Eric Decker Is Having the Best Season of His Career

Decker continues to prove he is a quality receiver without Peyton Manning. How good has he been?

Eric Decker has been an interesting fantasy football asset since 2011.

That year, his second in the NFL, the wide receiver scored 8 touchdowns and tallied 614 yards on 96 targets (44 catches) while playing alongside Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.

The next year, his first with Peyton Manning, was even better: 85 catches, 122 targets, 1,064 yards, and 113 touchdowns. And to prove it wasn't a fluke, his 2013 statline -- 87 catches, 136 targets, 1,288 yards, and 11 scores -- showed that he was capitalizing on the talent flashed in 2011.

But when he left the Denver Broncos -- and, therefore, Manning -- for the New York Jets and a Geno Smith/Michael Vick duo, his ability was, again, put to the test.

Absent an elite passer, Decker's numbers declined: 74 grabs on 115 catches for 962 yards and 5 scores.

Entering the 2015 season with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and Brandon Marshall to play opposite him, Decker was the 41st wide receiver selected this year on average in fantasy drafts at Currently a top-13 receiver in standard, PPR, and half-PPR scoring formats, he has been a great value in fantasy football.

But is this, a year without an in-his-prime Peyton Manning, actually Decker's best NFL season?

Past Years

Before Manning arrived in Denver, Decker had a nonexistent rookie year in 2010 during which he saw only eight targets.

Again, in 2011, he caught 44 passes for 612 yards and 8 touchdowns on 96 targets. He ranked 11th in receiving touchdowns that year, as one of only two players to do so with under 50 receptions.

When Manning arrived in 2012 and Decker played opposite  Demaryius Thomas, we saw his statistical upside.

Digging deeper, we can look at our Net Expected Points (NEP) to see how much value he added to his team. 

Of the 70 receivers with at least 60 targets in 2012, Decker finished 12th in Reception NEP, 9th in Reception NEP per target, and 20th in Reception Success Rate (the percentage of catches that actually add to a team's NEP). The next year, he ranked 11th in Reception NEP, 14th in Reception NEP per target, and 11th in Reception Success Rate out of 78 receivers with at least 60 targets.

In his first season with the Jets, his stat line dropped across the board (74 catches for 962 yards and 5 touchdowns on 115 targets), but the biggest regression for him came in the touchdown department, which was surprising because he scores touchdowns at a high rate on a per-target basis (8.03% of his targets have led to touchdowns).

For context, Rob Gronkowski (11.53%) is on another planet when it comes to how often he scores touchdowns, but Decker scores touchdowns almost as often as notable touchdown scorers, Odell Beckham (8.76%) and Dez Bryant (8.58%). However, his touchdown rate in 2014 was only 4.35%; that is barely half of his career touchdown rate, and it had nowhere but up to go.

As a result, Decker finished 20th in Reception NEP, 18th in Reception NEP per target, and 39th in Reception Success Rate as he took a step back in all of our metrics. Although his production dipped without Manning, the dip in Reception Success Rate combined with his touchdown rate dip displayed room for positive regression for Decker.

Current Year

Through Week 14, Decker has 66 receptions for 875 yards and 9 touchdowns on 107 targets. His touchdown rate this year is 8.41%, right back in line with his career average. 

Although his raw statistics this year are not yet as gaudy as his Denver statistics, he still has three games left to finish the season and improve on his current success. Currently, Decker is 8th in Reception NEP, 16th in Reception NEP per target, and 33rd in Reception Success Rate.

Decker Receptions Yards TD TD Rate Rec NEP/target Rec Success Rate
2012 85 1,064 13 10.57% 0.88 90.59%
2013 87 1,288 11 8.03% 0.83 91.95%
2014 74 962 5 4.35% 0.78 86.49%
2015 66 875 9 8.41% 0.83 87.88%

Based on traditional statistics and advanced analytics, this season is shaping up as Decker's second best season. However, there is one more variable to add, and that is the difference between Manning and Fitzpatrick.

Year QB Drop Backs Yards Comp % TD INT PNEP/Play Success Rate
2012 Peyton Manning 604 4,659 68.61% 37 11 0.27 54.30%
2013 Peyton Manning 677 5,477 68.29% 55 10 0.41 57.31%
2014 Geno Smith 395 2,498 60.56% 13 12 0.03 43.60%
2015 Ryan Fitzpatrick 401 2,846 59.12% 23 8 0.15 45.89%

Although Fitzpatrick is an improvement from Geno Smith last year, the difference between Fitzpatrick and Smith is far less than the difference between Fitzpatrick and Manning.

Once again, Decker is finding the end zone at his career rate this year, and that is helping his overall production.

Based on the level of quarterback play around him in his career, Decker is enjoying the finest year of his career right now.