In 2012, Eric Decker was drafted as WR25, but finished as WR9. The same year, Demaryius Thomas was drafted as WR18 and finished as WR5. In 2013, Decker was drafted as WR22, and finished as WR9, again. Thomas was drafted as WR6, while finishing as the WR1. Despite Thomas’ incredible finishes, I’d argue Decker was the better value. Objectively, he finished as a WR1 both years while outperforming his ADP by a larger margin.
In 2014, Decker is being drafted as WR28, while Thomas is being drafted as WR3. This all seems odd to me. Thomas’ ADP has consistently risen, in accordance with his actual output. Meanwhile, Decker’s ADP and his output seem to have little to no connection. The data seems to be backing up a strange, persistent, non-objective sentiment: Thomas is an elite WR, whereas Decker is just a product of Peyton Manning. Even if that sentiment is correct, Decker could still easily outperform his ADP. This is RotoViz, so you probably realize I’m not recommending a sentiment-based drafting style. Here come the facts.
Let’s utilize the handy-dandy AYA App.1 In 2012, Thomas earned 20 more targets than Decker. Manning put up an AYA of 11.62 while targeting Thomas, and a 9.77 while targeting Decker. That seems to suggest that Thomas is better, but Decker still comes out pretty respectably. In 2013, Thomas earned 141 targets, the same as 2012. Decker earned 136, so the gap actually closed by a considerable margin. Manning’s AYA while targeting Thomas was 11.11, slightly worse than in 2012, while Decker provided him with a 10.13 AYA. If Thomas is a truly elite WR, and Decker is just a product of Manning, why did the additions of Julius Thomas and Wes Welker significantly improve Decker’s output, while completely failing to help Demaryius? Decker seems to have taken advantage of the decreased defensive coverage, while Thomas did not. Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton were both more effective when targeting Thomas than Decker, but not by a huge margin. I’m not suggesting that Thomas isn’t an elite talent; I’m just suggesting that if Thomas is an elite talent, Decker seems to be a very good one.
Eric Decker has turned 14.86% of his career receptions into TDs. If you don’t appreciate how good that is, Pierre Garcon’s 113 receptions would have resulted in approximately 17 TDs last year if he scored at that rate.2 That’s not due to Peyton Manning either. Prior to Manning’s arrival in Denver, Decker scored on 18% of his receptions, albeit on a much smaller sample. Using the College Career Graphs App, we can see that Decker put up a RZTD rate of .36, and accounted for 62% of his teams passing TDs. Decker was so good in college that Jon Moore named a test for evaluating all-around great prospects after him. The evidence seems to suggest that Decker has always been very good, Manning or no, and that he’s been exceptional at scoring TDs, which seems like it might matter in fantasy football.
Of course, that’s not the only concern leading to Decker’s drop in ADP, but I do think it’s the underlying cause of some of the others. Decker is going to be catching passes from Geno Smith, as the New York Jets’ #1 WR. That may not be a bad thing. Here are the arguments against Decker on the Jets:
- Decker will face more coverage, including more of teams’ top cornerbacks- If Decker was an elite receiver, would anyone even care about this? No. I’m not sure it’s a huge difference for very good receivers either. Also, let’s not act like Decker didn’t face top cornerbacks in Denver. Many teams don’t have their top CB simply shadow the other team’s top receiver. Admittedly, he does have to square off again Darrelle Revis twice, which is not ideal.
- Geno Smith is bad- Actually, he was kind of awesome last year. That was despite an almost unbelievably bad group of receivers. He wasn’t even supposed to start last year, likely for the very reason that he would have no help as a rookie. Smith was a very good college prospect, whose comparables included Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, and Ben Roethlisberger. There’s a lot of reason to believe Smith is a good QB who just happened to be in a terrible situation last year.
- The Jets do not pass, partly because they have such a good defense- There’s definitely some truth to this. They finished 29th in both passing play percentage and passing attempts per game in 2013. Call me crazy, but I kind of like that. It’s likely having more of an effect on Decker’s ADP than it will his actual output. You know how I mentioned how terrible their receivers were last year? Well in addition to Decker, they also added Jace Amaro and three other WRs in the draft. Even if they pass the same percentage of plays, the improved offense should lead to more passing attempts, and as recently as 2011 they passed on 57% of their plays. As for defense, they’ve been allowing more points per game every year since 2009. There’s a good chance their defense will fail them throughout this year, potentially leading to shootouts or a change in offensive philosophy.
Decker is the clear-cut number one WR on a team that doesn’t really have any other experienced options. He’s all they have. Combine that with his scoring prowess, and a 80 reception, 1000+ yards, 10+ TD season doesn’t seem unreasonable. Barring injury, I can’t see Decker finishing much worse than his ADP suggests. I can, however, easily see a scenario where he racks up 100+ receptions or scores at a disproportionate rate, even for him, and finishes as WR9 for the third year in a row. Find a WR1 at a WR3 price and you’ll find a way to win your league.