For Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos, Is Eric Decker the Next Reggie Wayne?
For years Peyton Manning tore through opposing defenses aided by receivers like Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. While Manning will spread the ball around to all of his receivers, every quarterback has a favorite target. From 1999 to 2010 it was either Harrison or Wayne that led the Colts in receptions and yards.
In Denver, Manning's No. 1 option has not been determined. It's not to say Manning's other options will not be successful, but in all but three seasons the secondary option has been a tight end. One notable exception was Stokley.
The primary candidates to become Manning's top target are Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but it's Decker that is likely to emerge as the top target and not his more heralded counterpart.
Decker has been the healthier of the two players since they both entered the league in 2010 and has developed quickly. Decker went from only a kick returner in his rookie year to the Broncos' top receiver in 2012. That development was in spite of the lackluster quarterback play from Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.
Which receiver will be Manning's top target in 2012?
Manning is a perfectionist and has largely been running the same offense for years while relying on his players to execute. That means receivers running precise routes, running backs picking up the blitz and linemen blocking the right gaps.
Thomas hasn't been asked to run the entire route tree and wasn't a polished route-runner coming out of college. The lack of experience and technique means Thomas is going to have to develop his route running quickly to earn the complete trust of Manning.
Decker has already been praised for his precise routes and ability to read the defense. Decker can find the soft spots in zone coverage. Manning will love that Decker is in the right place at the right time and should quickly become Manning's favorite target.
Thomas may be more dangerous, but Decker is going to be more consistent.
Both players are entering their third professional season and most receivers have their breakout between their second and fourth year. Thomas has the talent to be great, but injuries and the quarterback situation have slowed his development and it might be one more season before we see the best Thomas has to offer.
Decker will end up being Manning's top target in 2012, but don't count out Thomas' career following a similar path to Wayne's, with a breakout coming in his fourth professional season.
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