Eric Decker Nation’s Top WR

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By Mike Gallagher

Note: for an exclusive interview/in depth profile of Eric Decker produced by The Sports Bank, click here.

When you think of the top wide outs in the nation, Eric Decker probably isn’t the first name coming to mind.  Many would say Marshwan Gilyard of Cincinnati, currently leading the nation in receiving touchdowns.  Mike Williams of Syracuse has been a key part of a Syracuse offense that is much improved and he should get attention for the strides the program has taken.  Jordan Shipley of Texas is 7th in the nation in receiving yards and 2nd in receptions.

Those names definitely garnish the media attention because of the stages and storylines they are a part of.  There in lies the problem with media- tunnel vision. It’s easy and fun to look at big name programs and give them attention, people will eat that up.  It’s much harder to look at perennially average programs that have standout players putting them in the spotlight.  eric_decker2_200baseball

That’s the mold Eric Decker fits into, a guy working hard day in and day out trying to put this program on the national landscape.  He could’ve gone to the diamond, where he was drafted in the 39th round by the Brewers, then the 27th round by the Twins the next year.  He could’ve gone to the NFL draft, where he likely would’ve been a late round pick last year.   He should remind football diehards of Jeff Samardzija, former Notre Dame standout receiver/baseball star.  He made similar catches and his game was comparable to Decker.  Samardzija chose baseball after his senior year and he’s still considered one of the Cubs top pitching prospects.  Decker also came back for his senior year for another run at making memories Minnesota wouldn’t soon forget.

So far he’s succeeded on the football side: third in the nation in both receiving yards and receptions.  He has come up big every game Minnesota has played so far, including two TD catches last week vs. Northwestern.  Memorable catches have been easy to come by.  A bone-jarring hit he took along the sidelines left his chin gashed open against California.  He still hung on for the touchdown.  He’s accounted for nearly 60% of the Gophers air attack this year and has more receiving yards than the entire team has running the football.

Still not convinced?  Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated named him the third best receiver in the nation at the beginning of the year behind Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant and Georgia’s A.J. Green.  Bryant has just 17 catches for 323 yards, while Green has 25 catches for 428 yards.  Decker has 35 catches for 499 yards, both numbers far and away from the one and two on Mandel’s list.
Not only does Decker have the numbers, but as mentioned earlier, he’s doing it on his own.  Unlike Marshwan Gilyard, he doesn’t have Tony Pike, who’s now getting national attention and is 4th in the nation in QB efficiency as well as pass yards.

Jordan Shipley has Heisman hopeful Colt McCoy and is on the second ranked team in the nation.  The aforementioned Mike Williams gets publicity because he’s so close to the biggest story of this year- former Dukie basketball player Greg Paulus, now QB and the man behind the offensive turnaround at Syracuse.

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Eric Decker has no receiver opposite him, no run game, and a quarterback in Adam Weber who’s solid, but far from superlative. His team is just hoping to garnish a few AP poll votes each week.  If it weren’t for Decker, the Gophers may be cellar dwellers in the Big Ten and a bottom ten offense in the nation.

Decker should get serious consideration for the Fred Biletnikoff award when December comes and if there actually were a most valuable to your team award (let’s not get into what the actually Heisman Trophy stands for these days), Decker would have to be right up there as a national finalist as well.

Eric Decker: Minnesota’s Football/Baseball Star

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By Paul M. Banks

Since the early ‘90s, the heyday of athletes starring in both baseball and football, we haven’t heard much about two sport stars. Today’s answer to “Neon” Deion $anders and Bo Jackson is Cold Spring, Minnesota native Eric Decker. He needs just two more catches this fall to tie Ron Johnson for the University of Minnesota’s school record for career receptions. The 6’2”, 215 pound senior with 4.5 speed projects as a 3-4th rounder in most NFL Mock Drafts. In collegiate baseball, he hit .329 this past spring after batting .326 in ’08. He’s been drafted by two Upper Midwestern MLB teams already (the Milwaukee Brewers in the 39th round in 2008, Minnesota Twins in the 27th round this past June).eric_decker2_200

So which sport does he prefer? “If I had to pick one, I’d pick football, there’s something about the game that intrigues me, a special game requiring team work,” Decker told me during my exclusive interview of him at Big Ten Media Day. “Football is an emotional sport where you have to show up on Saturday with the juices flowing, excitement level. And I learned this quick, baseball is the opposite, you got to have a consistent mindset, you’re going to have good at bats and bad at bats, that’s the nature of the game. You got to learn how to control your emotions,” he said in describing the differences between the two games. I mentioned my idea that football is pretty much war and Decker said “Right- yeah, that’s a good point.”

I also asked Decker what he needs to do to take his game to the next level. “Coming off my breaks, and getting off the line, you can always get better at that, and that’s one thing in order to be a great receiver, you have to be able to get off press coverage and get out of your breaks fast,” he responded. Of course, Decker does a lot right already as he broke the school record for single season receptions as a sophomore, and then broke it again (despite missing two games from injury) as a junior. Decker was named All-America honorable mention by SI.com and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season; and move over Tutu Atwell, because Decker is fourth all-time in Minnesota history receiving yards; third in touchdowns.

I asked Decker what the very best part of his game is. “Toughness, competitive drive. I know I’m not the fastest guy, or the strongest, but I definitely won’t back down, and play through the whistle and play that way the whole game,” Decker said sounding like a cross between Tom Petty and the title character in “Rudy”…only with talent, size and speed. ericdecker

This year he’ll be working with a new offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch who comes from the team that features the wideout Decker sees himself in the mold of. I inquired as to who his game compares to. “Brandon Stokely who plays for Denver now, He’s not flashy, but he catches the ball over the middle and has good hands,” he responded. Decker probably has a bright future in either baseball or football, but I think we can guess which sport he’s leaning towards pursuing after graduation.

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