During Peyton Manning‘s emphatic onslaught on the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night, Eric Decker fantasy owners all over the nation watched with bated breath for the shower of TDs to start washing away any Week 1 worries they might have had. However, the shower never came and millions of owners were left wondering what happened to last year’s #7 fantasy wide receiver and Manning’s favourite red zone target.
For those of you who don’t remember, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were the most effective WR tandem last season, finishing the year with the #5 and #7 fantasy receiver honours respectively. Decker caught a team high 13 TDs and 1000+ yards while proving to everyone that he could be an endzone target Manning would rely on.
Then along came Wes Welker. The Broncos now have a very trusty slot receiver in Welker who was able to reap the benefits of the open space in the middle of the field all night. Welker finished the game with 11 targets, 9 receptions, 67 yards and 2 TDs. He also muffed a punt that led to a Ray Rice TD which gave many Rice owners a sigh of relief in their Week 1 match-ups.
Decker, however, was targeted 7 times and caught only 2 passes for 32 yards. To add insult, he also fumbled a ball out of bounds and was called for offensive pass interference during the win – it was not the Eric Decker we’re used to. In Week 15 last season he caught 8 passes for 133 yards and a TD against a much more stout Ravens defense. Despite his poor numbers Thursday, Decker was still targeted in the end zone by Manning, although he dropped what could have been a fairly easy TD.
I believe there are three factors to note here:
- Receivers have bad games and more so than your average running back or quarterback. Last season, Julio Jones had 5 games where he scored less than 6 fantasy points (and that’s just one example).
- The presence of Wes Welker was a facet of the Denver offense that the Ravens were NOT prepared for. Welker played in an eerily similar fashion to his New England days, and why not? It was effective then and it still is. While the Ravens were busy on the outside, Welker ruled the middle of the field and even if you’re not Peyton Manning you’re going to throw to the open guy.
- According to John Fox in the post-game presser, Decker suffered a shoulder injury during the game that could have contributed to his statistical absence.
These three factors can be approached as such:
- As mentioned, receivers will have more down games than running backs and quarterbacks statistically. There’s more players on the field to compete with for touches and targets, whereas RBs and QBs are mostly alone in their endeavours (with the exception of the few RB committees). Expect Decker to bounce back. He had a bad game and unfortunately it was Week 1. After all, he didn’t have a great Week 1 last year either and look how he ended up. Let’s not overreact to a small sample here.
- Everyone should’ve known Welker was going to shine in Week 1. Yeah, teams have seen him in New England and therefore could have known what to expect, but Denver is a different team altogether and their utilization of him, while similar, still leaves a lot to be accounted for by defenses. What you’ll most likely notice this season is that as defenses attempt to cater to Welker (bringing down the safety to double over the middle, etc) it will inevitably open up opportunities for Decker again. I have a strong feeling this will go back and forth all season long.
- We don’t know the severity of the injury or if it’s even reality. What we do know is that Decker played through it, whatever it is, and there haven’t been any conclusive reports on the subject either. I don’t think he’s a risk to miss any time but we should keep an eye on him in case it develops into a nagging shoulder strain or something worse.
Analysis: Before the game Thursday, Demaryius Thomas was asked about Decker’s role this upcoming season and went on to say the plan is to keep targeting Decker in the endzone often like they did last year. “They want me to be the deep threat, so I’ll take the yards. Decker gets the touchdowns. That would be cool with me”, he told USA Today on Tuesday.
Having Welker underneath is really going to stir things up in 2013. Teams remember last season’s dynamic duo and the Ravens weren’t prepared to deal with another monster like Wes Welker terrorizing the secondary. That said, don’t give up on Decker just yet. Welker will get a lot of attention from the Giants next week and I predict Peyton will find all three of his receivers often in that game.
It’s still perplexing how out of 7 touchdowns, Manning’s favorite endzone receiver couldn’t claim at least one of them. Remove Andre Caldwell and Julius Thomas from the equation (who snagged 3 TDs collectively) and Decker would have almost certainly hit pay dirt.
Even after this lowly game, Decker remains a solid WR3 going in to week 2, and one with upside. Expect him to produce better numbers and get back on his game and, like all of Denver’s receivers this year, have the chance to put up some impressive stats. Now would be the time to get Decker cheap in trades.