The Tennessee Titans had an offseason need atop their shopping list that was underlined, circled multiple times and highlighted with different colors. Now there are little hearts beside it, too.
They needed wide receiver help in the worst way. But they also needed the right mix of receivers and the right complementary options to fit in as perfectly shaped puzzle pieces alongside Marcus Mariota, the Titans' blossoming quarterback.
Decker's first choice was also his final choice, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The signing signifies a whirlwind turnaround for both him and the Titans offense.
There was a time when it seemed certain Decker's recovery from severe hip and shoulder injuries would carry on late into the summer, possibly keeping him sidelined during the regular season.
Decker had hip surgery that was projected to need a six-month recovery, according to a report from ESPN.com's Rich Cimini in October 2016. He was also carved open to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, which would add another eight months to the mending process. That meant Decker should have been pushing up against the opening of training camps before he was even medically cleared.
But Decker seems to have superhuman healing powers, perhaps because of his otherwise pristine health record over seven NFL seasons. Prior to 2016 he had logged at least 14 game appearances in each of those years. He was cleared in early June, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
So if we assume Decker is capable of returning to his pre-injury form, what exactly are the Titans getting with their savvy buy-low purchase deep in the offseason? First and foremost, they'll be getting a receiver with magnetized red-zone hands.
A touchdown vacuum was the final component for a wide receiver depth chart that's been given a face lift. The Titans' top two scoring wide receivers in 2016—Rishard Matthews and Kendall Wright—combined for 12 touchdowns, nine of which came from Matthews. This means the Titans needed two receivers to match Decker's touchdown-reception total in 2015, his last healthy season.
Decker played just three games and 210 snaps in 2016, and a microcosm of what he brings to an offense was still on display even in that brief, fleeting cameo. He needed a mere nine receptions to finish with two touchdowns.
Over a four-season stretch between 2012 and 2015, the 30-year-old recorded three double-digit touchdown seasons, scoring 41 times in total. He's one of just four receivers during that period to score 40-plus times, sitting behind former New York Jets teammate Brandon Marshall and the Cowboys' Dez Bryant, according to Pro Football Reference:
|Most TDs among WRs between 2012 and 2015|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
Gobbling up balls in the end zone is Decker's speciality because of his size (6'3" and 206 lbs), long wingspan and leaping ability. That same package also makes him a reliable third-down target and chain mover elsewhere on the field, one capable of piling up yards in high volumes.
During that four-year stretch, Decker averaged 1,085 yards and 81.5 catches per season. We can zoom in on 2015 to get a better picture of how Decker's presence impacts an offense. He saw double-digit targets in a game seven times that season. Decker then caught 60.6 percent of those targets and averaged a touchdown catch once every 6.7 receptions.
So he's a large, trusted target who's incredibly efficient in the red zone and becomes a quarterback's source of cozy comfort during crunch time. All of that made Decker the final veteran piece in an offense brimming with young talent.
The Titans' receiver group was reinforced with two early draft picks in 2017 before Decker arrived. The first was Corey Davis, a versatile receiver who does everything and does it well. Davis torched opposing secondaries for Western Michigan and posted three straight 1,400-plus yard seasons. He also scored 52 times during his college career and averaged 15.9 yards per reception.
Decker and Davis alone would be a substantial upgrade for Mariota's supporting cast—especially with Davis' astronomically high passer rating when targeted, as noted by PFF:
Of course, the Titans' pass-catcher additions didn't stop there. They also selected Taywan Taylor with their third-round pick. He's a constant on-field blur, and his speed led to 1,730 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns for Western Kentucky in 2016.
Davis and Taylor joined a pass-catching group that already featured Matthews, the 27-year-old who was finally given an opportunity by the Titans and responded with nine touchdowns and 945 receiving yards in 2016. He capitalized on a steadily increasing role with three 100-plus yard outings over Tennessee's final six games.
We're not done with making sure your eyes stay wide open while looking at the new Titans offense. Now is also a good time to remember that Delanie Walker hasn't gone anywhere. He may be aging a bit while preparing to enter his age-33 season, but Walker still finished sixth among tight ends in 2016 with 800 receiving yards, and he has averaged 926 yards per season over the last three years with the Titans.
The Titans have laid out a fine blueprint for not only how to build around a young, quickly developing quarterback, but how to do it while taking advantage of the cheap years when Mariota is still playing under his rookie contract.
The sturdy offensive pillars around Mariota extend far beyond his pass-catchers. The athletically gifted quarterback is flanked by two running backs who complement him nicely. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry fueled the league's third-best rushing offense in 2016, a season when the Titans averaged 136.7 yards on the ground per game.
They found so much space because the wall of humanity anchoring the Titans offense went about the business of bulldozing. Led by tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin—both first-round picks—the Titans' offensive line spearheaded the march toward 2,187 total rushing yards, and none of the five starting linemen gave up more than three sacks, per PFF.
The Titans have every core element for a thriving offense both now and into the future.
They have an offensive line their mobile quarterback can feel confident behind, as he won't be exposed to excessive pressure.
They have two running backs who complement each other well, with Murray slashing and streaking into the open field, and Henry making sure opposing bones and muscles ache for days.
They have a tight end who's established himself as one of the league's best, along with three wide receivers who are at or under the age of 27 and set to grow with their quarterback.
And now they have Decker, whose addition does more than just elevate the Titans' playoff-contender status. He also erases any excuse for stumbling again and failing to make the postseason for the first time since 2008.