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Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green and Eric Decker.
These six wide receivers finished in the top 10 in fantasy scoring at the position each of the past two seasons. Do you notice the outlier?
Decker has been a bona fide fantasy beast over that time period, yet few would be likely to include the 27-year-old in a discussion with these other five studs as one of the league’s most elite receivers.
This consensus opinion is evident in the fact that the other five guys—Johnson, Marshall, Bryant, Thomas and Green—are currently going as the first five wide receivers off the board in fantasy mock drafts, per ADP, while Decker has fallen to WR No. 36.
Clearly, the move from Denver to New York plummeted Decker's fantasy stock.
That will happen when you go from catching balls from Peyton Manning, the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time, to Geno Smith, a guy who had almost twice as many interceptions (21) as he did passing touchdowns (12) his rookie year. Decker averaged 12 receiving touchdowns alone over the past two seasons with Manning under center.
To say that Decker will have a downgrade at quarterback this year is to put it nicely. Even if the Jets’ backup quarterback, Michael Vick, should supplant Smith, Vick’s career average of 16 passing TDs per every 16 games played isn’t exactly prolific.
One argument to suggest that Decker will retain the majority of his fantasy value in 2014 contends that his status as the Jets' No. 1 receiving weapon will result in a high volume of targets. Let’s explore this idea.
The five most targeted receivers on the Jets in 2013 saw 72, 60, 59, 59 and 47 balls thrown their way. No receiver had more than 43 receptions or four touchdowns on the season.
Meanwhile, as Denver’s second-most targeted receiver, Decker saw 137 targets and caught 87 of those balls. To match his volume from 2013, Decker would have to usurp more than 100 percent of the targets from the Jets’ top two receivers from last year combined.
And even if Decker were to receive the same volume in New York as he did in Denver, fantasy owners must also consider the comparative value of those targets.
One hundred forty targets from Manning are not equal to 140 targets from Smith and/or Vick. Manning averaged 8.3 touchdowns per every 100 passing attempts in 2013, while Smith averaged 2.7. Jets receivers caught just over 55 percent of their targets in 2013; Broncos receivers caught just over 68 percent.
Smith will undoubtedly improve in his sophomore year (he has to, right?), but to what extent is unknown. His week-to-week volatility in performance as a rookie should terrify any owner of a Jets receiver.
Taking a quick glance at Smith’s 2013 weekly QBR totals, per ESPN, will give you whiplash (six weeks below 10; five weeks above 70). Predicting when Smith will have a big week is a complete gamble and a headache for fantasy owners of Jets receivers.
Another impediment to Decker’s value is the fact that head coach Rex Ryan favors a run-heavy offense.
In 2013, the Jets ranked 29th in passing attempts and fourth in rushing attempts (the Broncos ranked second in passing attempts). And the offseason addition of Johnson at running back only reinforces the idea that Ryan does not plan to change his approach.
This is not to say that Decker holds no value outside of a Manning-led offense. Decker is a talented receiver. He’s big and strong, at 6'3" and 214 pounds, with good body control. He’s a polished route-runner and a formidable red-zone threat. He should easily win the No. 1 wide receiving role in New York and be the centerpiece of the passing game.
There is value in this role, but it has an unfortunately low ceiling.
Decker is currently being drafted as a low-end No. 3 WR, and he might even outperform that ADP by season’s end. But knowing which weeks he will go off and which weeks he will disappear is the larger issue at hand.
There are few things more frustrating in fantasy than inconsistent performance, and all signs point to Decker having an up-and-down first season in New York. His upside is limited given his quarterback and offensive system. His downside is fantasy irrelevance.