Unfortunately, I missed the second half of the third round of the NFL Draft Friday night. I had to leave midway through to see the Caleb Truax fight, but I was quickly alerted when the Denver Broncos took Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker with the 23rd pick of the round.
When I initially heard the news, I thought he couldn’t land in a better place, but after thinking about it for a few days, I’m simply torn on whether or not he should be thrilled.
My gut reaction is that he has a chance to start — the dream for any NFL hopeful — as a slot receiver for the Broncos.
In fact, he could have several different looks in the playbook of a team without a legitimate No. 1 target.
Eddie Royal is a proven wide receiver entering his third season in Denver, but he’s no Steve Smith (Carolina) or DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia). Receivers shorter than six feet tall (Royal is 5 feet 10 inches) rarely find success as a team’s top receiver.
The Broncos’ best option for a No. 1 receiver will likely be first-round pick Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech. But he will be a rookie just like Decker, so nothing is guaranteed.
I’m not saying Decker will outplay Thomas and Royal in training camp, but the departure of three-year receiving leader Brandon Marshall will allow Decker to play a more important role.
One problem for the former Gopher is that training camp will be a make-or-break opportunity for Decker, considering he must prove he has overcome the left-foot injury that ended his senior season. The major issue scouts had with Decker was his speed, and I find it hard to believe he gained any explosiveness when he spent ample time on crutches.
What the Broncos lack in a top wideout, they make up for in depth and experience. Brandon Stokley (12 years pro) and Jabar Gaffney (nine years) are on the Broncos’ current depth chart ahead of Decker. It might be tough for Decker to steal time from either, but at least he can learn the game from two guys who have played in the Super Bowl.
Personally, I think Decker will see some playing time. Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is an offensive guru, and if he wanted Decker in Denver, then he must have had a reason to spend a third-round pick on the Cold Spring, Minn., native.
But McDaniels is one of two legitimate reasons I’m worried about Decker going to Denver. Entering his second season as the head coach, McDaniels has already almost single-handedly destroyed the team by trading its two best players because he couldn’t handle their egos.
Shortly after taking the reins following the 2008 season, McDaniels announced he wanted to bring in quarterback Matt Cassel, who had impressed as an interim starter for New England. This upset then-Pro Bowl-starter Jay Cutler, a 4,500-yard passer in 2008. He demanded his trade and got his wish, leaving the Broncos with Kyle Orton.
Don’t get me wrong; Orton isn’t the worst quarterback in the NFL. But McDaniels felt he needed to bring in Brady Quinn and draft Tim Tebow. I think Orton will be the starter, but quarterback parity won’t benefit Decker.
And then there is the trade of Marshall (three straight 100-catch, 1,000-yard seasons). Sure, it might have played a role in bringing in Decker, but Denver is not even close to being a playoff team, in my mind.
Yes, Denver is a better football town than most and probably a better city, too. But it might be a tough transition for Decker from a players’ coach in Tim Brewster (yes, players have actually told me this) to a coach who doesn’t seem to care about his players (see Marshall and Cutler).
Also, there will be season-long media frenzy around the Broncos because of Tebow, who already leads the list of top-selling rookie jerseys. Tebow is basically a mini Tiger Woods as far as media attention goes. This could either be good, in the sense that Decker will receive no publicity, or annoying, because he’ll be forced to constantly talk about Tebow.
By my count, the Decker-to-Denver scoreboard is at 2-2 (chance to start and desired player vs. Tebow and McDaniels), with Stokley’s presence being a moot point because he will make Decker better but limit his playing time.
I’m sure Decker would have been happier to stay in Minnesota or go to a contender, but he will play for one of the most prolific NFL franchises of all time.
That is, of course, unless he drops a fork in the cafeteria, and McDaniels trades him. Or until he realizes that he could be a better pro quarterback than Tebow. For Decker’s sake, I wish that last one was a joke.
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