Less than a week after he was released by the New York Jets, Eric Decker signed a one-year deal with the emerging Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Hip and shoulder injuries limited Decker to only three games in 2016, but the 6-foot-3, 214-pound 30-year-old was one of the position’s top producers in the years leading up to last season. In fact, Decker eclipsed 950 receiving yards four times, reached the eight-touchdown mark four times and was a top-14 fantasy wide receiver three times during the five seasons from 2011-15. Decker was used often near the goal line, trailing only Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas with a 39.6 receiving OTD (which helped him to 49 touchdowns) during the span. Decker’s 2015 season was especially notable, as he was the game’s most consistent wide receiver. He finished all 15 of his appearances as a top-35 fantasy receiver.
Mike Clay’s 2017 fantasy football PPR rankings
Positional rankings for PPR leagues, updated throughout the offseason.
Fantasy football WR depth chart
Your guide to each NFL team’s most valuable wide receivers in terms of fantasy value for the 2017 season.
Decker has been a versatile weapon throughout his career, but he settled in as the Jets’ primary slot receiver during the Chan Gailey era. In fact, he lined up inside on 68 percent of his routes during the 2015-16 seasons. His slot gig figures to carry over to Tennessee, where he’s a strong bet to join Delanie Walker inside between Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews. Matthews lined up outside on 75 percent of his 445 routes last season, whereas the rookie Davis worked both inside and outside during his time at Western Michigan.
Though just short of 44 percent of Decker’s 650 career targets have come from the arm of Peyton Manning (9.0 yards per target), he’s had plenty of success with lesser quarterbacks. That includes a 7.9 YPT with Ryan Fitzpatrick (147 targets) and 9.7 YPT with Geno Smith (88). In Tennessee, Decker will work with Marcus Mariota. The jury remains out on the former second overall pick, but he’s been solid and showed signs of improvement during his first two seasons. Mariota posted 26 TDs and just 9 INTs and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt in Tennessee’s run-heavy offense last season.
Speaking of which, the Titans called pass on an NFL-low 55 percent of their offensive plays last season. They also had three or more wide receivers on the field for 62 percent of their pass plays, which ranked 28th. Though both stats might seem like concerns for Tennessee’s wide receivers, the additions of Decker, Davis and Taywan Taylor figure to result in at least a moderate change in philosophy.
Projecting the target distribution for the Titans’ wide receivers is no simple task. Both Decker and Matthews rank among the league’s most underrated wide receivers and should thus be ticketed for significant offensive roles. Walker, DeMarco Murray and role players Taylor, Jonnu Smith, Derrick Henry, and Tajae Sharpe will also handle a generous share of the targets.
Then you have Davis, who not only was a first-round pick but the fifth overall selection. It’s easy to assume that the veterans will open the season as the team’s top two receivers, but history shows that Davis’ pedigree will lead to an immediate role. Of the five wide receivers selected in the top five during the past decade, each generated a target share of at least 16 percent as a rookie (average of 22 percent). Counting only players who played at least one snap, the average for top-20 receivers is 16 percent (19 percent if extrapolated over 16 games), and for all first-rounders it is 14 percent (16 percent).
My current 2017 projection for Davis has him at 87 targets, which would rank 16th among the 36 wide receivers picked in the first round (minimum one target) over the past decade. It’s possible Davis dominates training camp and the preseason en route to a massive Week 1 role, but for now it’s reasonable to temper expectations for all of the team’s receivers with suddenly so many mouths to feed in a run-first offense.
My projections for the Titans’ top four offensive targets are as follows:
Eric Decker: 92 targets, 56 receptions, 762 yards, 6.5 TD (15 games)
Corey Davis: 87 targets, 54 receptions, 688 yards, 5.3 TD
Rishard Matthews: 82 targets, 51 receptions, 725 yards, 4.8 TD
Delanie Walker: 97 targets, 64 receptions, 755 yards, 6.1 TD
We’ll need to watch to see where the average draft position of each player lands in the coming weeks, but I don’t expect Davis to come at a reasonable price (typical rookie hype). He’s best viewed as a midround upside flier. Decker is in the flex discussion as the team’s probable top target overall and especially near the goal line. Matthews is a player likely to see a sharp dip in ADP who will make for a nice late-round target. Considering Decker’s age and injury-played 2016 and Davis’ inexperience, Matthews remains a candidate to repeat as the team’s target leader. Walker remains a midpack TE1.