Three Years of Drop Rate: Wide Receivers

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Drop Rate: Wide Receivers

It’s a new week but we’re continuing our look back at three years worth of Pro Football Focus Signature Stats, turning attention now to our ‘Drop Rate’ stat. A simple enough premise where you look at how many drops a receiver had as a percentage of balls deemed catchable.

We’re going to start off by looking at the wide receivers whose primary job is to catch the ball and make plays. So let’s see which wideouts have done the best (and worst) job in this regard over the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons.

For the purposes of this study, wide receivers need to have seen at least 125 catchable balls come there way during the three-year span. That bar for inclusion left us with 61 receivers to consider.



Opportunity Knocks

Since we’re looking at which players have dropped the most ‘catchable balls’ it’s probably worth looking a little bit at those balls we deemed catchable. Firstly, it’s a simple enough way to determine a catchable ball: it’s a pass that is either caught or dropped. Got it? Good. Let’s move on. It won’t surprise many that the man who was thrown the most catchable balls over the past three years was the Patriots’ Wes Welker. His 363 catchable balls was 33 more than Roddy White in second, and 60 more than Brandon Marshall in third. It says something about the quality of quarterback Larry Fitzgerald has had to deal with over the past two years, with Fitzgerald second in total targets, but way down in fifth when you look at the number of those that were catchable.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamTargetsCatchable
1Wes WelkerNE439363
2Roddy WhiteATL494330
3Brandon MarshallCHI419303
4Reggie WayneIND439300
5Larry FitzgeraldARZ461275
6Calvin JohnsonDET413258
7Marques ColstonNO331253
8Andre JohnsonHST332239
9Santana MossWAS345233
10Percy HarvinMIN307232


Dropping the Ball

It won’t be a surprise that those with more opportunity have tended to drop the most balls. Indeed, if you look at Wes Welker, his 32 drops were second in the league over three years. The only wide receiver with more than him? New Bears receiver Brandon Marshall who led the way with 35 drops over three years. Chicago will be hoping that linking up with Jay Cutler will help calm this number down, but it’s worth noting that if you go back to 2008 Marshall had 16 drops in that year alone. Other numbers that stand out are the 26 for Chiefs franchise player Dwayne Bowe and the 22 picked up by Pierre Garcon, Michael Crabtree, and Donald Driver. All three head into 2012 with various questions (can they step up as a No. 1 receiver?/how much have they got left?) and they’ll be looking to cut back on the drops that have plagued them at times.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamDrops
1Brandon MarshallCHI35
2Wes WelkerNE32
3Roddy WhiteATL30
4Dwayne BoweKC26
5DeSean JacksonPHI25
6Santana MossWAS24
7Pierre GarconWAS22
7Michael CrabtreeSF22
7Donald DriverGB22
10Nate BurlesonDET21


Drop Rate – The Bad

Now let’s get to the important number. Players like Marshall and Welker may have more drops than anyone else, but Welker doesn’t figure in the Bottom 15 of the 61 players who had at least 125 catchable balls thrown their way over the past three years, and Marshall was just in the Bottom 10. Instead, the worst offender was Roy Williams who has dropped 14.62% of catchable balls over three years. That was narrowly worse than James Jones of the Packers, with the Buccaneers’ Mike Williams bringing in the third highest mark at 13.42%. 49ers fans (and Alex Smith) may want to look away when he sees the drop percentage of some of his receivers (new and old) as Crabtree, Mario Manningam and Randy Moss all rated poorly.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamDropsCatchableDrop Rate
1Roy E. WilliamsFA1913014.62%
2James JonesGB2013914.39%
3Mike A. WilliamsTB2014913.42%
4DeSean JacksonPHI2519312.95%
5Brandon GibsonSL1814112.77%
6Terrell OwensFA1814512.41%
7Donald DriverGB2217912.29%
8Randy MossSF1512611.90%
9Dwayne BoweKC2622511.56%
10Brandon MarshallCHI3530311.55%
11Michael CrabtreeSF2219511.28%
12Mario ManninghamSF1917410.92%
13Pierre GarconWAS2220610.68%
14Santana MossWAS2423310.30%
15Devin HesterCHI1413610.29%


Drop Rate – The Best

To the best, and up at the top there’s a name that won’t surprise many Bears fans but may surprise many others. Earl Bennett, with just four drops from 127 catchable balls, has the lowest drop percentage of just 3.15%. That wasn’t much better than the ever-excellent Larry Fitzgerald who continues to show remarkable consistency with his hands, dropping an average of three balls each season and just 3.27% of catchable balls. Behind him are less-heralded players like Kevin Walter and Lance Moore, while San Diego fans will be happy to see Malcom Floyd with the fifth-lowest drop percentage, and new signing Robert Meachem down in 11th.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamDropsCatchableDrop Rate
1Earl BennettCHI41273.15%
2Larry FitzgeraldARZ92753.27%
3Kevin WalterHST51483.38%
4Lance MooreNO51363.68%
5Malcom FloydSD61314.58%
6Reggie WayneIND143004.67%
7Jabar GaffneyNE101975.08%
8Jason AvantPHI81525.26%
9Austin CollieIND101825.49%
10Sidney RiceSEA81415.67%
11Robert MeachemSD81375.84%
12Michael JenkinsMIN81365.88%
13Anquan BoldinBLT132195.94%
14Mike ThomasJAX101675.99%
15Deion BranchNE101656.06%


Catching the ball isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to receiving. You need to be able to get open and make things happen after the catch. But, fundamentally, if you don’t secure the ball then your route running is wasted, and you don’t even get a chance to find your way for extra yardage. So the Drop Rate is an extremely useful tool in terms of determining which players have the best hands (though it should be noted not all drops are created equal).

Stay tuned tomorrow when we run down the tight ends to see which at that position have the best and worst hands.


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

  • tom

    What is the criteria for drops? It can be argued that sometimes the QB throw requires one to have super human powers to contort themselves or have super leaping powers just to touch the ball, more less catching it. Also, any accounting for someone like Ray Lewis seperating the receiver from the ball or Sterling Moore knocking the ball from Lee Evans?
    I, for one would like to see what your probability or low probability of guys reproducing their touchdown numbers from last year. It seemed to be a good omen for you to be all over Gronk’s high probability to not reproduce his TD number from 2010, but 17 is a tall order to equal or better.

  • zelan

    Very interesting. Any chance of getting the stats for all 61 players who made the cut? Best and worst is great, but all of them would be even better!

  • number 17

    yea zelan