It would be smart for New England Patriots fans to slow their roll and temper expectations for their team’s latest signing.
Decker is a recognizable name, and he has a history of playing in coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense. This has some Patriots fans greeting Decker’s addition with high expectations. And Decker certainly could beat out other receivers on the Patriots’ roster and find a role in 2018. But he’s by no means a lock to make it.
Decker is competing with wide receivers Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, Malcolm Mitchell and Paul Turner for roster spots behind Julian Edelman (suspended for the first four games of the season), Chris Hogan and Matthew Slater.
Nothing is set in stone in that group, but Dorsett has had a strong training camp, Britt is well liked inside the organization, and Patterson provides special teams value as a kick returner and a gunner. It was assumed that one of Berrios or McCarron also would make the roster since they can return punts, and that’s a role the Patriots will need to fill while Edelman is serving his four-game ban.
Decker throws a wrench in what we might have expected, however. Not only is he a slot option for when Edelman is out, but he also has experience — albeit limited — as a punt returner. We’ll see if the Patriots view him as an option in that role, but he has 10 career returns for 168 yards with one touchdown. The Patriots have tried out running back Rex Burkhead, wide receiver Chris Hogan and safety Patrick Chung in that role, and they all have less pro experience than Decker. Cornerback Cyrus Jones, who’s still on the physically unable to perform list, also could return punts if he makes the roster.
Decker was solid but not spectacular last year in his first season with the Tennessee Titans. He caught 54 passes for 563 yards with one touchdown while spending 51 percent of his snaps in the slot. He had an injury-shortened season in 2016 but is two years removed from a 1,000-yard, 12-touchdown campaign in 2015 with the New York Jets.
It’s entirely possible Decker could revive his career and beat out one of the Patriots’ young slot receivers for a spot. But we felt the same way about Matthews when he signed, and look how that turned out.
Decker certainly is an intriguing signing that will pique the interest of Patriots fans. But let’s wait to see how he looks in camp before deciding if he’s the next Brandon Lloyd or the next Joey Galloway.
Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images