Like a lot of Chiefs fans - and coaches - I've been doing some thinking about dropped passes. While drops are not an official NFL statistic, apparently the Chiefs are on the verge of setting an all-time record for them this season.
We'll all agree that's bad.
But the only numbers I've heard about are the raw number of drops - not, for example, how they relate to the number of times a receiver has had a pass thrown to him, which seemed significant to me.
So I decided to dig around, and see if I could expand my knowledge about how drops are tabulated, and see how Chiefs receivers really stack up against the rest of the NFL.
I got a few surprises.
Apparently, statistics for dropped passes are kept only by an outfit called Stats LLC, which was founded in 1981 to tabulate baseball statistics. By the 1990s, they had expanded to include other sports - including professional football. According to their web site, "STATS is the exclusive North American provider of real-time National Football League content." In other words, STATS is in the business of providing detailed statistics and analysis to people who want to pay for it - which would include news outlets like television networks - and I expect the NFL and its teams, too.
So... unless you want to lay out the cash, you can't go to a STATS web site and see how many dropped passes every NFL receiver has for this season. There are, however, a few news outlets make STATS data available on the Internet. But I couldn't find a single one that provided anything but a leaderboard - the names of the 25 NFL receivers with the most drops this season. Even worse, this information included only the drops - not how many times the receivers were targeted, how many passes they caught, or anything else.
NFL Drops Leaderboard Through Week 16
|Roy E. Williams||DAL||7|
Ouch! Three Chiefs are among the top four. But as I looked at it, I noticed that a number of the NFL's marquee receivers are there - names like Williams, Moss, Gates and Johnson. Could it be that most NFL receivers drop a relatively consistent number of passes, and the ones who have the most are just the guys who get the most balls thrown to them? I decided to find out.
This, unfortunately, was much easier said than done. I obtained normal statistical data for the top 200 receivers (by yardage) to this point of the season, and loaded it into a spreadsheet. (No... this isn't easy!) Then I added additional columns for drops and some additional calculations.
My first question was how drops related to the number of times a receiver is targeted. Here's what I found:
Top 20 Receivers Targeted Through Week 16
Andre Johnson and Wes Welker also currently lead the league in receiving yardage - but of the two, only Johnson is among the top 25 in drops. In fact, only six of the top 25 offenders in drops are among the receivers targeted most often. So from this data, it certainly wouldn't appear that NFL receivers drop a very consistent number of passes.
Yet even so, already I was suspicious. How is it that Johnson - who has only one reception more than Welker - has seven drops, and Welker has something fewer than seven? Wes Welker is good, of course... but I find it hard to believe that over the course of 16 games in which he's had 160 passes thrown to him, he's dropped fewer than seven - especially when Randy Moss (who also has Tom Brady throwing to him) has dropped eight of only 132. And what about Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark? Both of them have Peyton Manning throwing them the ball, but Wayne has fewer than seven drops in 142 throws, and Clark has eight in 124.
Already I could see that without complete drop information for all the receivers in my database, it was going to be hard to tell very much. But being the stubborn cuss that I am, I pressed on.
So... next I wondered if I would tell anything by comparing the number of receptions to the number of passes thrown. It seemed logical to me that a receiver who is among the league leaders in drops would have a pretty low percentage of completed passes. Here is what I found:
Worst 25 Players in Completion Percentage Through Week 16
|Roy E. Williams||DAL||38||87||43.7%||7|
OK... so two of the worst three in completion percentage are among the 25 members of the Drops Hall of Shame. But only eight of these 25 made the grade. But looking at this list, you wonder about a guy like Detroit's Bryant Johnson, who has roughly the same number of attempts as Oakland's Louis Murphy and a completion percentage only six points better - yet Murphy is among the worst pass droppers in the league. Buffalo's Lee Evans has roughy the same number of attempts as Murphy - but a percentage that's fully a third better - and doesn't make the list.
But here's the kicker:
Notice who isn't on this list? Dwayne Bowe and Bobby Wade. Bowe is ranked 41st with a completion percentage of 53.5%, but is second in drops. Wade is 31st with a percentage of 50.7%, but is tied for third in drops. The league leader in drops - Vernon Davis of the 49ers - is ranked 89th, having caught 60.5% of the balls thrown to him. Antonio Gates of the Chargers and Dallas Clark of the Colts - both among the top 25 in drops - have caught more than 70% of their passes, and rank 156th and 167th respectively.
Something sure smells funny here, doesn't it?
In comments to other posts, I have stated my belief that one of the problems with drop statistics is that there are no standards. In major league baseball, for example - where someone is designated as the official scorer, and is the person who makes the judgment call about whether an error should be charged on a given play - there is accountibility, because there are standards to guide the scorer. But here, we don't know who is deciding whether an incomplete pass should be counted as a drop, or what standards are used to help them decide. And as should be clear from the discussions about the Chiefs' dropped passes this season, there is room for a lot of debate on what should constitute a dropped pass.
I wouldn't dream of suggesting that dropped passes haven't been a significant problem for the Chiefs this season. They surely have been - especially since so many of them have some at critical moments in games. But to me, this data suggests that there's quite a bit about dropped passes as a statistic that is yet unknown.