We’ve recently been running a series of articles, breaking down aspects of player performance, and next up we’re looking at wide receivers. Following on from an article we did last year, it seemed a good place to start would be in breaking down the drop issues wide receivers have.
Now the drop stat in itself is an interesting one. A glance can suggest which receivers have the more questionable hands in the league, but it’s not exactly fair to class all guys with 12 drops, for example, together. After all, one could have 24 receptions, and the other 124.
So in one of our simpler metric type articles, we’re bringing you our Drop Percentage for all receivers who had at least 50 catchable balls thrown their way (catchable balls determined by just adding together the number of receptions and drops).
Dependable in 2010
It’s not shocking to see that up near the top, we have a couple of guys who do most of their damage in catching shorter, underneath routes. Still, you have to give credit to Jordan Shipley and Earl Bennett for holding onto everything thrown their way. That’s the kind of dependency that should make life a lot easier for a potential rookie starter at quarterback in Cincinnati, and you would think it might make Jay Cutler seem a little less erratic.
When discussing the top receivers in a list like this, you’re never far from mentioning Larry Fitzgerald. Despite dealing with some terrible quarterback play that wasn’t just inaccurate, but would lead you into harms way often, Fitzgerald did more than you’d expect most mortals to do by dropping only three of the 90 catchable balls thrown his way. This was good enough for fourth, behind another guy who always finishes highly on this list, Kevin Walter.
Indeed, with their two best receivers in the top fifteen, you can’t argue the Texans aren’t helping out Matt Schaub in this regard. Walter has become one of the league’s most reliable targets, while Andre Johnson eliminated some of the drops that had always been a part of his game. Somehow Johnson managed to improve this season, and he did so on an injured ankle.
Elsewhere in the Top 10, you have a couple more guys who play mainly in the slot (Mike Thomas and Eddie Royal), and perhaps more surprisingly, one of the leagues’ best deep threats in 2010, Brandon Lloyd. The catches tend to be a bit harder the further downfield you go, but Lloyd displayed a previously unseen consistency to make plays on balls that you didn’t think he had any right to.
Just outside the top ten is a name that will surprise a few, Braylon Edwards. The New York Jet developed a reputation for drops after a 2008 that saw his star fall in Cleveland. He didn’t help himself with the odd terrible (but highly publicized) drop in 2009 and even now the label of a guy with bad hands sticks (every drop of his receives more press time than other top guys). Remarkable then that he only dropped four balls all year, a better rate than either of the other Jets to make this list. The ever excellent Santonio Holmes dropped eight balls and finished in 42nd, while the normally reliable Jerricho Cotchery put 10 on the ground for the third worst number in the league. Edwards’ name will come up later, making his improvement in New York all the more stark.
Wide Receivers, Top 15 Drop Percentage, 2010
Things weren’t all good, and now we’re getting into dropping some criticism on players. While he may be as scary a deep threat as there is in the league, a one-dimensional player like DeSean Jackson never really scores that highly in our grading. You can attribute some of that to his league-leading 19.67% of drops on catchable balls – this Eagle is your vintage boom or bust receiver.
It’s more of a surprise to see Steve Smith just behind him, with injury and poor quarterback play seemingly having a huge impact on Smith’s ability to play to the level we expect from him. Given his stellar performance in recent years, you wouldn’t know how much of this was Smith being bogged down by the problems in Carolina, but it’s something for potential trade partners to consider.
Other noteworthy names near the bottom include Mike Williams of Tampa Bay. The rookie impressed many so much that his peers voted him into their top 100 players of 2011, though it does come as a surprise. He did show a tremendous ability to make plays after the catch, but with 11 drops you start to realize he’s got a way to go before he’s really earned a spot as one of the top receivers.
You could levy the same charge against Steve Johnson of Buffalo, who was capable of looking the real deal one game, and then dropping five passes the next. Consistency and concentration are key attributes of guys who finish highly in these rankings, and it would be fair to say both men could do with working on those attributes to take their already impressive games to the next level.
Wide Receivers, Bottom 15 Drop Percentage, 2010
|51||Mike A. Williams||TB||64||11||75||14.67%|
|54||Steve L. Smith||CAR||46||10||56||17.86%|
To get a bit further into it, I’ve pulled all the data from the last three years to see who has that consistency over a longer period. The qualifying amount of catchable balls thrown goes up to 120, and the results get more interesting.
Up front, you’ve got two of the perennial favorites in this list with the aforementioned Walter and Fitzgerald showing 2010 was no fluke. Also in the top five, Vincent Jackson shows what Philip Rivers missed last year. His ability to go down the field and make tricky catches, is something that makes him one of the most in-demand receivers, even with a franchise tag on him.
Some of the other names that should be of interest are Austin Collie up in eighth, while Pierre Garcon finished sixth from bottom. They don’t play identical roles in the Colts offense, but you can put some of Peyton Manning’s 2010 struggles on the absence of Austin Collie (as well as Dallas Clark) and extra reliance on the less dependable Garcon.
Wide Receivers, Top 10 Drop Percentage, 2008-2010
Meanwhile down at the bottom you’ve got some pretty big names competing for title of “worst hands” over the past three years. It tells you about the improvements of Edwards that even though he finished just outside the Top 10 in 2010, he finished at the bottom of the three-year rankings (by and large due to those incredible 19 drops in 2008).
Wide Receivers, Bottom 10 Drop Percentage, 2008-2010
So there you have it. The numbers show some steadily good (like Walter and Fitzgerald), some steadily not-so (like Jackson), and even some capable of a huge turnaround (like Edwards). While none of it makes Walter flatly more valuable than the deep threat that is Jackson, maybe a bit more credit is due for the Texan and his role in their offense. Either way, more grist for the mill.