When the Denver Broncos landed highly coveted free agent wide receiver Wes Welker, that immediately meant that someone’s numbers would take a hit. This has fantasy owners a bit lower on Eric Decker as we approach 2013, despite coming off an impressive 2012 campaign. However, if owners are smart, they will use Welker’s presence to allow them to grab Decker for a bargain on draft day.
In his third season, Decker emerged, catching 85 balls for 1,064 yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns. Only James Jones of the Packers found the end zone more times than him. The red zone is the area where Decker excelled last season. Manning targeted him 25 times in the red zone last season, which was the most among any receiver in football. Welker will surely take a handful of targets away from Decker, but I’m not sold it will be in the red zone. Welker has never been a red zone, touchdown guy throughout his career, having never posted double-digit scores in a season. At 6’3″, 214 lbs, Decker is big enough, and strong enough to lead the Broncos yet again in 2013. That combination of size and speed still makes him the number two receiver, opposite of Demaryius Thomas. According to Pro Football Focus, 82.2 percent of Welker’s routes were out of the slot last season. I fully expect him to continue to operate out of that area, which could continue to help Decker.
Everyone wants to talk about how Welker’s presence will hurt Decker’s fantasy value, but has it occurred to anyone that Decker could benefit from this? When asked about the addition of Welker, Decker realized that it could very much help him out. “Depending on the game and the defensive scheme that goes against us, you may see more one-on-one coverages,” Decker said. “You may see opportunities in certain plays and certain calls that you didn’t see as much last year. That’s something we’re going to build off.” Welker is the type of player that forces opposing defenses to always know where he is. This could allow Decker to see even more one-on-one coverage this year, which presents a terrific opportunity for big plays from the skilled 26-year old. Manning is a guy who excels at moving the chains, and with continuous short routes from Welker, that will happen a lot. Sooner or later, opposing defenses are going to get to close, resulting in Decker (or Thomas) to burn them over the top for big plays.
So, how is it possible to get 2012’s number seven fantasy receiver for cheap? Because fantasy players are so afraid of the arrival of Welker, Decker’s ADP has fallen to the 6th round, making him the 25th receiver off of the board. He’ll definitely see some regression in all categories, but I still think he has as good a shot as any to lead Denver in touchdowns again. After one year together, Manning knows how dangerous he is in the red zone, and won’t forget it. Playing alongside Manning, in one of the league’s best offenses, there will be enough targets for Decker to produce as a top-20 fantasy wideout, even if the position is deep. I’d much rather have Decker than some of the guys going ahead of him (Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Antonio Brown). Let everyone else in your league worry about Decker, while you get him later on and enjoy 800-900 yards and nine or ten scores.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.