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This year, both will be stars.
Thomas and Decker are elite talents, but they were never going to be elite Fantasy receivers with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Tebow might have a knack for winning games, but he was never going to turn his receivers into winning Fantasy options.
Enter Peyton Manning, and the value for Thomas and Decker has risen dramatically. It all coincides with both entering their third year in the NFL, and both are poised for a breakout campaign. The prediction here is Thomas and Decker will each have a career season.
We'll start with Thomas, who has the higher ceiling. Go back to his rookie year in 2010 when he was selected ahead of Dez Bryant in the first round of the NFL Draft. The expectation right away was for Thomas to be a star, but he's struggled with injuries in the first two years of his career.
He finally showed flashes last season with Tebow, closing the year with double digits in Fantasy points in three of his final five games. He also had the amazing playoff performance against the Steelers with four catches for 204 yards and the game-winning 80-yard touchdown in overtime. For the season, Thomas had 32 catches for 551 yards and four touchdowns.
Thomas has the potential to be a No. 1 Fantasy option and he is being drafted in Round 4 as the No. 15 receiver based on Average Draft Position. He should easily live up to that draft position and Manning is excited about his new No. 1 target.
"He's a guy we're going to feature," Manning said of Thomas in the Denver Post. "His size and strength and speed just allow you to do certain things with him that other players just can't do. … I look forward just to get more and more comfortable with (Thomas)"
The new offense in Denver should help Thomas dramatically. The Broncos are going to throw the ball at a much higher rate and Thomas should thrive.
Thomas only had three games with double digits in targets in 2011 and finished with one 100-yard game and two touchdowns over that span. Imagine what he could do with 16 games of seeing double digits in passes.
"I have high expectations, but I'm not going to project myself to do anything more than pick up where I left off at the end of last season and get better," Thomas told NFL.com. "You know with Peyton, the future Hall of Famer, just watching him with the Colts, he spread the ball out to all of his receivers. I should have plenty of opportunities. ... I've heard from older players that if he trusts you, you're going to have a great year."
Manning already appears to trust Decker. The two hooked up for two touchdowns in the third preseason game against the 49ers, and Decker is the hot name heading into Labor Day weekend.
Decker is being drafted in Round 6 as the No. 23 receiver and that's a great spot for him. His value might be slightly higher in PPR leagues since he could lead the Broncos in receptions. But make no mistake, Thomas should be drafted ahead of Decker since he has the potential for a better year even though both should shine.
Decker played well in 2011 as he bridged the transition from Kyle Orton to Tebow. Decker had two games with double digits in Fantasy points when Orton was the starter and four with Tebow. He finished the season with 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.
He now gets a significant upgrade in Manning, and the two have developed an instant rapport. Decker's teammates have noticed a change in his approach this year.
"He's grown so much this summer,'' Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said in USA Today. "Eric's hit that level where he can take off at any moment because he works hard. He wants it. He just has to stay healthy. He wants to be the best."
We can see big things for Thomas and Decker this season. They could be Manning's next version of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. And here's what Thomas and Decker are looking at if you believe in that comparison.
Harrison had at least 82 catches, 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns every year from 1999-2006 with Manning as his quarterback. He had four years with at least 100 catches, three years with at least 1,500 receiving yards and two years with 15 touchdowns.
Wayne had at least 75 catches, 1,100 yards and five touchdowns every year from 2004-10. He had three years with at least 100 catches, three years with at least 1,300 receiving yards and three years with at least 10 touchdowns.
Granted, that was when Manning was in his prime and not coming off sitting out a season following multiple neck surgeries at 36 years old. But the potential is there for Thomas and Decker to fill the role of Harrison and Wayne as Manning's go-to guys in his supporting cast.
We're excited for Thomas and Decker this season, and they are definitely worth drafting based on their current ADP. They might even prove to be Draft Day bargains if they have the breakout campaigns we're expecting. This is going to be a good year for Denver's passing game.