Three Years of Drop Rate: Tight Ends

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Drop Rate: Tight Ends

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.


1Vernon DavisSF24
1Brandon PettigrewDET24
3Brent CelekPHI20
4Dallas ClarkTB18
4Dustin KellerNYJ18
6Visanthe ShiancoeFA16
6Ben WatsonCLV16
6Jermichael FinleyGB16
9Marcedes LewisJAX15
9Fred DavisWAS15


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).


RankPlayerCurrent TeamTargetsCatchable Balls
1Jason WittenDAL358280
2Tony GonzalezATL343245
3Kellen WinslowSEA318231
4Vernon DavisSF293224
5Brandon PettigrewDET270208
6Antonio GatesSD259203
7Brent CelekPHI273200
8Dallas ClarkTB243189
9Dustin KellerNYJ280183
10Heath MillerPIT230179


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.


RankPlayerTeamCatchable BallsDropsDrop Rate
1Brandon PettigrewDET2082411.5%
1Jermaine GreshamCIN1221411.5%
3Kevin BossKC1171311.1%
4Jermichael FinleyGB1471610.9%
5Ben WatsonCLV1481610.8%
6Vernon DavisSF2242410.7%
7Fred DavisWAS1421510.6%
8Marcedes LewisJAX1431510.5%
8Visanthe ShiancoeFA1531610.5%
10Aaron HernandezNE1381410.1%


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.


RankPlayerTeamCatchable BallsDropsDrop Rate
1Jeremy ShockeyFA13264.5%
2Jason WittenDAL280134.6%
3Tony GonzalezATL245124.9%
3Antonio GatesSD203104.9%
5Owen DanielsHST13975.0%
6Anthony FasanoMIA10865.6%
6Heath MillerPIT179105.6%
6Todd HeapARZ12475.6%
9Greg OlsenCAR15495.8%
10Kellen WinslowSEA231146.1%


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.



Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and our main feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

  • Topher Doll

    Wouldn’t Joel Dreessen make your list? He only dropped 4 passes out of 94 catchable balls (4.26%)? Did I miss something or did you only look at TE’s with over 100 catchable balls during that period? You obviously didn’t do what 125 catchable balls similar to what you did with the wide receiver position since guys Fasano and Heap don’t meet that criteria.

    Just wondering, thanks.

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Should have said in article, it was 100 catchable balls over three years so the impressive Dreessen misses out.

      • Topher Doll

        Okay that’s what I was thinking, just wasn’t sure. Thanks again.

  • whiteladder

    Really enjoying this recent set of articles. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

    P.S. It looks like the tables for “Most Dropped Balls” and “Most Catchable Balls” are backwards.