrade Decker and the Jets other passing game weapons in the event Smith takes over due to injury or ineffectiveness.

Fitzpatrick breaking the Jets all-time record for passing touchdowns in a season makes it feel like it never happened, but before getting chin-checked by IK Enemkpali, Smith was favored to open 2015 as the Jets starter. The hope was Gailey’s spread sets and shotgun formations would create larger throwing windows for Smith and make it easier for him to read defenses. The fact Smith ran a spread offense, almost exclusively from the shotgun, in college was cause for optimism.

We’ll never know if Smith would have thrived in 2015 (and we probably won't find out again this year either), but there are signs he was developing as a quarterback and evidence he looked good in Gailey’s system. In the last five games Smith has played in, he’s completed 65% of his passes for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns against three interceptions. In his only start last year under Gailey, Smith completed 64% of his passes for 265 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (Decker caught six of seven targets for 60 yards and a touchdown in the game). Bleacher Report’s Justis Mosqueda did an excellent job breaking down Smith’s recent film and came away with the opinion Smith was “checking off all the boxes asked of a young passer”. 

In the end it didn't matter, but the opportunity for Decker to approximate last year's numbers may have been there with or without Fitzpatrick.

Final Thoughts

Chances are we've seen the last of 27 wide receivers being drafted ahead of Eric Decker, but it's not like our rankers were rushing to adjust their projections for the Jets offense in the wake of Fitzpatrick's re-signing. 

Decker's ADP is likely to settle in the late-fourth or early-fifth round of drafts, not too far from where he's been going all summer. In other words, you should still be able to draft him near his floor. What other receiver being picked in the fifth round has reached at least 80 catches, 1,000 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns in three of the last four seasons? And you certainly won’t find another receiver who either scored a touchdown or recorded at least 80 receiving yards in every game he played last season with a fifth round ADP.

Don’t be the guy (or gal) who makes excuses to fade Decker (again) this season. The next time that plan ends well will be the first.

Positives

  • Decker is a bonafide touchdown maker.
  • He deserved a spot in your starting lineup every week last season.
  • Outperforming his ADP has become Decker’s annual rite.
  • Fitzpatrick is back and he's proven capable of elevating Decker to near-WR1 levels.

Negatives

  • Decker only had one elite scoring game last season.
  • Fitzpatrick got away with some poor throws last year and some regression from last year's 31 touchdown passes must be factored in.
  • This one’s a bit of a reach, but the offseason addition of a second pass catching running back (Matt Forte) could put a slight ding in Decker’s target totals.

Projections

  Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TDS
Dodds   75 968 7
Wood   72 935 7
Alexander 127 75 1015 10

Other Viewpoints

numberFire’s Matt Blair considers Decker a monster draft day value:

“The upside is there, and that's what you look for in receivers after you get out of the initial top tier of pass-catchers. Decker’s touchdown-scoring prowess is a great reason to like his chances, regardless of who the quarterback is this season. Realistically, he has the upside of a top-10 wide receiver and the floor of his current draft position. Please capitalize on this tremendous ADP value before the drafting public realizes it.”

In his Wide Receiver Equity Scores series, The Fake Football’s C.D. Carter sees Decker as something close to a season changer at his ADP:

“I suppose Decker’s ADP is squashed in mid-WR3 territory because of the Jets’ uncertainty at quarterback. Well, remember that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not good, while Decker is the opposite of not good. Decker has managed 13.7 fantasy points per game in 14 games with Geno Smith under center for Gang Green. Decker in 2014 — serving as the team’s No. 1 receiver — saw double digit targets from Smith six times. He averaged 87.6 yards and 0.6 touchdowns in those contests. In other words, he’s done just fine when Geno is dropping back to pass and he’s a central part of New York’s game plan. It doesn’t really matter if Decker doesn’t hit his high projection here — his median prospects would make him something close to a season-changing value for your fantasy squad. You’d be hard-pressed to find another receiver who is sure to see 130 targets in this part of the draft. Equity scores begged us to take Decker at WR49 in 2015. I’ll target the ultra-efficient red zone maven once again in 2016.”