Eric Decker Will Be a Fantasy Football Steal as Focal Point of Jets Offense

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Eric Decker Will Be a Fantasy Football Steal as Focal Point of Jets Offense
Uncredited/Associated Press

Eric Decker's offseason move from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets was fantastic for his bank account, but the jersey swap did him no favors in the eyes of fantasy football prognosticators.

ESPN.com ranked Decker the No. 32 wide receiver and projects him to amass 64 receptions for 947 yards and six touchdowns.

And the Washington Post's Gene Wang gave his take on Decker's situation in early August in his list of "poison" players to avoid on draft day:

Expect Decker’s statistics to be more in line with his performances before Manning arrived. In 2011, for instance, Decker had 612 yards and eight touchdowns with passing-challenged Tim Tebow and mediocre Kyle Orton as his quarterbacks. If Decker comes anywhere near eight touchdowns this season, it’ll be a true testament to his ability to make the best of a messy situation.

It's not reassuring stuff for a receiver coming off back-to-back 80-reception, 1,000-yard seasons. However, the lowered expectations put Decker in a very unique position. He's a proven talent, solid veteran and excellent route-runner with size and speed.

According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Decker's average draft position is 94th, based on a 12-team league. This puts him behind the likes of Sammy Watkins (a rookie), Terrance Williams and Golden Tate. They should all be solid players, but Decker can outperform those receivers and perhaps a few others.

The New York Jets will no doubt be raring to squeeze every ounce of talent out of Decker after signing him to a five-year deal worth $36.25 million, per Spotrac.com.

The Jets' depth chart at wide receiver is wafer-thin beyond Decker. Here are the total NFL stats for the top three wide receivers listed on the team's depth chart other than Decker.

New York Jets Wide Receiver's Key Stats
Player No. of Seasons Games (Started) Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Jeremy Kerley 3 42 (16) 128 1,664 6
Stephen Hill 2 23 (19) 45 594 2
David Nelson 4 44 (23) 130 1,465 10

Pro-Football-Reference.com

That supporting cast means the ball will be heading Decker's way more often than not in 2014. Wang suspected Decker's stats would fall to his 2011 numbers, but his teammates were still much better in that situation than they are now.

That year, Decker was the lead threat but played alongside an emerging Demaryius Thomas and a solid Eddie Royal. In the Big Apple in 2014, he will be the unquestioned star. 

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

He also has plenty of motivation this year as he shows the league he wasn't simply riding on Peyton Manning's coattails. Via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:

From Year 1 to Year 5 now, I’ve gotten better at my craft. I’ve become a better receiver. I’m not going to make assumptions because assuming doesn’t really do anything. In this league, you’re only as good as your last play. That’s what people remember. Numbers and statistics come and go away. And then you start over.

Decker's 6'3" stature also makes him the Jets' likeliest red-zone threat. This is especially true considering the Jets running backs aren't exactly prototypical power backs. Even if Decker gets far fewer receptions and yards, he should still end the season with a hefty touchdown total.

Chris Johnson's presence on the team could help Decker exceed expectations. If the veteran back can recapture any semblance of the form that made him so dangerous in 2009 and 2010, it will go a long way toward taking the pressure off Decker and young quarterback Geno Smith.

As the majority of football fans know, Smith struggled mightily last season, but there is still room to grow for the 23-year-old slinger. Indeed, Decker will be key to his improvement and should boost the second-year pro's confidence. Head coach Rex Ryan expects him to better his play in 2014.

"I think he’s taken off from where he left off and expect great things in the future from him," he said, via the New York Times' Seth Berkman.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

An over-reliance on Decker could get Smith in trouble if he keys in on Decker too often and starts staring him down on more complex routes, but it should mean plenty of targets for the wideout. If you're drafting Decker, don't take his quarterback with him.

Decker won't be carrying any teams in 2014, real or fantasy. The Jets will bank on improvements from their 19th-ranked scoring defense from last year to pull out victories. The offense should still struggle as a whole. Decker should vastly exceed his depressed fantasy football value, but he still won't measure up with the majority of WR1s in deeper fantasy leagues.

However, the offseason pessimism makes him a great sleeper of sorts, and in nascent keeper leagues he could prove to be fantastic value down the road as the team attempts to improve around him.

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