In the past week, two extremely talented wide receivers have become available. Jeremy Maclin was released by the Chiefs last Friday, while Eric Decker is on the trade block and will be cut if the Jets can’t find a partner.
Maclin has already begun his parading around the league, visiting both the Ravens and Bills – though he left both facilities without a contract – while Decker waits to discover where he’ll be playing in 2017.
There are at least 10 teams that could use either player, but who’s the better target? We’ve constructed a tale of the tape below.
Red zone: Decker
Decker has been one of the best red-zone threats in the NFL throughout his career. He has 52 touchdowns in six-plus seasons – 51 of which came since 2011 – and only three wide receivers in that span have reached the end zone more than Decker: Dez Bryant (61), Jordy Nelson (57) and Brandon Marshall (54).
Yet, because he doesn’t have elite athleticism or speed, Decker tends to get overlooked as one of the top receivers in the game. Maclin, on the other hand, has just 32 touchdowns since 2011 and 46 in his career. In 2016, he scored only two touchdowns for the Chiefs.
Decker has three seasons of at least 11 touchdown receptions, meanwhile Maclin has none. Some of that has to do with playing for the Peyton Manning-led Broncos, but Decker had 12 scores with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterback.
He’s a real weapon who knows how to get open inside the 20 thanks to his big frame and ability to find holes in zone coverage. He simply knows where the defense won’t be in the end zone and gets open to give his quarterback an easy throw.
Maclin is clearly the better athlete. He ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the Combine, while Decker clocked only a 4.54. Still a respectable time, but Maclin is the more explosive receiver with better top-end speed and quickness.
You can see that on tape, too. Decker isn’t shifty or fast enough to strike fear in opposing cornerbacks. Maclin is. When he lines up across from you, you have to worry about him going deep and beating you on a fly route.
Maclin’s vertical of 35.5 inches is about average, and he won’t win by going over the top of defenders, but it’s good enough for his 6-1 frame. Overall, Maclin is the bigger threat on offense because of his speed and quickness, which are two things Decker lacks. Decker does make up for it with field vision and reliability after the catch (just one fumble since 2014).
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
Decker hardly played in 2016 due to hip and shoulder surgeries, which could play into the hands of whichever team lands him. He’s been medically cleared and is good to go, but his asking price will be lower as a result of the procedures.
He was making $7.25 million per year with the Jets whereas Maclin was making $11 million per year, so there’s a clear price difference. Additionally, Decker is coming off a lost season, so teams will be seeking a prove-it deal for the veteran wideout – something short-term with a lot of incentives.
Maclin, on the other hand, is one year younger and is more versatile, meaning he fits more teams offensively. He won’t necessarily get a long-term deal on the open market, but it’ll almost certainly be in the range of $8 million-$9 million per year. Decker will be lucky to get $5 million per year if he’s released.
This was a bit of a toss-up, but ultimately, I give the edge to Decker because of his overall body of work. Yes, he missed 13 games in 2016 and underwent two major surgeries. However, outside of last season, he’s missed just four games in his career. That’s a tiny number for a wide receiver, and none of his previous injuries was significant.
Maclin missed four games last season and another one in 2015, which isn’t a huge deal, admittedly. He did miss all of 2013 with a torn ACL – the second time he suffered that brutal injury. The first came at Missouri in 2010, so he does have a history of knee injuries. He also missed three games in 2011 due to a shoulder sprain and had a hamstring injury that same season.
Both players have their share of past injuries, but Decker has been medically cleared and shouldn’t suffer any ill effects from his two procedures.
Scheme versatility: Maclin
Maclin can line up anywhere on the field and have success – a big plus for a wide receiver. Decker has primarily been a slot receiver throughout his career, thriving in that role. However, for a team looking to add a boundary wideout, Maclin is the guy for the job. He can fit in multiple schemes based on his athleticism and route running, though he was most productive in Doug Pederson’s offense where receivers were put in motion often.
Decker’s at his best against zone where he can find the holes, sit down in the void and make a play after the catch. He doesn’t have the speed or precise route running to separate as easily as Maclin in man coverage, but against zone, he’s a killer.
Still, Maclin gets the nod here because of his ability to line up wherever you need him. Getting the ball in his hands on screens, quick slants and short routes works best because of how electric he is in the open field. Decker relies on his hands and vision more.
Decker has been one of the most consistent wideouts in the game since 2011. Excluding this past season, Decker has caught at least 74 passes for 962 yards in each of the past four years with 41 touchdowns in that span. Maclin has just 123 more yards and 11 fewer touchdowns in the past five seasons than Decker … in six additional games.
When healthy, Decker is the more productive player. He’s almost always going to approach 10 touchdowns and have at least 70 catches, whereas Maclin can lay an egg the way he did in 2016 with just 44 catches and 536 yards in 12 games. Injuries played a role in that, but that’s not an excuse for those paltry numbers.
Route running: Maclin
If your team has a quarterback who needs his receivers to separate easily, Maclin is the better option. With his quickness and speed, he’s able to get in and out of his breaks smoothly without much wasted movement, which allows him to separate from defenders both across the middle and on out-breaking routes.
Decker isn’t as good of a route runner and doesn’t create as much separation for his quarterback, particularly in man coverage. He does run solid routes against zone coverage, but many teams stick a cornerback on the slot receiver and let him shadow in coverage.
Maclin can run a more diverse route tree, too, whether it’s from the slot or as an X receiver. That’s a big plus because it allows the offensive coordinator to get more creative and dynamic in his play calling. That’s a big plus for Maclin.
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Eric Decker: 4
Jeremy Maclin: 3
Decker seems like the better option based on price, past production and consistency.