With our wide receiver Drop Percentage article being met with such interest, and the demand for a follow-up look at tight ends evident, I feel compelled to move ahead of schedule and get this out to the public immediately.
Well, that, and we had a free day in the schedule that needed filling.
So, in much the same fashion as our Drop Percentage for wide receivers (which you can catch here), we’re going to be examining the drops by tight ends in 2010 and then over the last three years to gather clues as to who has the best (and worst) hands of all.
Same rules apply to the formula: catchable balls are determined by the total numbers of drops and receptions with that number then being divided by dropped passes to give the Drop Percentage. Simples … as the kids say.
For the 2010 rankings, we’ve eliminated anyone who had less than 25 catchable balls thrown their way and the results leave us with a clear winner.
So while Heath Miller may be frustrated about not picking up another Super Bowl title, he can at least console himself with the knowledge that by our definitions, he had the surest pair of hands of any tight end in the league. The Steeler only dropped one ball all year, a number matched only by Dave Thomas of the New Orleans Saints (though Thomas had 17 less catchable opportunities).
They both bested the guy who normally tops most things tight end, Jason Witten, who had a far higher number of receptions, but also dropped a couple more passes to finish third. In no means anything to be ashamed of, he still finished higher than a man who may as well be a wide receiver in Kellen Winslow (fourth) and the most dominant receiving threat in the league, Antonio Gates (eighth).
Elsewhere in our top ten, we’ve got our first rookie, with Rob Gronkowski adding “sure handed” to his long list of attributes. The Pat dropped just 6.12% of balls thrown his way, putting all other rookies – including his teammate – to shame. Aaron Hernandez was as bad as Gronkowski was good when it came to holding onto the ball. He dropped 16.36% of his passes, the second worst figure among tight ends.
There was also room at the top for the much-maligned Anthony Fasano. He may not be as dynamic a receiving threat as some, but he did a good job in only dropping 4.88% of passes thrown his way. Throw that together with his excellent blocking and I’m again asking the question of why he doesn’t get more praise for his all around game.
Drop Percentage, Tight Ends, Top 10, 2010
Who’s (Not) The Boss
At the other end of the table, we see that it was a real off year for Kevin Boss. The normally dependable Giant suffered from a massive case of the dropsies in leading all TE’s with a 23.91% drop rate. We’ve seen him play a lot better than that, and you wonder if some of those big hits he has taken are playing with his concentration. Next year will be a big year for Boss, who will need to start replicating his 2009 form that had us ready to christen him one of the best in the game.
Others who struggled include Dustin Keller, who continues to need to do more to justify his draft status. If you’re a receiving tight end who has a tough time blocking, then you can’t be dropping 14.81% of your chances. In the same way, if you’re drafted as an all-around tight end, you have to produce more solid numbers than Brandon Pettigrew has done in Detroit.
Sticking in the NFC North, it’s bad news for everyone who isn’t a Packers fan because that team is going to get better. When Jermichael Finley returns and replaces Andrew Quarless, they’re not just getting back a more dynamic receiving option, they’re going from a guy who dropped 13.33% of catchable balls, to a guy who didn’t drop any of the 21 that came his way (an amount just shy of the qualifying total). It’s almost unfair that the Super Bowl champions get that kind of upgrade.
Drop Percentage, Tight Ends, Bottom 10, 2010
That’s your 2010 Tight End Drop Percentage, but let’s dig that little bit deeper to see who has been dropping balls before this season, and who hasn’t. For the past three years data we raised the qualifying amount to 75 catchable balls, and the results have me convinced there’s something in the water in Houston.
Houston, we don’t have a drops problem
You’ll recall that Kevin Walter topped the wide receiver charts, and now we have two Texans tight ends in the top four. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the lesser known Joel Dreessen who leads the way, after only dropping three passes in three years. Meanwhile, Owen Daniels’ numbers took a hit in a sub-standard 2010 as he worked his way back from injury and fell to fourth. Not terrible by any stretch, but the Owen Daniels of 2008 and 2009 would have had the lowest Drop Percentage of any tight end. In any case, those Texans just don’t drop a lot of balls.
That’s something that can also be said of Greg Olsen. He may not have lived up to the expectations of some Bears fans, but you can’t fault his hands with just seven drops in three years. That puts him in great company with Jason Witten at No. 3, Heath Miller No. 5 and surefire Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez at No. 6. Any time your name is in the mix with them, you’re doing something right.
Drop Percentage, Tight Ends, Top 10, 2008-2010
So then we come to the must improves. Over the last three years, no one has dropped a higher percentage of passes than Fred Davis, which helps to explain why he hasn’t been able to push on and claim more playing time. A stark contrast to his Redskin teammate Chris Cooley, who finished ninth. Instead he is joined at the bottom by serial dropper, Brandon Pettigrew, and recently cut Daniel Graham.
Some of the big names in the bottom ten include Vernon Davis, who leads all tight ends with 25 drops over the past three years. He finished seventh from bottom, but 49er fans will be happy that he dropped a far more reasonable 9.68% of passes this year, lowering his average to a more respectable 13.16% over three years. It’s the kind of development Davis has shown in every area of his game, even if his blocking doesn’t match the press reports just yet.
Drop Percentage, Tight Ends, Bottom 10, 2008-2010
The example of Davis should act as example to all those who have suffered with problems holding onto the ball. Just because you’ve done it in the past, doesn’t mean you will do it in the future – something that holds equally true to guys who may not have dropped many this year. As Kevin Boss has shown, you’re only a season away from your hands going from asset to liability.
It’s not to say that catching passes is all that matters to tight ends, even those primarily focused on receiving. It’s not. But, as in life, you don’t want to drop the ball when opportunity presents … figuratively, and, in this case, literally.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled