Fantasy Spin - Eric Decker to the Titans

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After playing three seasons with Gang Green, veteran wide receiver Eric Decker was released on June 12 by the New York Jets in what has been an offseason of cleaning house for general manager Mike Maccagnan. Despite a rather unproductive 2016 season where he played only three games due to a partially torn rotator cuff, Decker was a rock solid possession receiver and red zone threat who provided consistent fantasy production week-in and week-out. He left having amassed 2,183 yards on 163 receptions with 19 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Jets.

It didn’t take long for a team desperate to bolster its wide receiver corps to jump at the chance to pick him up. Decker signed a one-year contract with the Tennessee Titans on June 18, essentially committing himself to a prove-it deal that gives him the chance to convince teams that a wide receiver heading north of 30 years old can still get it done.

With Decker finding a new home in Tennessee, the question now becomes: what kind of impact his presence will have on the other members of the Titans offense?

 

Eric Decker's Impact on the Titans

QB Marcus Mariota

Of all the players standing to benefit from the Decker signing, third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota seems to be the clear-cut winner. Currently sitting as QB-12, Mariota has consistently improved as a passer since his 2015 rookie season despite a lack of superior receiving talent surrounding him. With wide receiver Rishard Matthews emerging as a dynamic playmaker and tight end Delanie Walker continuing to draw attention to the middle of the field, Decker provides yet another weapon for Mariota to target on key third down situations and in the red zone. Don’t expect Mariota’s value to skyrocket, as he is in an offense that averaged the third most rushing attempts per game in the NFL last season. However, he is definitely in line to continue his overall improvement and throw for more touchdown passes this coming season if Decker can prove to be as reliable as he was in 2015.

RBs Demarco Murray/Derrick Henry

Do not fear Demarco Murray fans! Eric Decker will not stop the number one ranked Tennessee Titan’s offensive line (per Pro Football Focus) from paving the way to the end-zone. Although Decker is renowned as a big-bodied red-zone target, it’s difficult to imagine that the Titans will shy away from their success running the football within their opponent’s 10-yard-line, rushing 63% of the time and scoring 12 total touchdowns last year. Decker may in fact prove especially useful in drawing attention away from the backfield by limiting the number of stacked boxes. All in all, Murray will likely face a drop in his 53 receptions for 377 yards and Tennessee rushers will lose one or two touchdowns to balls thrown Decker’s way, but I seriously doubt the impact will be significant enough to warrant devaluing Murray or Henry at their current draft spots.

Titans WRs and TE Delanie Walker

In Marcus Mariota’s two years as a starter, the only Tennessee Titans player to eclipse 1,000 yards was tight end Delanie Walker back in 2015. No Titans wide receiver has made it over that hump due in large part to inexperience at quarterback, a strong rushing attack, and an overall lack of talent at the position. Decker will be expected to fill in at number two on the depth chart behind Rishard Matthews, ideally operating in a capacity similar to 2015 when he was fifth in the NFL in receptions from the slot with 56 and third in touchdowns on routes run in the slot with 7. Matthews will remain in the WR2 conversation despite a slight drop off in his receiving production from Decker’s share of targets, with the only other Titans receiver worth looking at being rookie Corey Davis who is oddly similar to Decker in terms of stature (both are 6’3, 210 lbs) and ability to win jump-ball matchups. However, Davis has yet to play at real-time football game speed since his ankle injury in college, meaning more needs to be seen before we assume he will carve out a bigger role in the Tennessee offense. For Delanie Walker, there is definitely cause for concern that Decker could draw more targets in the middle of the field and contribute to a decline in his production, but I suspect Mariota will continue to use him as a safety blanket and mismatch in a similar fashion to how Mariota has comfortably used him in the past. As such, Walker remains a TE1 for the time being.

 

Conclusion

The good news is that Eric Decker’s level of production can only go up from last season. He has had plenty of time to heal from his injury-riddled 2016 and couldn’t have landed in a better situation for a return to form as a reliable chain-mover and red-zone threat. His current ADP at round 11 in standard scoring and round 9 in PPR will likely creep into the 6-to-8 round range, despite the disappointment of last season. His consistency and nose for the end zone make him a reliable WR2 option, should he manage to stay on the field, with his touchdown upside making him a prime bounce-back candidate to finish in the top 20 of fantasy wide receivers.