Eric Decker, Answer for Carolina Panthers' Receiving Woes?

One of the most glaring holes in the Panthers’ offense this past season was at receiver. Many draft prognosticators believe Carolina will draft a receiver in the 1st Rd.  Fortunately, 2014 has a deep receiver class makes the potential for drafting a franchise receiver at 28th pick an actual possibility. The addition of a first round talent at such an important skill position will certainly improve our offense. 

How quickly will it be before the rookie addition positively impacts the Carolina’s offense? Immediately?  After two seasons?

Carolina needs to bridge the new and the old.  Steve Smith, Carolina’s franchise #1, is approaching the end of a phenomenal career.  At best, he has one 1-2 years left as the #1 receiving option. He could settle in nicely to a #2 role, but perform more like #1a.  Giving Smitty a little breathing room by relaxing his role offensively may even add a year or two to his career.

A great way for the Panthers to maximize Smith and this future franchise #1 pick would be to add a strong, consistent receiver to serve as an interim #1 during this grooming period. 

Eric Decker would be perfect. 

26 yr old Decker was drafted from the University of Minnesota, after only three years in college.  Decker reached 100 yards receiving 11 times as Golden Gopher and was targeted 354 times. Of those 354 targets, he dropped only 3 passes. That is stunning 99% reception rate.

I once heard Hall of Famer Cris Carter comment that if he dropped more than 3 balls in a season, he would consider it a bad season.  I’m guessing ole CC would deem Decker’s college career successful. 

Decker’s consistent play continued with the Broncos. He has improved statistically each season.  The biggest jump, unsurprisingly, came with the arrival of Peyton Manning, instantly doubling his reception totals.  Decker remained a highly called upon number, even with Wes Welker’s arrival in 2013. Decker was second on the Broncos’ roster with 87 receptions. He averaged almost 15 yards per reception in 2013, and was able to haul in 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons. To put that into perspective, the Panthers were led in receptions (73), receiving touchdowns (6), and receiving yards (816) by tight end Greg Olsen. Those are good numbers for a tight end, but should those be the numbers for your teams leading receiver?

 Many, who question Decker’s ability to be a big time #1 receiver outside of Denver, argue that he will not shine when becoming the focal threat in an offense not manned by Manning. They may be right, but Carolina would not need Decker to be AJ Green or Mike Williams.  It wouldn’t be like Decker was coming into an offense without a proven quarterback either.  Cam Newton demonstrated that he was more than capable by exhibiting, possibly the most underrated characteristic--consistency.  Carolina’s offense doesn’t need to the greatest show on turf.  Carolina needs offensive consistency.  Decker can help them do it. 

 Decker has NFL size at 6’3” 214 lbs. Great hands, quicker than he is fast, runs excellent routes, wide catch radius, total body control, goes up to get ball at highest point, and young, Decker could be a long term option for the Panthers. I see him as a hybrid between Ricky Proehl and Muhsin Muhammad. Now there are some drawbacks. He doesn’t have great speed, running only a 4.56/40yd at the 2010 combine. Decker’s modest speed will make it difficult to maintain separation from defenders who have good coverage skills, and he won’t take many catches to the house.  All those things that Decker’s detractors say, do have merit.  

So why is Decker the answer then? He has enough question marks surrounding him to hopefully keep the price tag down somewhat. I’m not confident Decker will command as much money as many think. GMs may hesitate to look at Decker as a true #1 receiving threat, even though he is the sexiest name on a large list of receiver free agents.  Maybe this says something about this class of free agents more than it does about Decker.  

This means Decker would be a great fit on a team that isn’t looking for a guy that will come in and be the franchise star, but looking for a consistent producer and potential mentor instead.  
Carolina is that franchise.

If Decker came to Carolina, he wouldn’t have the pressure or limelight that comes with the big free agent wide receiver acquisition because he wouldn’t even be the #1 receiver on the team. If the Panthers also drafted a receiver in the 1st or 2nd round, it would signal that Decker wouldn’t need to be the franchise #1 either. It would clarify Decker’s role in Carolina as team player and mentor. Decker would ease the transition from franchise to future by becoming an instant offensive contributor, but also by mentoring the rookie pick.   

This will all come down to cap room. I am hoping the high number of receiver free agents (50), the number of receivers coming out in the draft this year, the Deckers’ critics will keep the free agent market in check.  With properly structured contract, a little Gettleman magic, and the economic laws of supply and demand, the Panthers just could land Decker and end the Panthers’ receiving woes.

 Co-authored by Joe Riollano and Anthony Dunn