- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the great things about pro football -- and, really, sports in general -- is how two experts can have different opinions about the same player. Take Eric Decker, for instance.
Obviously, the New York Jets think highly of Decker, whom they rewarded with a handsome contract to catch footballs for the next five years. On Wednesday, Rex Ryan praised Decker's competitiveness, his route running and his leadership. The player they see on the practice field, Ryan said, is exactly what they expected.
"I think clearly he’s going to be a go-to guy in the fact that we know what we're getting," Ryan said. "This is going to be a guy that you can get him the ball in critical situations. You can get him the ball in the red zone. I think you can see that. Everybody can say [his statistics] are skewed a little bit because of [Peyton] Manning, and that might be true, but I think he did catch eight touchdowns when [Tim] Tebow was quarterback. I think that's pretty impressive."
Actually, Decker caught only four touchdown passes from Tebow in 2011 (his other four scoring receptions came from Kyle Orton), but eight touchdowns for a second-year receiver is no small feat. The point is, the Jets believe Decker is more than a one-quarterback wonder -- meaning Manning -- and they were willing to bet $15 million in guarantees that he'll prosper away from the prolific Denver Broncos offense.
Not everyone agrees.
"I like Decker, but he's a product of the quarterback," said a longtime personnel executive, referring to Manning. "I see him catching 40 or 50 balls for the Jets. He's not a game-breaker. That's why it made no sense [to sign him]. They don't have a quarterback that can help him be that kind of player."
The beautiful thing is, as Ryan likes to say, we get to see how it unfolds. Someone will be right, someone will be wrong.
Decker, in his first face-to-face interview with the New York media, said his two seasons with Manning were "incredible." He credited Manning with making him a better professional by improving his understanding of the game and enhancing his preparation, tricks of the trade that Decker can pass along to his new teammates.
In two seasons with Manning, Decker racked up 2,352 receiving yards (ninth in the NFL) and 24 touchdown catches (tied for third). But now he goes from a future Hall of Famer to Geno Smith and Michael Vick, from the most prolific passing offense in history to the 31st-ranked passing offense. This is where the oft-used Ferrari/Chevy analogy comes in.
"There are only so many greats that play the game," Decker said. "He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, we all know that. My opportunity to play with him was tremendous -- I took so much away from that experience -- but I see a lot of talent in this quarterback room and I'm excited about growing with them."
Decker dismissed the notion that he feels pressure now that he's a No. 1 receiver, claiming, "You know, honestly, when I look at numbers, I don’t see I’m No. 1, he’s No. 2, and he’s No. 3." You'd expect him to say that. The reality is, he no longer has Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker capturing the attention of the defense. Decker will be the primary focus, and that means he'll draw added coverage.