Although he led the team in receiving across the board last year, things certainly could have gone much better for Broncos receiver Eric Decker on an individual basis.
During the first four games last season, Decker had 20 receptions for 262 yards and four touchdowns. Had he maintained that pace over the course of a full season, Decker would have finished with a very respectable line of 80 receptions for 1,048 yards and a ridiculous 16 touchdowns.
Instead Decker finished the season with team highs of only 44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.
While he was on track to have a breakout season, a quarterback switch from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow in Week 5 completely derailed any chance of that.
In the final 12 games of the season with Tebow under center, Decker had a total of only 24 receptions for 350 yards and four touchdowns. During those 12 games, Decker had only one game with more than three receptions.
Starting in Week 13 of the regular season, Demaryius Thomas became Tebow's go-to receiver as he finished with at least 75 receiving yards in six of the final seven games counting the playoffs.
Decker was tied with San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis and Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith for 54th in the league in targets (95) last year.
As you might imagine, there was a fairly significant difference in Decker's targets before and after Tebow became the starter. In the first four games, Decker was targeted 38 times (9.5 per game). In his final 12 games with Tebow, Decker averaged only 4.75 (not always accurate) targets per game.
While Thomas did not play in any of the first four games, the team's No. 1 receiver during that span was Brandon Lloyd, who was later traded to the Rams. While Lloyd missed one of those games, he also averaged nine targets in the three games he played during that span.
Going into 2012 with one of the NFL's all-time greatest passers under center, this pair of Broncos receivers should both be highly productive. Although Tebow had tons of intangibles and led the Broncos to the second round of the playoffs, the Broncos averaged a league-low 26.8 pass attempts per game last year.
While opposing defenses will more often roll coverage toward Thomas, Decker is a big receiver (6-3, 218 pounds), athletic and a good route-runner and will benefit from Thomas' presence.
In an MMQB article earlier this summer, SI's Peter King wrote, "Decker's a potential star trolling the middle, sure to be among the league leaders in receptions if healthy for 16 games."
(Strength of) Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last year by all of the Broncos' opponents this year, Decker and the Broncos' receivers have a middle-of-the-road (17th-most favorable) schedule from a fantasy perspective and 25th-most favorable in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16).
The Broncos face the Raiders, Ravens and Browns in Weeks 14, 15 and 16, respectively. The Ravens and Browns are two of the four teams in the league that allowed less than 200 passing yards per game last year.
Both Thomas and Decker have the potential to have big seasons in an offense that should go from last in the league in pass attempts to the top five or 10 teams this year. Decker was on the verge of a breakout before the quarterback transition last year and this will be the year that he breaks out. Although I have Thomas ranked higher in my fantasy rankings, it wouldn't surprise me if Decker leads the team in receiving, again, this year.
Projection: (Receiving) 75 Receptions, 1,050 Yards, 5 TDs
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