Three Years of Drop Rate: Running Backs

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Drop Rate: Running Backs

It’s the last day of our look at which offensive players have the best hands and, after stops with the wide receivers and tight ends, we’re now turning our attention to the men more known for their rushing than catching. Still, that’s not to downplay the significance of holding onto the ball. As the league becomes more pass-oriented the need for backs to be able to flourish in any situation grows and it’s important that they do a good job holding onto catchable balls (as defined by the number of receptions and dropped passes combined).

So let’s take a look at which running backs are among the best and worst in this regard since 2009 (the table looks at those backs that have had at least 75 catchable balls thrown their way).



Dropping The Ball

Which backs have dropped the most balls over the past three years? Well, in raw numbers you have to look no further than Tim Hightower, the “all-purpose back” who put 16 balls onto the ground. That was two more than either Darren Sproles or Chris Johnson, despite both men being far bigger parts of their teams’ passing attacks. It’s not something that works alongside the theory that Hightower offers a more complete option at the running back spot than Roy Helu (especially when you look at the pass blocking efficiency of the two last year), and is something to keep an eye on if Hightower can recover from injury and supplant Helu as the team’s top tailback.


RankPlayerTeamTargetsCatchable BallsReceptionsDrops
1Tim HightowerWAS1281099316
2Darren SprolesNO22920419014
3Chris D. JohnsonTEN19316515114
4Frank GoreSF15212811513
5Ahmad BradshawNYG12511510213
6Adrian L. PetersonMIN1221099613
7LeSean McCoyPHI19417816612
8Fred JacksonBUF15512811612
9LaDainian TomlinsonRET15612511411
10Mike TolbertCAR1201069511


Catching On

We mentioned players like Sproles and Johnson having a large number of dropped passes, but it’s worth noting that they’ve also had more opportunity to drop balls. Only Ray Rice has had more catchable balls thrown his way than Sproles. Johnson has had the fourth-highest amount with LeSean McCoy ranked above him, and Matt Forte equal to him. Take another look at Rice for a second and you get an idea why it’s important for the Ravens to get him locked up for the long-term. Is he as good a runner as players like McCoy, Johnson, or even Forte? We’d say no, but with more balls thrown his way than any other back over the past three years, you realize how integral he is to the Ravens’ offense even when the ball isn’t handed off to him.


RankPlayerTeamTargetsCatchable Balls
1Ray RiceBLT269227
2Darren SprolesNO229204
3LeSean McCoyPHI194178
4Matt ForteCHI201165
5Chris D. JohnsonTEN193165
6Steven JacksonSL182149
7Arian FosterHST148136
8Maurice Jones-DrewJAX161135
9Reggie BushMIA155128
10Fred JacksonBUF155128


Drop Rate – The Bad

I feel like I’m laying into Tim Hightower here, but the numbers tell us that no running back has dropped a higher percentage of their passes since 2009 than the Redskins’ back. He has had 14.7% of catchable balls left on the ground, a number that dwarfs the second highest rate (Adrian Peterson with 11.9%). Among those who can also hang their heads in shame are old-timers Ricky Williams and Chester Taylor, and the inconsistent Ahmad Bradshaw (who, to his credit, at least makes up for some poor drops with some excellent pass blocking and fine work when he does secure the ball).


RankPlayerTeamTargetsCatchable BallsReceptionsDropsDrop Rate
1Tim HightowerWAS128109931614.7%
2Adrian L. PetersonMIN122109961311.9%
3Ricky WilliamsRET917667911.8%
4Chester TaylorFA10488781011.4%
5Ahmad BradshawNYG1251151021311.3%
6Kevin SmithDET988273911.0%
6Jonathan StewartCAR958273911.0%
8Mike TolbertCAR120106951110.4%
9Frank GoreSF1521281151310.2%
10Cadillac WilliamsFA116100901010.0%


Drop Rate – The Good

Players who can stick their chest outs with a bit of pride are guys like Pierre Thomas. The underrated back never gets his due playing in a timeshare in New Orleans, but in dropping just 2.5% of all catchable passes you add another dimension when debating why he is so good. The Bears might not want to pay Matt Forte, but he’s the kind of back who produces on every down and rarely misses an opportunity, with just 3% of catchable passes dropped. Others earning praise in the Top 5 are Reggie Bush, Peyton Hillis, and Maurice Jones-Drew.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamCatchable BallsDropsDrop Rate
1Pierre ThomasNO12032.5%
2Matt ForteCHI16553.0%
3Reggie BushMIA12843.1%
4Peyton HillisKC9033.3%
5Maurice Jones-DrewJAX13553.7%
6Jason SnellingATL10343.9%
7Michael BushCHI7534.0%
8Ray RiceBLT227104.4%
9Felix JonesDAL10554.8%
10Darren McFaddenOAK9255.4%


A running back is at his most dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands. That’s how he scares opposing teams and makes plays. So, while catching the ball isn’t the primary job for most, it’s pretty important for making teams respect you on passing plays and allowing your offense a bit of flexibility when you’re on the field. Credit to those guys who are taking the chances and making something happen, while to those who aren’t, there’s always next year.

That’s it for the Drop Rate, but tune in tomorrow when we run the three-year rule over another of our classic Signature Stats.


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