Much to the surprise of fantasy football owners across the nation, the New York Jets had one of the most dynamic passing offenses in the league in 2015. After years of the Jets only fantasy value coming in the form of defenses, kickers, and running backs, the Jets receivers took center stage last year. For the lucky owners who took Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker a few rounds later than they should have gone, they were able to reap the rewards of anti-Jets fantasy bias. That won’t be the case in 2016.
After an injury riddled 2014 season with the Bears, Marshall was traded to the Jets for pennies on the dollar. With Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterbacks going into the 2015 season, few expected that he would be able to return to his all-star ways. Instead, Marshall went out and put up the best season by a receiver in Jets franchise history and arguably the best of his career. In his first season as a Jet, he hauled in 109 receptions for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns.
After coming to the Jets in the 2014 offseason, it was said that Decker would be unable to match the numbers he put up in Denver with Geno Smith throwing to him instead of Peyton Manning. In 2014 despite being hampered by a hamstring injury he suffered in the preseason, he still managed to put up decent numbers catching 74 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns with Smith under center. Going into last season many expected his production to drop even further with Brandon Marshall taking over as the primary option. What those people didn’t realize is that Marshall’s targets weren’t going to come at Decker’s expense, but would instead be compromised from the vast number of targets that went to the Jets other receivers. With Marshall across the field from him drawing the attention of opposing defenses, Decker had one of the most productive seasons of any receiver in the league. With Fitzpatrick as his QB, he caught 80 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns, which was good enough for him to be the 10th ranked WR in none PPR leagues.
In 2016 it will be unrealistic to expect the Jets receivers to replicate their extraordinary production of the year before. Last season Decker and Marshall combined to from the most productive receiving duo in the league. They still have that potential, but there are a number of factors that point towards it being more difficult to repeat their numbers.
First there is their strength of schedule. The Jets benefited from a pretty easy schedule last season, and they are being rewarded for that this year with one of the most difficult schedules in the league. The Jets have seven games this year against teams that made the playoffs in 2015, and that doesn’t include games against the Ravens and Colts who had down years last season as a result of being decimated by injuries. The Jets difficult schedule is amplified by the fact that five of their seven games against playoff teams come in their first six games. During this stretch the Jets will play four of last years best defenses in the Bengals, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Cardinals. If the Jets receivers get off to a slow start in these six games, your team may not be able to bounce back.
Another factor that could impact Marshall and Decker’s fantasy production is the addition of Matt Forte. Towards the end of last season Bilal Powell became a major factor in the Jets offense, with a large part of his production coming as a receiver out of the backfield. With Forte being one of the best dual threat backs in NFL history, his presence means that the Jets now have two excellent receiving options out of the backfield, which could take away a decent number of targets from the Jets receivers. However, the flipside of this is that the threat that Forte and Powell represent in the backfield will prevent teams from double teaming Decker and Marshall because they will have to pay more attention to the backfield out of fear of being dink and dunked to death.
The third factor is the development of the Jets secondary receiving options. Quincy Enunwa was starting to turn into a clutch playmaker at the end of last season, and so far this summer we have been hearing nothing but rave reviews about his development. Then there is Jace Amaro who is returning after being forced to miss the entire 2015 season with an injury. For all his faults as a blocking tight end, Amaro is a dangerous weapon as a receiver. If he is able to get over his tendency to drop passes then it is safe to presume he will play a large role in this offense. Either way, its guaranteed that his presence means the Jets will be targeting their tight ends far more than they did last season.
While all three of these factors point towards a drop in production from Marshall and Decker, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth taking high in your draft. Fantasy Football is more and more becoming a receiver driven game, and the Jets will still have two of the best in 2016. There is also something that many fantasy football pundits have been overlooking, the absence of Chris Ivory. Ivory’s violently powerful running made him an excellent option close to the goal line. With him now down in Jacksonville, the Jets elite-receiving duo should see an increase in their already high number of red zone targets. So while the increase in options for the Jets offense could mean fewer targets for Marshall and Decker, Ivory’s absence could lead to them scoring even more touchdowns this year.
Marshall is extremely confident that he will be able to duplicate, if not exceed the numbers he put up last year. For proof of this you must only look at the car bet he made with Antonio Brown. Barring an injury to Brown its an almost certainty that he will lose that bet, but you should still feel confident drafting him and knowing that you’ll be getting at least a Top-10 fantasy receiver. Marshall is still one of the most gifted receivers in the game, and with Calvin Johnson’s retirement, he will carry the torch for the elder statesmen receivers in the league.
With Decker I’m expecting his numbers to drop, but not by much. Where last season he was the 10th ranked fantasy receiver, I’m anticipating he will fall back closer to 20th. However, it is not hard to imagine him doing much better. While the presence of Forte could mean a drop in targets, Decker will be the primary beneficiary of defenses having to pay closer attention to the backfield in passing situations. Teams will no longer be able to double team both Decker and Marshall like they did at times last year, and Decker is far more likely to see single coverage than Marshall is.
With this being the second year in a row that Marshall, Decker, and Fitzpatrick are playing in the same system, they will be much more comfortable with each other then they were last year when Fitzpatrick was thrust into the starting position in the middle of training camp. If Fitzpatrick can find a way to replicate his consistency that he displayed most of last season, this should be another special season for the Jets offense. Outside of Marshall and Decker, the Jets don’t have a receiver worth drafting in any format, but Quincy Enunwa is someone to keep an eye on. As players around the league get injured, Enunwa is fully capable of being a short-term replacement and putting up respectable numbers.
Brandon Marshall: 95 receptions, 1,282 yards, 17 touchdowns
Eric Decker: 85 receptions, 1,190 yards, 11 touchdowns