There are plenty of questions regarding how well Eric Decker will perform without Peyton Manning throwing him passes, but there is sense to the notion that the wide receiver will be critical in aiding the growth of New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith wasn't good statistically in his rookie season. He completed just 55.8 percent of his passes for 3,046 yards, 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. While a number of his issues were the result of poor ball placement and the inability to stand tall in the pocket, the level of talent surrounding the 23-year-old certainly didn't help.
Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes represented his top threats at wide receiver, while Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland did the heavy lifting at tight end. Bilal Powell helped a lot in the passing game as well, totaling the second-most catches on the team (36).
Decker may not be a true No. 1 wide receiver, but it's clear that he is much better than what the team currently has. Manning turned Decker into one of the better deep threats in the NFL, and Smith will now be looking to take advantage of those skills.
Decker recognizes this. He told Seth Walder of the New York Daily News that he can help the Jets:
"Did he help? Of course he helped," Decker said of Manning. "He’s a future Hall of Famer, but I think I am also a good football player. I think my skill set and my assets can help a team win football games, that’s why I am excited to be here in New York."
Without strong weapons, it was difficult for Smith to build confidence in the pocket last season. Decker will act both as a top weapon and calming influence on the second-year quarterback.
He has the ability to get open over the top of defenses, and also is pretty good at jumping and fighting for a ball in the air. Smith will need to learn how to put a little more touch on his passes to take advantage of this aspect of Decker's game, but that's typical of a young quarterback's progression. Smith could very well develop more touch this season.
Young quarterbacks cannot thrive without weapons. Just take a look at signal-callers on the other end of the spectrum. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were certainly better than Smith coming out of college, but having weapons like Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Pierre Garcon make it easier for quarterbacks to adjust to the NFL.
Adding another receiver in the draft will allow the Jets and Smith to use Decker to his fullest potential. A receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. from LSU would, along with Decker, give Smith two very capable targets. With those kind of weapons, expect Smith's TD-INT ratio to improve.
With that will come more team success. The Jets offense was quite stagnant throughout 2013. Giving Smith targets to work with will result in longer drives and a well-rested New York defense.
Decker's stats might not be the same in New York as they were with the Denver Broncos, but signing him is a critical first step toward developing Smith and improving the Jets offense.