Drop Percentage: Running Backs

| 6 years ago

Drop Percentage: Running Backs

We may as well have renamed this week “Drop Week”, what with our focus on offensive players who do and do not drop catchable passes. On Monday we covered wide receivers, on Wednesday we moved on to tight ends, which means today there’s really only one group left to look at.
Running backs.
I guess technically we’re not just looking at running backs (full backs have made their way onto this list as well), but it’s those guys in the offensive backfield who provide the inspiration for piece No. 3.

So we’ve taken all running backs from 2010 who had at least 25 catchable balls thrown their way (including post season), and done our usual to it. Used their number of catchable balls (receptions plus drops) and divided it by the numbers of drops they had to give us their drop percentage.
We even got our first guy in this series who avoided dropping any passes, which sounds as good a place as any to start.


We’ve always been fans of what Saints running back Pierre Thomas can do. He makes people miss tackles, can pick up yards after contact and is a very reliable receiver. So reliable in fact, that he was the only player in any of our studies to have not dropped a ball the entire year. The downside to that is that he was only thrown 29 catchable balls, and he missed a significant amount of playing time to injury (not for the first time). But, when he’s healthy, he’s as complete a back as there is.
So instead, though he finished in second place, the most impressive results may have been put up by Ray Rice. A year after dropping seven balls, the Raven put just one on the floor in recording an impressive 1.32% drop percentage. It was a figure that narrowly beat out soon-to-be Madden Cover Boy, Peyton Hillis, who, like Rice, dropped just one pass to finish with a low score of 1.61%.
Others impressing include Felix Jones, Jason Snelling and Danny Woodhead. All men saw a considerable amount of their time in passing situations and they all responded by catching nearly everything they could (as well as, not coincidentally, positive grades for their receiving).

Fostering Improvement

One man who didn’t make quite the statement in this area was Arian Foster, which is something that should worry the rest of the league. His five drops were far too many for a running back, leaving him in 19th position with a 7.04% drop percentage. Yet he still finished as our highest-graded receiving running back, in large part to his ability to make defenders miss (his 18 forced missed tackles were second of all backs). When one of the top players at his position still has room to improve, that has to be of concern to those especially in the AFC South.

Drop Percentage, Running Backs, Top 10, 2010

RankNameTeamReceptionsDropsCatchableDrop %
1Pierre ThomasNO290290.00%
2Ray RiceBLT751761.32%
3Peyton HillisCLV611621.61%
4Felix JonesDAL481492.04%
5Jason SnellingATL461472.13%
6Danny WoodheadNE401412.44%
7Knowshon MorenoDEN371382.63%
8Maurice Jones-DrewJAX341352.86%
9Matt ForteCHI642663.03%
10Cedric BensonCIN281293.45%


At the bottom of the heap is Fred Jackson. The Bill went from only dropping three balls in 2009, to three times as many in 2010. It was a narrowly higher rate than what Tim Hightower managed. The Cardinal’s woes in the passing game added to the voices that suggest he isn’t cut out for an every down role.
There’s also further reinforcement for the idea that, as good as pure runner as Adrian Peterson is (and there may not be a better one), he still needs to improve on his work in the passing game. He finished with the fifth worst percentage of drops, just below Rashard Mendenhall (12.9%) and Jamaal Charles (11.54%).

Drop Percentage, Running Backs, Bottom 10, 2010

RankNameTeamReceptionsDropsCatchableDrop %
32Steven JacksonSL465519.80%
33Mike GoodsonCAR3644010.00%
34Marcel ReeceOAK2532810.71%
35Jamaal CharlesKC4665211.54%
36Rashard MendenhallPIT2743112.90%
37Adrian L. PetersonMIN3664214.29%
38Correll BuckhalterDEN2853315.15%
39Michael SellersWAS2052520.00%
40Tim HightowerARZ2162722.22%
41Fred JacksonBUF3194022.50%


That gives us a quick summary of 2010. But what about the past three years? Fortunately enough we can dig that up too. The qualifying minimum is raised to 70 catchable balls and that gives us a healthy number of 44 guys to dissect … and much like in our 2010 data, one man stood out.

Pierre-less (Part Two)

Once again we have to sing the praises of Pierre Thomas, who, over the past three years, has only dropped one ball. He’s not alone in that regard as both Steve Slaton and Felix Jones matched that total.  Thomas’ 111 receptions, though, rise above Slaton’s 97 and Jones’ 73.
Of the three men at the top, Slaton is the most interesting case. His rookie year showed he has talent, and while Houston may be loaded with the kind of backfield that makes it hard for him to contribute, at the very least he could catch on somewhere as a dependable third down back.
Something which could also be said of the man in fourth place, Jason Snelling. The Falcons assigned a 2nd round tender and are likely to keep him if he ends up as a restricted free agent, but his emergence in the passing game makes Jerious Norwood all the more expendable and could cloud the role for the rookie just brought in.
Elsewhere in the Top 10, a name we haven’t always written great stuff about, is Matt Forte. He had a dismal 2009, but rebounded strongly last year and has always been a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Just seven drops since entering the league gives Jay Cutler the kind of safety valve he’ll continue to need without massive improvements in their offensive line.

Drop Percentage, Running Backs, Top 10, 2008-2010

RankNameTeamReceptionsDropsCatchableDrop %
1Pierre ThomasNO11111120.89%
2Steve SlatonHST971981.02%
3Felix JonesDAL731741.35%
4Jason SnellingATL843873.45%
5Matt ForteCHI18471913.66%
6Brian WestbrookSF10341073.74%
7Darren SprolesSD14761533.92%
8Maurice Jones-DrewJAX14971564.49%
9Ray RiceBLT198102084.81%
10Peyton HillisCLV794834.82%


Once again while we’re down at the bottom we’re mentioning the name of Adrian Peterson. We’ve already written about his struggles, but here are the numbers that back up what everyone already knows: he needs to work on his hands.
But he’s not the only one. Players like Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Johnson and Tim Hightower all played a significant amount of snaps in passing situations, and all have struggled to hold onto the ball. Now with Bradshaw you can almost let it slide because of how good he is when it comes to blitz pick-up, but the others either need to improve, or need to have their roles reduced in these situations.

Drop Percentage, Running Backs, Bottom 10, 2008-2010

RankNameTeamReceptionsDropsCatchableDrop %
34Jamaal CharlesKC1131312610.32%
35Chris D. JohnsonTEN1381615410.39%
36Ricky WilliamsMIA84109410.64%
37Fred JacksonBUF1141412810.94%
38DeAngelo WilliamsCAR6387111.27%
39Ahmad BradshawNYG73108312.05%
40Le'Ron McClainBLT6297112.68%
41Marshawn LynchSEA971611314.16%
43Tim HightowerARZ1272315015.33%
44Adrian L. PetersonMIN1031912215.57%


Ultimately, it’s not the only important part of a back in the passing game. Blitz pick-up and what you do with the ball in hand, are equally important, but when you consider that teams usually generate around 15% of their passing yardage with their backs (a number different for different teams), you can’t contribute to that chunk without catching the ball.
So, catch that ball. It’s not just your drop percentage that will appreciate it.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled

  • dane_noble

    You have Matt Forte with 64 receptions in 2010. I think he only had 51 in 2010. Also he’s only had 171 total in his career, you have him with 184 receptions.

    • dane_noble

      check that… “including post season”… carry on…

  • bigmoinaz

    When they can’t even report the factual statistics, how is anyone supposed to give this report any credence? FAIL!