Not every No. 2 can become a No. 1.
With Decker leaping to the top of the marquee in New York, so to speak, I thought I'd scan the NFL to find other players with the talent and ability to grab the spotlight. Here are seven guys, listed in no particular order, who are good enough to seize a no-doubt No. 1 role.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
The quick and speedy Hilton is primed to take over for the 35-year-old Reggie Wayne as the top weapon in the Colts' passing attack. Yes, Wayne has more than 1,000 career receptions, but he's also coming off a serious knee injury that cut his 13th NFL season short by nine games. Hilton, meanwhile, has totaled 1,944 yards and 12 touchdowns in just two years. He's really hard to cover, and he has excellent hands and the ability to run after the catch.
The 5-foot-9, 178-pound Hilton might be on the smaller side for a No. 1 receiver, but that hasn't stopped him from racking up 132 catches thus far in his short career -- not to mention the 327 yards and two scores he compiled in the playoffs last season. He's a fearless player who makes great catches. He also has unbelievable short-area quickness; in that regard, he reminds me of Tim Hardaway and his famous crossover move.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
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Jeffery is a beast, a vacuum cleaner who just sucks the ball up. He can run deep routes, crossing routes, sideline routes; he catches everything that's thrown around him. He showed that he was good at South Carolina, but then put on weight during his final year of college and did not play with the separation and explosiveness he'd had in previous years. Then his rookie year in Chicago was marred by injuries and inconsistency. Thus, when he did what he did in the NFL last season -- piling up 89 catches, gaining an impressive 16 yards per catch and notching a pair of monstrous 200-yard games -- folks were caught off guard. In fact, many would say he was one of the biggest surprises of the year.
Of course, while Jeffery made plenty of noise in 2013, Brandon Marshall is still in Chicago. The veteran receiver is still productive (218 catches for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns in two seasons with the Bears) and still relatively young (30 in two weeks). Last year, Jeffery outpaced him in yards (1,421 to 1,295) but Marshall had more touchdowns (12 to seven). They had almost identical production over the final four games of the season (22 catches for 305 yards and three scores for Marshall; 19 catches for 312 yards and two scores for Jeffery), and both players made the Pro Bowl. That said, I think Jeffery proved that he's a star in the making. Marshall, meanwhile, is closing in on the age at which receivers tend to hit the wall (31). It will be interesting to see what happens in Chicago, though I do have to point out that coach Marc Trestman is one of the best there is at making a game plan and presenting it to his players.
Matt Cassel, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Relegated to backup duty for much of last season in Minnesota following a less-than-ideal ending to his tenure as a starter in Kansas City, Cassel is poised to step up and stabilize the Vikings' quarterback situation after re-signing with them this offseason. Though he had mixed results as a part of the team's carousel of signal-callers in 2013, Cassel's career numbers are better than you think, and he did win 10 games as a starter with the Patriots in 2008 and 10 more with the Chiefs in 2010. I think he'll be the No. 1 guy in Minnesota heading into the 2014 campaign.
Keeping Cassel was a very positive move for Minnesota. People don't talk much about this, but with the Metrodome no longer standing and their next permanent facility still unbuilt, the Vikings will be playing outside the next two years at the University of Minnesota's stadium, which means they'll face plenty of wind and inclement weather. Christian Ponder -- who did not have a good 2013 -- has a hard time in such situations, but Cassel can handle the tough conditions.
I know Cassel very well, and I know he's a quality guy. Yes, he struggled in Kanas City after taking the Chiefs to the playoffs and going to the 2011 Pro Bowl, but he was hampered by injuries and organizational issues that went beyond him. He has experienced the benefits of being a starter and surely feels he's too good to be a backup. I think the top job will be his to lose.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Floyd's case is especially interesting because the man he'll likely end up displacing in Arizona has done a lot to help Floyd develop his receiving skills. Few players want to boost their competition, but when I was at Cardinals training camp last summer, I saw Larry Fitzgerald working with and coaching Floyd and making a much better player out of him. Floyd is big, fast and strong, but he didn't do much as a rookie, failing to top 600 receiving yards despite playing in all 16 games. Last season, however, Floyd showed definite flashes, finishing with 65 catches and 1,041 yards.
Fitzgerald is a quality, classy guy, and I think he wants to win more than he wants to worry about which player is No. 1 or No. 2. He also works extremely hard, and I think he got Floyd to believe that hard work is what will help him realize his potential. When Floyd overtakes Fitzgerald in the Cardinals' offense -- and that day is coming -- Fitzgerald will not pout, complain or gripe. I think Fitzgerald wants, more than anything, to get back to the Super Bowl, and he knows that Floyd thriving -- even at his own expense -- will only push the Cards closer.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
This was a fine signing by the Jaguars. In Gerhart, Jacksonville is getting an ascending player with plenty of tread on his tires to replace longtime workhorse Maurice Jones-Drew, currently a free agent after a steep decline in production. Jones-Drew is one of those heavy-legged guys, and they tend to lose quickness earlier in life than the average running back.
While Gerhart might not be able to overpower defenders the way that Jones-Drew did in his prime, he's a much better receiver, which is crucial in today's NFL; Minnesota used Gerhart often on third down and in long-yardage situations. Gerhart is also a skilled runner who can make people miss with his quickness. Locked firmly behind superstar Adrian Peterson on the Vikings' depth chart, Gerhart made the most of his opportunities, notching a couple of big games, like a 109-yard effort in 2011 and a 91-yard game last November. I think he's got what it takes to carry the load in Jacksonville.
Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints
Stills was one of the five or 10 biggest eyebrow-raisers among last season's rookies. He never really got a chance to be a true No. 1 at Oklahoma, and though he posted a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, he went fairly late in the 2013 NFL Draft, getting scooped up by the Saints in the fifth round. But he really showed something when he got on the field, averaging 20 yards per catch -- tops in the league among qualifying receivers. Stills has great speed, catches really well and can run routes -- he's definitely an up-and-coming talent.
The Saints' offense is in flux, with Darren Sproles being traded and Lance Moore headed out of town. Former top receiver Marques Colston also failed to reach 1,000 yards for the first time since 2008. Stills is nine years younger than Colston and can get much better separation. With the veteran's best days behind him, I wouldn't be surprised to see Stills take over in New Orleans.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Jackson and Maclin have different personalities. Jackson is more outgoing, whereas Maclin is a quiet guy who gets the job done. Jackson is coming off probably his best NFL season, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine scores, but we shouldn't forget that in 2012, Maclin was the Eagles' leading receiver. I think Maclin will reclaim that role in 2014.