Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to the NFL Draft April 22nd, Buffalobills.com will profile one of the more highly touted prospects at each position in the 2010 draft class. A position group video preview will accompany each of these feature stories in the media lounge featuring the top five prospects at each position. We continue our pre-draft feature series with University of Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker:*
Eric Decker has had more than a fair opportunity to become a professional athlete. In fact, the Minnesota wide receiver has been given the chance – and the ability – in more than one sport.
The 6-3, 217-pound receiver has already been drafted … twice. In 2008 and '09, he was selected as a centerfielder by the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins. Instead of gracing the baseball diamond however, he focused on the gridiron his last two years at U of M.
According to the wideout, the decision wasn't a difficult one.
"I wake up and I love football," Decker told Buffalobills.com. "I'm fortunate to say that when I wake up I love what I do, and that's play football, preparing for football. I'll get my opportunity this fall and I'm excited about it."
His work on the football field has made him one of the top wide receivers in the nation, on top of one of the best pass catchers in Minnesota history. However, a Lisfranc foot injury, a commonly misdiagnosed condition, according to several online medical journals, has sidelined Decker until at least June.
After having surgery to remove the plate and screws in his foot March 15, he will be fully recovered and ready for action before NFL training camps roll around.
That being said, Decker missed the NFL Combine in February. And he hasn't been able to work out in any concrete capacity for any pro franchise. That doesn't stop him from being ranked ninth out of 318 available wide receivers in this year's draft.
The two-sport standout's numbers in college speak for themselves.
Decker has been the target of 354 passes in his career at Minnesota. He has only dropped three in 45 games, an eye-popping 0.085 percent of all the looks his way.
The wideout is also quite skilled at moving the chains as 160 of his 227 career receptions (70.48 percent) were pulled in for first downs. Decker amassed 3,000 yards receiving, totaling 3,119 for the best mark in Gophers' history and the eighth-best in Big Ten Conference history.
The stellar numbers do not stop there.
Decker pulled in at least one reception in 34 consecutive games en route to collecting ten 100-yard receiving performances. His dynamic offensive capabilities reflect a combination of both a possession receiver and a player with the ability to stretch the field.
In short, he is a highly qualified receiver who suffered an injury, which has kept him out of commission since November, with very little effect on his draft status.
While he's been injured Decker has used the down time to work on other aspects of his physical game.
"I've been working on my upper-body strength," he said. "Getting out of the boot I can do a lot more movement stuff on my feet, more weight-bearing things."
A lot of Decker's success at the collegiate level has come from scouting opposing defenses. He has countless hours of studying film to thank for that.
"I enjoy (film study) a lot," Decker said. "I think over the last couple years I've had a great relationship with my quarterback. So I went into a lot of meetings with him and our offensive coordinator. I got to understand the philosophy of our offense and understand how to read coverages and how to make adjustments when you see certain things. I really enjoy it because it gives you an advantage."
Decker also has his experience playing Division I baseball to thank for his mental toughness on the football field. And that's not to mention the fact that a lot the speed necessary in baseball easily carries over to the football field.
"I think a lot of it transitions over," he said. "The biggest thing for me was the mental aspect. Baseball being kind of that roller coaster, when you fail seven out of 10 times, you're still a Hall of Famer.
"A lot of it is understanding how to control your emotions and being consistent with that. And also I think the physical attributes, the hand-eye coordination at the plate, centerfield, tracking the ball over the shoulder and tracking the ball in the gaps."
Decker projects to be selected in the third round, with the second round being the highest NFL scouts anticipate he could be drafted. His lightning-quick speed combined with a fairly hefty size and "sticky" hands make him a force to be reckoned with at the receiver position.
Although he did not participate at the Combine, he has been clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Placing those figures amongst others at his position in that drill, Decker would rank in the middle of the pack.
Even still, his offseason work with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald could prove beneficial as Decker moves on the next phase of his career.
"He's a Minnesota boy. I got an opportunity to work out with him this past summer," Decker said. "We're comparable in size. He's one of those guys that's a workout freak. He's going to work harder than anybody. And he's an elite receiver.
"He gets his production on the field, and off the field he's a class act. On and off the field he acts like a professional and that's the way I want to be when I get to the next level."