Taking stock of what Eric Decker will bring the Patriots


FOXBORO -- Eric Decker will soon officially be a member of the Patriots, but it's hard to say for sure how he'll fit in. There are so many dynamics at play for receivers thrust into new situations, it makes predictions impossible. 

How well will Decker connect with Tom Brady? How quickly will he adjust to the offense? What will the learning curve be like for Decker as it relates to Patriots passing concepts and terminology? 

Before we find out how Decker handles all of those variables at his new home, here are five things we can safely say Decker's acquisition brings to New England's offense...

1) Depth. The Patriots were hurting at receiver before bringing Decker aboard. Though they had numbers there, they were one more injury away from being in a relatively dire situation. Now with Decker the Patriots might be able to more freely deploy their receivers in practices without the added concern of overworking them. Staffers will still keep a close eye on individual workloads -- especially with temperatures where they were Thursday -- but having one more body in the mix lightens the load for all others. We'll see how quickly Decker factors into first-team reps with Brady and alongside other receivers like Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman. The Patriots can also turn to Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner while Malcolm Mitchell and Kenny Britt continue to work their way back from injuries. 


2) Size. Bill Belichick has a go-to line whenever he's asked about what he's looking for from his receivers: Get open and catch the football. Simple enough. And we'll see how well Decker does with the first half of that saying. He's 31 years old, and he's coming off of a season in Tennessee when he put up a career-low in yards per catch (10.4; 54 receptions, 563 yards). But Decker might not have to be open to catch the football. At 6-foot-3 and with good body control, his frame makes him a difficult matchup for smaller corners. In 2015, Decker's 1,000-plus yard season with the Jets, he racked up five catches on nine targets for 82 yards at Gillette Stadium. Last year, in the Divisional Round against the Patriots, when matched up against the smaller Butler and Jonathan Jones, Decker caught all four of his targets for 51 yards. 

3) Red-zone presence. Even if Decker isn't the athlete he was in his prime in Denver, he can be a reliable red-zone target. His frame and catch radius could make him a viable threat deep in enemy territory where space gets tight and it becomes harder to separate from defenders because of the real estate available. Decker has 38 career red-zone touchdowns, and he's tied with Rob Gronkowski with 34 red-zone scores since 2012. Only Jimmy Graham (42), Dez Bryant (35) and Brandon Marshall (35) have more, per ESPN. Decker is 10th among active receivers with 54 career scores.


4) Slot experience. Decker ran 46.9 percent of his routes from the slot last year in Tennessee, per Pro Football Focus. In 2015 with the Jets, that number was up at 68.3 percent. He had a little more positional versatility in Denver, but he was still one of the game's most efficient slot targets in 2013, catching 80 percent of his passes. With Jordan Matthews on IR and out of the mix, adding a bigger slot like Decker made sense for Bill Belichick. Decker doesn't have to play exclusively inside, but if he can pick up the offense fairly quickly, that may be where the Patriots want him -- especially during the first four weeks of the regular season when their best interior option will be suspended. 

5. Familiarity. Decker has played nine career games against the Patriots, including two playoff games. He's caught 36 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns so the Patriots coaching staff knows what he can do when he's right. But more importantly Decker will have some familiarity with them. He was drafted to the Broncos in the third round in 2010 by then Denver head coach Josh McDaniels. Though they had just one year together, if Decker is able to remember any of the verbiage or philosophies McDaniels employed, that may make things slightly more manageable for Decker as he enters into Patriots training camp without the benefit of a full offseason in the system.

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