It can be what prevents a dangerous receiver becoming a great one and seeing their team’s receiver drop a catchable ball in a key situation is the bane of many a fan’s existence. It happens to the best of them, but who does it happen to most frequently, and who does it happen to less often?
Well, we’ve tweaked our drop percentage article and it has now become a Signature Stat called the ‘Drop Rate’. A formula where we’re looking at how often a receiver drops a ball for every catchable ball thrown his way (with a catchable ball being defined as a pass that was either caught or dropped). The results, as ever, prove interesting so let’s look at them.
* It should be noted that to qualify for the study a receiver needed to see at least 30 catchable balls.
Incredibly this year, of all wide receivers in the league only one avoided putting the ball on the ground. That man was Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate who caught all 35 catchable balls thrown his way. This wasn’t exactly the biggest surprise in the world as Tate has only dropped one ball (Week 13 versus Carolina in 2010) since entering the league. His perfect Drop Rate score just adds to our feeling (he scored a +5.2 for his receiving) that Tate’s playing time in 2012 needs to replicate the end to his 2011, and not the beginning.
Still you might say that Tate is at somewhat of an advantage since his sample size is a fair bit smaller than many of the top guys in the league. A valid point, and by moving the catchable balls minimum to 50 you then start to focus on a player who maybe doesn’t get the positive press he deserves: Dez Bryant. The Cowboys receiver has had his issues off the field, but our 10th ranked receiver on the year has dropped just the one ball all year while falling just short of a 1,000 yard season. The sky really is the limit with Bryant who has now dropped only four balls since entering the league. There are guys who have dropped more in one game.
Other names in the Top 5 include two soon-to-be free agents: Marques Colston and Reggie Wayne. Colston, by virtue of having more receptions finishes just above Wayne, as both men dropped just the two passes. There may be plenty of concerns about both men (health for Colston and age for Wayne) but you needn’t worry about their hands, with both proving reliable targets for their quarterbacks. That is especially impressive given the traffic that Colston often has to deal with over the middle for New Orleans.
As for the rookies? Well, you need to go down to 18th on the list to find the first that appears, with that being the Oakland Raiders’ Denarius Moore. He has dropped only two of the 35 catchable balls thrown his way, placing him ahead of the Jets Jeremy Kerley (25th spot) and A.J. Green (32nd). We’ll get to some other rookies who haven’t done so well, shortly.
Here’s a complete list of the Top 20 wide receivers with the best hands in the league in 2011.
So that’s the good. But what about the bad? Well in a list that featured 91 receivers that dubious honor falls to Arrelious Benn. The Buccaneers second year receiver dropped eight of the 38 catchable balls thrown his way to have the highest drop rate (21.05% of passes). Further evidence of the poor fundamentals of a Buccaneers team that made as many individual mistakes as any this year.
He narrowly beat out the worst rookie when it came to catching balls, and incredibly I am not talking about Greg Little (who finished with the fourth worst score). Instead Little will have to settle for having the second worst hands of any rookie receiver because Dane Sanzenbacher put seven of the 34 catchable balls thrown his way on the ground. Ouch. Interestingly the next rookie you’re looking at after those two is Julio Jones, but he was only the 21st worst score as the veterans really showed their younger counterparts how it’s done when it comes to dropping the ball.
Of the big name receivers in the league it is the name of Brandon Marshall that appears first with the 13th-worst mark, but possibly the name of DeSean Jackson that stands out the most. The boom or bust receiver had a contract year to forget and dropped a higher percentage of passes aimed at him than all bar 15 NFL receivers. Who needs leverage?
Here’s a complete list of the bottom twenty receivers when it comes to dropping the ball.
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No formula like this is perfect but it does add to the debate. Drops in and of themselves are not completely comparable, with some drops being worse than others. As ever, we would point towards our PFF grades for a more definitive picture that takes these factors into account, but it’s interesting to take a statistic like this and you can see the results for yourself; some guys are players you can rely on more, and others aren’t to be trusted. That’s not to say guys who didn’t drop the ball this year won’t drop it next or vice versa. Just look at Mario Manningham, who had the 12th-best score in 2010 and the 18th-worst in 2011. It’s consistency that helps make some of the best receivers just that; some of the best. Just look at Larry Fitzgerald who has finished among the eight best every year but 2009 (where he finished 12th).
So to all the guys that finished highly try to replicate the Fitzgerald’s ability to hold onto the ball, and all the guys who struggled take heart in the dramatic turnaround of Jordy Nelson (72nd in 2010 and sixth this year). He’s proof of just how quickly things can change when you don’t drop the ball.