Eric Decker set career highs in receptions (87) and yards (1,288)) in 2013, and he has emerged as a force for fantasy football owners with 172 receptions for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons. The arrival of Peyton Manning in Denver was the driving force for Decker’s elevated production, and his quarterback situation will not be as good this year after signing with the New York Jets as a free agent. Emmanuel Sanders was signed by the Broncos, in part to replace Decker, after setting career-highs of his own with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year (67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns).
Fantasy owners may find themselves deciding between Sanders and Decker on draft day, but which guy is the better choice this year?
The Case For Emmanuel Sanders
The move to Denver is obviously great news for Sanders’ fantasy value, with better talent around him top-to-bottom and becoming part of the league’s second-most pass-happy offense from 2013 (42.2 attempts per game). Almost any quarterback in the league is not quite on Manning’s level, but Sanders’ experience playing with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh should benefit him overall in terms of his ability to make the transition.
Decker was targeted 136 times in 2013, which puts Sanders in line for similar volume this year even if he is not the red zone option Decker was last year (23 red zone targets).
The Case For Eric Decker
Decker will be the Jets’ No. 1 wide receiver, and he’ll be the clear top target for whoever is under center. His 136 targets were good for 17th-most among wide receivers last year, and even with Geno Smith or Michael Vick throwing him the ball that total could climb this year.
Decker had eight touchdown receptions in 2011, when Tim Tebow started 11 games for the Broncos. So an obvious downgrade in the talent level of the quarterback throwing him the ball may not be a death knell for Decker’s fantasy value.
I think it’s foolish to assume that signing with the Broncos will automatically make Sanders a consistently viable fantasy option this year. That doesn’t mean he has no value, however, just that I’m hesitant to have him as anything more than a WR3 and an occasional starter in any scoring format. Decker has downside now that simply didn’t exist in 2012 and 2013, and with that he’s probably not going to be a reliable every-week fantasy starter in his first season with the Jets.
Sanders currently has an average draft position in the seventh round, while Decker’s ADP is toward the end of the eighth round right now. With the risk outweighing the reward of drafting Sanders, and the virtual certainty he will remain undervalued in drafts and auctions, Decker is a fairly easy choice for me.