Eric Decker is the prototypical wide receiver for a Peyton Manning led offensive scheme, as most will find out firsthand this coming NFL season with the Denver Broncos. Manning's options are growing by the day, however when all is said and done, Decker will be the one receiving most of the praise, not Demaryius Thomas or Jacob Tamme as most suspect.
Decker was one of the most unheralded college wide receivers amidst a 2008 recruiting class of extraordinary talent at the position, including Julio Jones, Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant and Jordan Shipley just to name a few. It is easy to see why Decker was overshadowed after reading this list.
Regardless of the talent surrounding him in the 2008 NCAA football season, Decker was impressive in his own right and is a possession machine. That season with the lowly Minnesota Golden Gophers, the 6'3" wideout grabbed 84 balls for 1,074 yards for eight total touchdowns. He finished 23rd in the nation in receiving yards with a terrible quarterback situation in the twin cities and 21st in the receptions with a rate of 12.8 yards per catch.
For his college career, Decker finished with 227 total receptions for 3,119 yards and 25 touchdowns for the best career in Minnesota receiving history. Who knows how crazy his numbers would have been with a legitimate quarterback that knew the system, say someone like...Peyton Manning?
Obviously, Decker's first two years in the NFL haven't been nearly impressive as his college career. Yet, last season with Kyle Orton under center, Decker was a Top 10 wide receiver in the league for the first half of the season. He finished the year with 44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns in a topsy-turvy Tim Tebow led offense. Most of Decker's damage was done early in the season, highlighted by a five-catch for 113 yards and two touchdown performance against the Cincinnati Bengals during week two. He followed that up two weeks later with another multiple-TD effort, alongside five catches for 56 yards.
Decker will remain the No. 2 wide receiver in the Denver Broncos offense this season, helping his cause further. With Demaryius Thomas drawing the top cornerback from each team, Decker will capitalize on his freedom across the middle with his extremely crisp route-running ability. He is fluid receiver who knows how to settle into open spots in zone coverage, which is vital in a Manning offense. Thomas is a great deep threat, but I don't trust his routes or health moving forward as a NFL No. 1 wide receiver. Decker has the all-around game, including hands like Wes Welker.
Who do you think led the Colts receiving core during their prime when Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were running routes for Manning? It wasn't Harrison by much, as most would assume. The No. 2 WR Wayne accumulated 3,575 over three years ('04-'06) for an average of 1,191 yards per season with 82 receptions and nine touchdowns per season; those numbers look a lot like Decker's college numbers during his magical 2008 season.
Harrison caught for 3,625 receiving yards between the seasons of 2004-2006 amidst the prime of the Manning, Harrison and Wayne trio. The wideout averaged 87 grabs for 1,205 yards with 13 touchdowns per season over that span, but we're talking about Marvin Harrison. Demaryius Thomas is no Harrison, nor will he ever be. Last season's success was no fluke, but the quarterback throwing to him (Tebow) was.
Peyton Manning will spread the ball around this season, as he always does. However, once Manning begins to trust a receiver, as he did so fondly for Brandon Stokley with Indianapolis, the QB will continue to find that "go-to" receiver, no matter the time, no matter the situation. In fact, once Decker starts staying after practice to learn secret routes with Manning is when he checks into the NFL's elite wideouts. I see it happening sooner rather than later.
The numbers don't lie. Manning trusts wide receivers with hands, and Decker has the best pair in the state of Colorado.
Follow Tony Piraro on Twitter @TonyPiraro
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