Eric Decker to the New York Jets: Just Crazy Enough to Work?

To the relief of New York Jets fans, the team signed wide receiver Eric Decker after the first two days of free agency passed with barely a whisper from Florham Park.

As reported by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Decker and the team signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with $15 million in guaranteed money.

It’s incredibly hard to get a firm grasp of what to expect from Decker for many reasons.

First, Geno Smith is an unproven quarterback who struggled much of the season, though he improved as the season went on. Any quarterback is a step down from a future Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, but even though Smith could prove to be a very good starter, this is more akin to a stumble down a flight of stairs than a step down.

Can Decker produce? Well, while we can focus on the back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with Manning heaving the ball, we should also remember he caught eight touchdowns and had over 600 yards with Tim Tebow throwing him the ball.

So while he will definitely see a dip in production, it might not be as horrible as many think.

We also should consider that New York is not likely to be done yet. The Jets are very likely to add another free-agent receiver, which will further change his production and potentially his role. Ditto for any addition of a rookie in the upcoming draft.

So let’s talk about what we do know about him and what he can do.

Decker lacks elite speed but is a tough receiver who can come down with contested balls by outmuscling defenders. That makes him a solid red-zone target—something the Jets have lacked for several years.

With Jeremy Kerley mostly in the slot (though with all the injuries, he has shown he can do more), Decker is probably destined more for a role as the “split end” or “X” receiver—a guy normally farthest from the center on his side of the field and often on the opposite side of the field from the tight end.

That means while he will occasionally be asked to go vertical, he’s going to have to get off the jam at the line and could be asked to do some shorter routes as well.

Pro Football Focus tweeted out two charts from some of the material it provides for teams which is worth looking at.

First, it tweeted out a route breakdown for Decker. The chart shows that, out of 87 catches (and 135 targets), Decker was thrown at most on “Go” routes, followed by “Out” routes.

Next, we have Geno Smith’s numbers by route. While Smith threw the ball most on “Hitch” routes, he spread the ball pretty evenly among multiple routes.

He threw specifically to the “Out” route 39 times, completing 20 of those throws or 51.3 percent of them. The completed passes accounted for 278 yards and two touchdowns but also three interceptions.

Smith threw even more often to the receiver on a “Go” route—41 times, his second-highest total after the “Hitch” route. Unfortunately he only completed just 36.6 percent, though he totaled 418 yards (101 after the catch) and six touchdowns. He also threw six interceptions on those plays.

What does this all mean aside from Pro Football Focus teasing us with stats it won’t normally release?

Well, it means Smith and Decker could hook up for quite a few passes, as routes that Decker runs well, Smith tended to throw to.

Again, depending on who else gets pulled into this offense, Decker could see an awful lot of work come his way.

I could absolutely see him grabbing 60-70 balls, totaling somewhere between 700-800 yards and seven or eight touchdowns.

It’s a guess, though, until we see more of the offense come together.

Player Analysis: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

screencap via ABC

Name: Blake Bortles

Class: Redshirt Junior
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 232 lbs.
School: University of Central Florida

Strengths: Bortles is a big-time competitor, a fact reinforced by his willingness to throw and do all the drills at the combine. Appears to have a pretty short memory, allowing him to put a play, a quarter or even a half behind him to keep his team on track. Bortles plays very cool under pressure and was able to pick his team up against both Louisville and Penn State, on the road, for come-from-behind wins. Bortles has shown the ability to throw his receivers open, properly read defenses and deliver a sharply thrown ball. Without a doubt, Bortles has a strong arm, both in terms of making all the throws you want to see from a potential franchise quarterback and delivering the passes with a tight spin and high velocity. When he needs to, though, Bortles does a great job dropping the ball into the bucket. Does a pretty good job of sensing pressure and avoiding the sack, and is a threat to scramble and extend the play or move the chains with his legs as well.

screencap via ABC

Weakness: Bortles’ footwork can be inconsistent, and there are times he doesn’t step into his throws. It’s a testament to how strong an arm he has that he still throws a nice ball even in those cases, but he’s costing himself distance and it certainly factors into his occasionally spotty accuracy. With improvements to technique he could do a lot more with his arm so he still has room to maximize his ability. While he has shown the ability to read defenses, it is still a work in progress, as Bortles will misread a defense or coverage and he will fail to look off defenders. While Bortles is cool in the pocket, under pressure his technique suffers and you’ll see accuracy and patience start fading. Having frequently worked out of the shotgun and in an offense which favored shorter, high percentage passes, Bortles will have to prove he can adapt and deliver the long ball consistently at the pro level. On top of that, many of his throws were on one-read plays and he will have to learn how to make his progressions swiftly and wisely before delivering the ball. Bortles had some fumbling issues this past year as well and he will have to improve that. While he played very well overall, at times he faltered against top-level teams. While he has the physical traits you like in a quarterback, Bortles is very raw and, as he admitted himself at the combine, he has a lot to learn, so a team may have to be very patient.

Intangibles:  Everything you hear about Bortles is positive, from his leadership on the field to his work ethic off it.  He’s clearly a very savvy football player and while some might not want to hear a potential #1 overall pick admit to flaws, it speaks well of him that he can admit he’s not perfect—especially when the other quarterbacks around him are often talking themselves up. Most importantly for a guy like Bortles is that short memory mentioned under “strengths” because a raw player is going to make mistakes. Being able to forget them right after they happen is critical—there is enough time later for examining how you screwed up, while dwelling on a mistake can lead to more mistakes. As mentioned before, teams took note of his willingness to throw in Indianapolis, while other top quarterbacks—Bridgewater, Manziel and Carr—chose to wait for their pro days. That competitive

screencap via ESPN

spirit will raise his stature in the eyes of some in NFL front offices.

Notes: Overall, Bortles is a guy who doesn’t have the upside of Johnny Manziel, but his floor is a lot higher. Less of a boom or bustcandidate, teams may lean towards him over a more volatile player like Manziel or another player with raw abilities, but less upside such as Derek Carr. I came away from his press conference impressed—this is a player who knows he has work to do but is sure he can pull it off. The more I heard him talk, and the more I listened to what Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien had to say, the more it feels like Houston/Bortles is a great fit.

That’s not to say that Bortles is the most talented player in the draft—that remains Jadeveon Clowney—and in fact he’s not even the most talented quarterback (that is Teddy Bridgewater, who at this point is almost underrated).

Merely that O’Brien is looking for a fit and Bortles may be the best one he could find to play under center.

I will admit I went into analysis on Bortles almost begrudgingly—I found his early hype a bit ridiculous. However, four games into the study, I was sold. Blake Bortles has questions and is not a sure-thing under center. But I have seen enough to say that he has a lot of skill and in the right situation, with the right coaching staff, he can be an NFL starter for a long time.

Fit and patience will be critical, but Bortles has the raw tools.

Player Analysis: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Name: Johnny Manziel

Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 207 lbs.
School: Texas A&M

Strengths: Manziel’s game is predicated on mobility, as his ability to move outside the pocket is outstanding and he is far more comfortable throwing on the move than staying home in the pocket. However, Manziel also made some big improvements as a pocket passer this past season, though there is still room for improvement. Manziel told the media at the Combine that while sometimes you need to move outside of the pocket “I want to be a guy who can drop back and go through my progressions, go through my reads and really take what’s given to me by the defense.” Manziel does do a good job of keeping his eyes downfield even when scrambling and can look a defender off when moving, so that he can get a receiver open. Manziel is not afraid to throw the ball up and let his receiver make a play, something he did frequently with Mike Evans in 2013. While he wants to continue to be a mobile quarterback, Manziel has acknowledged that he will have to play smarter in the NFL to stay healthy, telling the press at the combine,

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

“You have to be on the field, you have to be healthy to be a great player. Stay healthy, be able to slide, pick your poison really when you need to go out and get a first down and when you need to do some things. Stay healthy, slide when you need to and have better ball security, which is what I’m working on as well.”  Manziel isn’t a big guy but he has large hands, which should help him with ball security. Quite often played big in big situations during his collegiate career and finds a way to sustain drives when his team needs him to. Was wildly successful in his two years starting.

Weakness: While he has worked on his pocket-passing skills, Manziel still leaves the pocket too early at times. His height and build are concerns given his tendency to run and whether he can stay healthy in the NFL is a big concern. Was able to have Evans bail him out on big throws, but needs to be more picky about when he risks it, and may lack a receiver like Evans at the next level making those throws more dangerous. Manziel has not done a ton of work under center, and will need to further adjust an already sometimes questionable technique. While he can stretch a play out, he sometimes does it for too long—occasionally tossing up some ill-advised passes. There are times he just needs to get rid of the ball and he hasn’t done so consistently. While he had a great two years at A&M,  it was only two years so his experience as a collegiate starter is minimal. As he mentioned at the combine, learning to slide, staying healthy and ball security are things he is working on. The biggest concern from a football standpoint comes down to whether he can adapt to the speed of the NFL and overcome issues with his height. A guy like Russell Wilson is a success because he does a tremendous job lining up his offensive line to give himself passing lanes to see through. Can Manziel learn to do that, or something like it? That’s a real concern.

Screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Intangibles: Much has been made of Manziel’s off-the-field lifestyle in college—maybe too much.  It’s hard to begrudge a young man some fun in college, but the real issue is whether he can become an adult and a professional and put funtime aside now that college is over.  Certainly there have been many kids coming out of college under less of a spotlight who failed. Manziel was adamant that his college time is over and he;s ready to work, saying at the combine, “I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line.” Manziel passed on numerous chances to get his face in front of the camera during the Super Bowl and declined, deciding instead to remain focused on football and improving his game. That speaks volumes to me. There have also been questions about how much he is dedicated to football and how hard he works. Without being at Texas A&M when he works, all I can do is relay what I have been told and what I have read.  I have heard plenty from people who say Manziel is a hard worker and puts in a ton of time during the week.  While I may not have all the inside scoop, I’ve heard enough to think that he has every intention (and ability) to put in the hours to get better. Of course, as they say on Game of Thrones: words are wind. He will have to prove it.

Notes:  A lot has been written about who Manziel is and what he’s about. It’s hard to avoid getting swept up in the persona we see in the media and have relayed to us via media repeating things agenda driven scouts tell them.  This is not to dismiss Manziel’s off-field issues. Prior to seeing him speak at the combine, Manziel came off to me as a bit of an entitled brat. Certainly you aren’t out of your mind tho think that if he changes, maybe he reverts once he gets to his goals. But if you get past the narrative, there’s a lot more to him and I feel as though we are writing him off unfairly from a personality standpoint. That said, there are issues from a football standpoint which are also a concern, not the least of which is the fundamental question of whether he can avoid injury and make better decisions.

Of the quarterbacks in this class, I feel Manziel has the highest ceiling and the most exciting upside. However, his floor is lower than either Bridgewater or Bortles as well. A team will have to build an offense around him in a way you don’t need to with other quarterbacks and while some could, overall that’s not a tendency a lot of NFL coaches have.

All that said, if in the right spot, Manziel has the chance to be a tremendous quarterback in the NFL and for that upside, I’ve ranked him as high as I have.

2014 NFL Combine: Denver Broncos GM John Elway Recap

On Friday, Denver Broncos GM John Elway took the podiumto talk about the disappointing Super Bowl loss, but an exciting year for Broncos football.

Here is a bit of his press conference along with some of my thoughts on what he said.

2014 NFL Combine: New York Jets HC Rex Ryan and GM John Idzik

If there is a microphone anywhere at an NFL event, chances are Rex Ryan is in front of it. While this season has seen less of Boisterous Rex, he is still good for a quote or two. He was still a bit subdued during his press conference in Indianapolis, but seemed more relaxed than he had all season. General manager John Idzik is always reserved and you’ll get very little out of him.

Here are my thoughts on what they said – or rather didn’t – at the NFL Combine.