Eric Decker is the most underrated player in fantasy
Mike Tagliere explains why Eric Decker is a lock for WR2-level production in 2016.
Eric Decker is the most underrated player in fantasy
A recent Twitter poll asking for the most underrated and overrated players in fantasy football netted over 300 responses, and the vote for the most overrated player (Eddie Lacy) was analyzed in the previous article. The verdict: Lacy is not overrated, but rather underused.
In today’s article, we will talk about the player that was voted as the most underrated in that same poll: Eric Decker. He’s been in the league for six years now and has played a significant role in five of them. Despite this, he has been drafted inside the top 24 wide receivers just once. Has he really been that underrated?
Decker came into 2011 with Tim Tebow throwing to him, so he would naturally be unwanted in fantasy. Decker made the most of it though, and managed to catch 75 percent of the touchdown passes (eight) that Tebow threw, finishing as the No. 36 fantasy receiver (tail-end WR3 material) despite seeing the 38th most targets. Remember that Tebow completed just 46 percent of his passes that year.
It seemed that fantasy players took notice in 2012, as Decker hit the highest ADP of his career when he was drafted as the WR18. The reason his ADP spiked that much was due to Peyton Manning returning to football and signing with the Broncos. Decker out-produced his ADP once again that year, finishing as the No. 7 wide receiver.
In 2013, Demaryius Thomas was viewed as the No. 1 receiver with the Broncos, pushing Decker down the ADP boards once again. After being drafted as the WR25 that year, Decker once again out-produced expectations and finished as the No. 9 wide receiver.
So after all of that — including two straight seasons finishing in the top 10 among fantasy wideouts — why was Decker not vaulting up draft boards? His high touchdown rate could be to blame. After having touchdowns account for 44.9 percent of his points in 2011, he followed that up with 42.4 percent in 2012, and then 34.2 percent in 2013.
For comparison purposes, wide receivers have had touchdowns account for 28.0 percent of their fantasy points over the last five years. So when looking at Decker’s overall numbers, it’s likely a lot of people expected regression, which would drag down his ADP.
After three stellar campaigns with the Broncos, Decker became a free agent and went to the Jets. Going from Manning to Geno Smith was an obvious downgrade, so that tied with the expected touchdown regression, his ADP dropped once again down to WR37. While that was the lowest since 2011, Decker still finished as the No. 28 receiver despite missing one game and playing with Smith.
For those that were expecting regression, it finally happened that year as touchdowns accounted for a career-low 23.8 percent of his fantasy points. It may seem odd to some, but it makes perfectly good sense. Before getting into that, Decker’s ADP was about to drop once again the following year.
The Jets traded for Brandon Marshall last offseason, causing Decker to slide down the chart once again. He was drafted as the WR38 in 2015, but proved to be a steal, finishing as the No. 10 receiver. His touchdown percentage skyrocketed again, all the way up to 41.6 percent.
It’s clear that Decker has been underrated throughout his entire career. When reading articles like this, you want to know whether or not it will continue, or should you accept the fact that everyone now realizes that he is underrated.
Looking back, Decker was an unknown in 2011 with Tebow, and was therefore not the primary focus of the opponents’ gameplan. After all, gameplanning against Tebow throwing the ball wouldn’t have been the brightest idea.
Moving into 2012 and 2013, Decker was playing second fiddle to Thomas, getting single man coverage more often than most receivers of his caliber would. Looking forward to 2015, it was a similar situation with Marshall.
The lone year Decker finished with less than a 34.2 percent touchdown rate, was the year that he was relied on as the No. 1 option in the offense. While he did have Smith throwing him the ball that year, Decker has proven he can make it work with any quarterback he plays with.
At this point, Ryan Fitzpatrick should be back with the Jets, and that is a good thing for Decker, considering Fitzpatrick finished with a 114.1 NFL quarterback rating when throwing to Decker, the sixth-highest in the league. He was intercepted just twice when throwing to Decker, compared to the nine interceptions he threw when targeting Marshall.
Of the 85 wide receivers that we tracked in 2015, Decker finished 32nd among them in yards per route run. That isn’t great, but also isn’t bad considering his touchdown rate and the fact that he’s the second option on his team.
Looking through the five full years that Decker has played in, he ranks 30th in targets per game among wide receivers (7.64) and has never averaged more than 8.56 targets per game in any one season. So to see him average the 16th most fantasy points per game (10.1) in that span just shows how efficient he has been with his targets.
On top of all this, Decker played out of the slot 68.1 percent of the time in 2015, so he is the Jets primary slot wide receiver. If you paid attention to the WR/CB matchup articles last year, you would know that some of the best cornerbacks in the league don’t go into the slot to defend stud wide receivers.
There have been just five players in the past five years who have totaled 10 touchdowns or more in three separate years. Decker is one of those players along with A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, and Brandon Marshall. That is not a bad group to be associated with.
Decker is certainly one of the most underrated players in all of fantasy football right now, and maybe one of the most all-time. As long as Decker is the No. 2 option on his team, you should expect him to finish as a top 20 fantasy wide receiver going forward. After all, he has been a top 10 receiver in three of the last five seasons.