If Ryan Fitzpatrick stays with the New York Jets in 2016, you should expect yet another solid fantasy year from wide receiver Eric Decker, who has become one of the safest bets as a WR2.
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THE PLAYER: Eric Decker, WR, Jets
The SI rank—Beller: No. 20 WR, 38 overall | Fitz: No. 20 WR, No. 36 overall
The consensus rank—No. 24 WR, No. 50 overall
Decker was one of the most undervalued players during 2015’s draft season. He finished the summer with an average draft position of 103.4, trailing Terrance Williams, Eddie Royal and Devin Funchess. That seems impossible in hindsight, but I was there. It was reality.
During the 2015 season, Decker was freed from the limitations of an offense led by Geno Smith, instead catching balls from Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was also paired with Brandon Marshall, which relieved him of the constant pressure he faced from opposing secondaries in 2014. As a result, Decker scored the 10th most points among receivers in standard-scoring leagues, racking up 80 catches for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was one of the most consistent players in the league, finding the end zone or totaling at least 80 yards in all 15 of his games, scoring double-digit fantasy points 12 times. There was never a bad week to have Decker in your lineup.
Decker has hit thresholds of 80 receptions, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns for three out of the last four years. The season in which he didn’t was that ‘14 campaign that he spent mostly on an island with the deposed Smith at the helm. That Decker managed to pull down 74 passes for 962 yards and five scores that year speaks to the fact that he was never just a creation of the Peyton Manning Denver offense, and should have signaled to far more fantasy owners that big things were in store last year.
Decker’s consensus rank on FantasyPros places him immediately behind Kelvin Benjamin, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. That’s an understandable impulse, especially when considering that FantasyPros averages the rankings of more than 70 people who get paid to do this for a living. It also seems to ignore the track record Decker has laid down over his entire career.
When Decker has been part of high-value passing attacks—the 2012 and ‘13 Broncos and ‘15 Jets—he has been a perennial top-10 receiver. When he hasn’t, he has still found a way to max out his production. It wasn’t just that first season with the Jets when he did something with almost nothing around him. Back in 2011, his second year in the league, Tim Tebow started 11 games for the Broncos (seriously, this happened), while Kyle Orton started five. Decker had eight touchdowns that season, to go along with 44 receptions and 612 yards. He was the No. 36 wide receiver—a WR3 in 12-team leagues—and that was with Tim Tebow starting two-thirds of his team’s games.
As the Jets head into the 2016 season, the quarterback question looms large over Decker, and, for that matter, Brandon Marshall. Fitzpatrick remains a free agent and seemingly at an impasse with the Jets, despite the fact that they seem to need each other. Fitzpatrick isn’t likely to find a home where he’d step in on day one as the unquestioned starter, unless it’s back in New York with the Jets. The team, meanwhile, is staring down the likelihood of going into the season with Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as the only quarterbacks on its depth chart. That’s not an ideal situation for either side, especially when largely the same roster was one win away from making the playoffs last year.
We won’t really be able to nail down Decker’s draft-day value until we’re sure who will be under center for the Jets in Week 1. Most rankings you’ll see, including those here on SI.com, seem to reflect an assumption that the Jets and Fitzpatrick will be able to come to an agreement. Both sides just have too much to lose to not find middle ground. If Fitzpatrick ultimately ends up with the Jets, Decker will be in largely the same environment he was last year. That’s excellent news for his fantasy value.
The one big change in the Jets’ offensive personnel—assuming Fitzpatrick returns—is at the running back position. The Jets waved goodbye to Chris Ivory, signing longtime Bear Matt Forte to three-year, $12-million deal in March. Forte has been one of the best pass-catching backs in the league since his 2008 rookie year, setting a record for receptions by a running back with 102 in 2014. He’s going to have a much greater role as a receiver than Ivory or Bilal Powell did last season, and while running back and receiver receptions aren’t exactly an apples to apples comparison, there are still only so many targets to go around. Forte’s presence could have a slightly deleterious effect on Decker’s bottom line.
Outside of the Forte addition, the song remains the same for Decker. He’s a physical, skilled receiver particularly adept in the red zone, with 35 of his 50 career touchdowns 19 yards or shorter, including 20 that started inside the 10-yard line. Decker’s red-zone ability takes some of the volatility out of year-to-year receiving touchdowns, typically one of the stats where past performance has the least to do with future results. So long as Fitzpatrick returns to the Jets, it’s hard to imagine Decker falling out of the top 20.
All bets are off if Smith ends up being the starter, but Decker has three WR1 seasons under his belt with competent quarterbacks at the helm. There isn’t much flash to his game, and he doesn’t have the ceiling of most 29-year-olds who have been top-10 receivers three times, but Decker has as safe a floor of any WR2 in the league.