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Was Eric Decker’s Breakout Inevitable?

5300408094_fc63b8928e_b Entering 2012, his third season in the NFL, Eric Decker was a nice receiver who showed promise as a complement to Demaryius Thomas. In his first two seasons he caught 50 balls for 718 yards and 9 touchdowns but only managed four games with more than three catches. He was a consistent contributor with a nose for the red zone which should come as no surprise given his 6’3’’ 215lb frame. But who could have predicted he would post 13 receiving touchdowns in 2012? Well, maybe we should have predicted it.

If we go back as far as the 2007 NFL draft and consider the premium wide receivers of comparable size to Decker, we come up with Dwayne Bowe, Jordy Nelson, and Hakeem Nicks. Coming into 2012, all three receivers had posted dominant seasons. Consider their peak years:

Draft Year Player Peak season games Peak season catches Peak season yards Peak season TDs
2007 Dwayne Bowe 16 72 1,162 15
2008 Jordy Nelson 16 68 1,263 15
2009 Hakeem Nicks 13 79 1,052 11
2010 Eric Decker 16 85 1,064 13


It’s important to note that Bowe, Nelson, and Nicks have solid but unspectacular physical attributes. The average measurables for those three are:

Height: 73.8 inches

Weight: 217 lbs

40 yard dash: 4.51 seconds

Vertical jump: 33.3 inches

Shuttle run: 4.37 seconds

3 cone drill: 6.93 seconds

Eric Decker missed the 2010 Combine due to a broken foot, but given his game tape and his baseball career, I think it’s safe to say he could have matched those numbers. But the physical measures are less important here. Where these players truly separate themselves is with their on-field college production.

Yards per target: All four players posted about 10 yards per target.


Market share of yards: All four players posted 30%+ market share of yards in their final season and showed progress across their final two seasons. Note that Decker leads the pack.


Market share of TDs: All four players posted 40%+ market share of touchdowns. Once again Eric Decker leads the way.


Red zone efficiency: All four players post red zone TD rates above 30%.


Imagine if I told you before this season that Jordy Nelson had been traded to the Broncos, would catch passes from Peyton Manning, and would play opposite from Demaryius Thomas. Who knows how high you would have drafted Jordy Nelson. So why should we be surprised when a nearly identical performer goes bonkers?

Going into 2013 we will use this knowledge to help identify the next big thing. Stay tuned.

(Want to run your own experiments? Try this Wide Receiver app!)

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