Don't judge a book by its cover.
On the outside, Eric Decker seems like a valuable receiver who can catch passes and score touchdowns. He has 16 touchdowns since the start of the 2012 season, and he has 721 yards receiving this year as well.
He has those decent numbers largely because of his phenomenal route running. And because of those decent numbers, he has received lots of praise from Denver Broncos fans and analysts everywhere.
But does he really deserve it?
Decker is big and strong, but he can't blow by anyone. According to ESPN, he has a 4.56 40-yard dash, so he definitely isn't great in the speed department. In addition, his hands aren't spectacular.
According to Philly.com's Jimmy Kempski, Decker had six drops by Week 4. He currently has seven drops this year, and he's still been better with his hands this year than he has been in most years. He also has six fumbles in his four years.
Decker has cost Denver with some blown plays, and many of those show up on advanced and basic stat sheets. Still, those don't even include jump-ball passes he has neglected to go after.
Decker, as Mile High Report noted, calls for pass interference a lot. He also tends to refrain from going up for deep passes, failing to use his bulky frame to his advantage. Instead, he whines for calls during plays, which is nothing short of absolutely ridiculous.
Also, he gets thrown off when jammed at the line or bumped downfield, which is another major weakness of his.
Receivers who rely heavily on pass interference calls aren't likely to succeed consistently; those flags
aren't always going to come. When they don't, Decker isn't able to succeed. And if he wants to succeed consistently, he's going to have to clean that up.
He's also going to need to clean up his drop rate. It's currently a miserable 12.5 percent, and that doesn't include many catches he should have made that aren't classified as drops. He can make some nice catches, but he drops far too many passes.
Additionally, it hasn't been just this year. He finished fifth in total drops last year, and, according to Pro Football Focus, he had a 12.37 percent drop rate.
He avenged his drops with touchdowns last year, but this year he only has three touchdowns. Decker made a name for himself as Peyton Manning's red-zone target last year, but this year, it's been Wes Welker catching those passes at the goal line. Decker occasionally beats his cornerback and makes a play, but he isn't a big-play threat or a receiver with reliable hands.
That holds true despite Decker receiving single coverage against mediocre corners at almost all times (thanks to Demaryius Thomas) and having safeties focused on other people (thanks to Thomas, Welker and Julius Thomas). Even with that, Decker is averaging fewer than 5.5 catches per game.
That's not bad, but it's not great.
And it certainly isn't enough for him to deserve the praise he's been garnering.
Some of that praise came from The Denver Post, which wrote that Decker is Manning's go-to target after Decker's Week 7 explosion. However, since then, Decker has struggled mightily. He struggles against fast cornerbacks, ones who can recover even if Decker runs a good route and they fall behind.
If Decker were a go-to receiver, he would almost always face those fast, athletic corners. And it's safe to say he would struggle.
He is fairly valuable as Denver's second-best receiver, but he would become a huge bust as a team's go-to receiver. He can ruin a quarterback's confidence in him with drops; not every quarterback has as much confidence in his receivers as Manning.
Decker is having a nice run, but don't be fooled by his receiving yardage. Decker is likely Denver's fourth-best pass catcher, and he is a dispensable player.
So, if he ever gets a chance to be a team's top receiver (it could even happen after this year), don't be surprised if he struggles.
Don't judge a book by its cover.