by Bill Barnwell
Last week, I took a look at Defensive Drops and their relatively transient nature; today, it's time for a look at drops from the other side of the ball.
For the 2009 season, our charters marked that a pass was dropped on 5.7 percent of all targets to a specific player (e.g. not considering passes listed with no intended target). That drop rate was at 5.9 percent in 2008. Over the course of a full season of targets, that amounts to a difference of about 30 drops.
Who had the worst hands in the league? Well, looking at the list of players with the highest drop rates (minimum: 30 targets), there are a lot of names you might expect.
Although Coats doesn't have the reputation of a Robert Royal or a L.J. Smith, he should; I won't spoil his Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 comment, but it involves about as much scorn as you can fit into a single paragraph. Darrius Heyward-Bey's drop rate contributed to his ridiculous -10.2 +/- last year; I believe he is one of a very small group of receivers with an absolute +/- higher than his actual catch total, and he's certainly the only one in that group with more than, say, 10 targets. (More on that in FOA 2010, too.)
I'm not sure what to say about the Bradshaw/Jacobs tandem being so high on the list. On one hand, it's easy to see that and reflectively suggest that there are some issues with Eli Manning on throws to his halfbacks; on the other hand, well, I've watched those guys play enough to know that they just don't have good fundamentals as receivers. There are also three different Chiefs wideouts on the list; I've seen enough of the Chiefs this year to suggest that Matt Cassel is the primary instigator there. Fortunately, the Chiefs locked Cassel up for six more years.
If we switch to raw totals, the league lead goes to two tight ends: Brent Celek of the Eagles and Vernon Davis of the 49ers each had 12 drops. The tie would go to Celek, as he dropped his 12 passes in 113 targets; Davis required 129 targets for his 12 drops. The only other receiver in the league in double-digits was Bowe.
As for year-to-year consistency? Last year's leaders aren't really near the top of the table this time around. Celek had five drops in 38 targets last year (a 13.2 Drop Rate), but no one else from last year's top ten made it to the 2009 leaderboard. Marshawn Lynch came close; he led the league last year with a Drop Rate of 17.9 percent, but he was only at 10.8 percent this year. The leader amongst tight ends was Marcedes Lewis, who dropped 13.7 percent of his targets in 2008, but was at only 5.0 percent in 2009 (3-of-60). The leading wideout in 2008 didn't drop a single pass in 2009! Unfortunately for Harry Douglas, though, a torn ACL meant that he didn't catch a single ball in anger, either. Behind him was Braylon Edwards, who dropped a league-leading 15 passes on 138 targets, for a 10.9 percent Drop Rate. Perhaps buoyed by his move to New York, Edwards only dropped six of the 97 passes thrown to him this year, for a respectable Drop Rate of 6.2 percent.
Another stat that's interesting (to me, at least) is Unforced Errors -- those drops that came when a receiver was listed as Uncovered or up against the vaunted Hole In Zone. Last year, the league leader in Unforced Errors was the Cardinals' Tim Hightower; he dropped four passes while marked as Uncovered (likely screen passes), and one against HiZ, for a total of five. Four players had four Unforced Errors; the only wideout in the group was the Eagles' DeSean Jackson, whose drops all came against Hole In Zone.
As for the receivers with the best hands? Five players were not registered with a single drop, including Greg Camarillo (73 targets), Robert Meachem (66), Pierre Thomas (45), Brian Westbrook (34), and Delanie Walker (33). T.J. Houshmandzadeh only dropped two passes on 140 targets, which seems like a function of his usage pattern, but it's hard to reconcile that logic when Lee Evans only dropped one of the 95 targets thrown to him.
Finally, the two-year totals (minimum: 30 targets in each season). The "best hands" group would have made for a hell of an offense in their respective peaks, with Brian Westbrook (0.9 percent Drop Rate) at halfback, Sidney Rice (1.3 percent) and Lee Evans (1.5 percent) at wideout, and Tony Gonzalez (1.7 percent) catching whatever's left at tight end.
The offense on the other side of things would not be as effective; in fact, most of the players involved are available for pretty cheap these days. Marshawn Lynch (15.4 percent Drop Rate) is the halfback, James Jones (9.8 percent) and Mark Bradley (9.3 percent) are the wideouts, and Donald Lee (12.5 percent) is the tight end.