Day two of our look back at which players historically have the best and worst hands in the league sees us turn our attention to tight ends. Until recently TE was an often overlooked position, with players not putting up the kind of numbers their wide receiver peers did, and unlikely to receive credit for their blocking.
But that’s all changed as teams look at the TE as a spot to create a mismatch with the defense, emphasized by the emergence of a number of exciting prospects over the past few years.
Now, Pro Football Focus will go over three years of data to determine which players have dropped the highest and smallest percentage of ‘catchable balls’ (defined as being those that were either caught or dropped).
Most Dropped Balls
Let’s start by looking at which players have dropped the most balls – Detroit and San Francisco fans may want to look away. It won’t take much figuring out to realize that Vernon Davis and Brandon Pettigrew led all tight ends in the league, with 24 drops over the past three years. If there’s any consolation both men appear to be getting better, with six drops for Pettigrew last year, and just five for Davis after drop his plagued 2009 and 2010 campaigns. Behind them, Brent Celek had two more than both Dallas Clark and Dustin Keller who rounded out the top five.
Most Catchable Balls
But a player’s sheer number of drops isn’t always the best indicator of who has the best and worst hands. Indeed those who are thrown more catchable balls are given more opportunity for drops than those thrown less. This is why it is important to look at who was thrown the most catchable balls and it should not come as a shock that Jason Witten leads the way by some distance. He’s been thrown 280 catchable balls over three years, 35 more than the man in second place, Tony Gonzalez. Others featuring prominently are Kellen Winslow (third), Pettigrew (fourth) and Davis (fifth).
Drop Rate – The Bad
What does this mean for the drop percentage? Well, starting with the bad it’s that man Pettigrew who leads the way alongside Cincinnati Bengal Jermaine Gresham. Both have dropped 11.5% of passes thrown their way, 0.4% more of catchable balls than Kevin Boss in the third spot. Packers fans will be hoping last year was an aberration, with 12 of the 16 dropped passes of Jermichael Finley’s past three years occurring in 2011. That left him with the fourth-highest drop percentage.
Drop Rate – The Good
As for the best? Well he may not always be the most likeable of players, and may be without an NFL team currently, but franchises could do a lot worse than look at the sure-handed Jeremy Shockey. With just six drops over three years, he’s the leader, narrowly beating out Jason Witten who finished second after dropping just 4.6% of catchable balls thrown his way. In joint third spot Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are adept at getting open, and just as good at securing the ball which explains a large part of why their quarterbacks keep going back to them.
It’s not rocket science, but catching the ball is a big part of football. It’s why players like Witten, Gonzalez, and Gates have been among the most targeted tight ends over the past few years, why we keep expecting to see more from players like Pettigrew and why we aren’t ready to buy into the impressive (at times) Jermaine Gresham. Playing tight end involves plenty more than just receiving, but in a passing league we’d rather have a tight end with a low drop percentage.
Stop in again tomorrow as we focus on the running backs and their pass-catching exploits.