When breaking down the receivers with the most touchdown receptions since 2010, you have those you'd expect-- Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall-- Then, there's a player that doesn't appear to belong.
With 43 touchdowns in the last five years, Jets wideout Eric Decker ranks fourth.
"That's a lot of touchdowns," Decker said Wednesday when told of the stat. "Product of (Broncos quarterback) Peyton Manning, all because of Peyton, right?"
Decker's remarks stem from the harsh criticisms thrown his way when he entered the free-agent market two years ago. Originally selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Decker spent the first four years of his career with the Denver Broncos, and the final two of those four with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
In those two seasons, Decker thrived. Setup in a pass-happy offense with fellow wideouts Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, Decker caught 172 passes for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. His 13 receiving touchdowns in 2012 were the most of any receiver in the AFC.
But despite his impressive statistics, Denver never made a big effort to bring him back following the 2013 season, electing instead to sign Emmanuel Sanders. Decker didn't enter free agency coveted, but rather labeled 'overrated.' Critics said the 6-4, 214-pound pass catcher wasn't anywhere near as good as his numbers indicated, not even close.
"I think he's a marginal No. 2 at best," NFL analyst Mark Schlereth said in an interview on 98.7 ESPN Radio shortly after Decker's signing. "The worst cover guy you have on your defense is assigned to Eric Decker every week."
Quietly, Decker made his way to the wideout-needy Jets where he signed a five-year contract worth roughly $37 million. Now 21 games into his New York career, Decker has shown all he's not a product of Peyton Manning, but instead, well, he's actually just a good player.
Despite being hampered by a nagging hamstring injury all of last season, Decker still finished 2014 catching 74 passes for 962 yards and five scores. This year, in six games, he's caught six 30 passes for 393 yards and has already matched his touchdown total from a season ago. Those five scores rank third-highest in the NFL this year... and Decker has already missed one game, and the Jets have already had their bye week.
While Decker may not have the same astronomically high reception total as others in the league, or nearly as many yards, where he's made his mark with the Jets is in the area of the game he believes is most important: Scoring.
Decker has scored a touchdown in all but one game this year. He's been a dominant force in the red zone, with every one of those scores coming from 15 yards or closer.
"I've always stressed, when you get into that red area, when you get into that zone, you always wanna finish with touchdowns," Decker said. "When I get an opportunity, I wanna take it. It's not in particular, but there's a focus and you understand the situation."
Decker said that once an offense gets inside the 20 yard line, the technical aspect of the game because a bit more important than athletic ability. Everything in the red zone is "faster" and the windows "open and close" much quicker. It's not nearly as easy, but that's what he loves about it.
While there are plenty of receivers out there faster, taller, and with more pure athletic ability than Decker, few are as fine-tuned to the details of the game.
"Deck's the best," Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said via the team's website. "He never just straight up answers you (when asking about routes.) He never says like, 'Oh, I'll go left.' He'll be like, 'What month did this game happen in and what's the down and distance and where is the sun? Is it north, or south, of the stadium?"
This year, Decker's on pace to catch 68 passes for 898 yards and 11 touchdowns. Not bad in an offense that also features Brandon Marshall and is predicated on running the ball with Chris Ivory, as opposed to airing it out 50 times a game.
And in 2015, Decker is just as happy with the numbers he's posting as he was in 2013 and 2014. He also enjoys the fact those are beginning to realize he was never just a "product of Peyton."
It's actually pretty obvious now:
Decker's a product of Fitzpatrick.
"Of course," he said with a laugh.
This article will also appear in Saturday's edition of The Journal Inquirer