FanPost

MORE Drops In The Bucket

From the FanPosts. -Chris

About a week ago, I presented some statistical analysis to shed some light on the unofficial data for NFL dropped passes collected by third party vendor STATS LLC.  Specifically, I was interested in determining how dropped passes related to other mainstream receiving statistics, and trying to get an idea what kind of standards STATS uses for counting dropped passes.

Of course... this statistical category is of much current interest to Chiefs fans because three Kansas City receivers - Dwayne Bowe, Bobby Wade and Mark Bradley - are among the league leaders, and we are told the Chiefs as a group are on the verge of setting an NFL record for the season.  So I was also hoping to learn more about where Chiefs receivers stood.

Unfortunately, the data available to me at that time was incomplete, and I couldn't draw very many conclusions from it - other than my own suspicion that the data is mysterious, because it doesn't seem to line up very well with other, official NFL receiving statistics.

I received many nice compliments for the work, but also some valid criticisms of my methods.  In hindsight, I probably should have abandoned the project when I realized I couldn't easily obtain drops data for all NFL receivers.

But since then - quite by accident - I've discovered that you can get this data.  It's just that unless you are a subscriber to the STATS service, it's a hell of a lot of work to assemble it.  So please remember that if you're interested in having me do some additional analysis of this data after the season's final week - or in... say... week 9 of the 2010 season - I'm pretty sure I'll be busy washing my hair!

There's a lot of data to go through here, but it's very interesting.

First, a few notes about where the data was obtained.  STATS does not provide drops in their league breakdowns of NFL pass receiving data, except for a 25 man leaderboard that covers all types of pass receiving positions.  But it turns out that in statistical breakdowns for individual players, drops are included as a footnote.  However... this footnote is shown for wide receivers only - not tight ends, running backs or fullbacks.  So if you already have a database of regular receiving data - which I had for the number crunching I did in the previous post - all you have to do is add the data from these footnotes to your database.

You just have to do it one wide receiver at a time.

(It may very well be that the IT department at the Washington Post - the STATS subscriber from whose web site I got all this data - is wondering why they've had a big jump in page views from Kansas City during the last few days.  I could explain it to them very easily!)

So this analysis will include wide receivers only.  But for our purposes, that's OK, because it's the Chiefs' wide receivers who are on the hot seat about drops.  In addition, I have compiled data only for those wide receivers who have had 40 or more balls thrown to them this season.

First, a revised Wide Receiver Hall of Shame:

 

NFL Wide Receiver Drops Leaderboard

Rank Player Team Drops
1 Dwayne Bowe KAN 11
2 Mark Bradley KAN 9
3 Bobby Wade KAN 9
4 Louis Murphy OAK 9
5 Terrell Owens BUF 9
6 Santonio Holmes PIT 9
7 Ted Ginn Jr. MIA 8
8 Marques Colston NOR 8
9 Calvin Johnson DET 8
10 Michael Crabtree SFO 7
11 Michael Jenkins ATL 7
12 Nate Washington TEN 7
13 Roy Williams DAL 7
14 Mohamed Massaquoi CLE 7
15 Donnie Avery STL 7
16 Mario Manningham NYG 7
17 Donald Driver GNB 7
18 Derrick Mason BAL 7
19 Randy Moss NWE 7
20 Brandon Marshall DEN 7
21 Andre Johnson HOU 7
22 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 6
23 Antonio Bryant TAM 6
24 Hines Ward PIT 6
25 Wes Welker NWE 6

 

Yep... this is even worse than the one in the last post - the one that included 49ers TE Vernon Davis (who currently has 11 drops) and other non-WRs like Dallas Clark, Jerome Harrison and a couple of others.  Three Chiefs at the very top of the list!

Ouch!

However... other than the fact that three Chiefs are on top of this leaderboard, what's wrong with it?

It doesn't show how many passes were attempted to each of these guys.  If two guys have the same number of drops, but one of them had twice as many balls thrown to them as the other, then one guy has a drops problem twice as large as the other.  So let's factor that in, and create a new leaderboard that is based on this percentage, rather than on the raw number:

 

NFL Wide Receiver Drop Percentage Leaderboard

Rank Drop Rk Player Team Att Drops Drop %
1 2 Mark Bradley KAN 57 9 15.8%
2 22 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 40 6 15.0%
3 3 Bobby Wade KAN 69 9 13.0%
4 1 Dwayne Bowe KAN 86 11 12.8%
5 7 Ted Ginn Jr. MIA 72 8 11.1%
6 26 Michael Clayton TAM 47 5 10.6%
7 4 Louis Murphy OAK 87 9 10.3%
8 10 Michael Crabtree SFO 78 7 9.0%
9 5 Terrell Owens BUF 101 9 8.9%
10 27 James Jones GNB 57 5 8.8%
11 11 Michael Jenkins ATL 83 7 8.4%
12 28 Dennis Northcutt DET 60 5 8.3%
13 12 Nate Washington TEN 87 7 8.0%
14 13 Roy Williams DAL 87 7 8.0%
15 23 Antonio Bryant TAM 77 6 7.8%
16 8 Marques Colston NOR 104 8 7.7%
17 14 Mohamed Massaquoi CLE 91 7 7.7%
18 15 Donnie Avery STL 93 7 7.5%
19 52 Mike Furrey CLE 40 3 7.5%
20 53 Johnnie Lee Higgins OAK 41 3 7.3%
21 16 Mario Manningham NYG 99 7 7.1%
22 54 Maurice Stovall TAM 44 3 6.8%
23 6 Santonio Holmes PIT 135 9 6.7%
24 29 Earl Bennett CHI 75 5 6.7%
25 17 Donald Driver GNB 106 7 6.6%

 

Quite a different spin, isn't it?  Now Mark Bradley becomes the guy with the biggest problem.  Oakland's Heyward-Bey rockets up the list, as do several others ranked in the 50s on the raw number alone.  Yet there are still three Kansas City Chiefs in the top four - and that's bad... right?

But those three guys all have one thing in common: they're all catching passes thrown by Matt Cassel.

Now... don't get upset, Cassel fans.  This isn't the beginning of an indictment of our shiny new #7.  This is simply recognition of a fact: when a pass is dropped, there are many factors that can come into play.  Sure... it could be simple.  The ball can hit the receiver right in the hands, and he can drop it because he isn't concentrating on what he's doing - or simply because he has hands of stone.  But the ball could also be early or late... thrown slightly ahead or behind the receiver... slightly underthrown or slightly overthrown.  Any of these things can contribute significantly to a drop - and could easily be completely invisible to everyone except the coaches watching the tape later - and, of course, the quarterback and receiver involved.

So here's the next question that drove me to this project: what happens if you break down drop percentages based on the overall quality of a team's passing game?  Are the guys with the most drops playing for teams that have relatively poor completion percentages across the board, or are they scattered equally among good passing teams and bad?

Figuring this out would have an additional benefit: it would make it easy to see if standards for dropped passes are being applied pretty evenly across the league.

I realized, though, that this data might be a little tough to comprehend in print.  So to make it easier to absorb, I first decided to send all NFL teams to school, and assign them a letter grade based on their team completion percentages:

 

NFL Passing Grades

Team Rec Att Comp % Score Grade
Saints 363 510 71.2% 100% A
Texans 375 543 69.1% 97% A-
Vikings 322 471 68.4% 96% B+
Colts 381 560 68.0% 96% B+
Cardinals 373 552 67.6% 95% B
Chargers 310 465 66.7% 94% B
Patriots 365 550 66.4% 93% B-
Steelers 333 506 65.8% 92% B-
Packers 335 518 64.7% 91% C+
Redskins 312 484 64.5% 91% C+
Ravens 310 488 63.5% 89% C
Cowboys 323 513 63.0% 88% C
Giants 318 506 62.8% 88% C
Bengals 279 445 62.7% 88% C
Broncos 309 494 62.6% 88% C
Jaguars 293 471 62.2% 87% C
Seahawks 352 567 62.1% 87% C
Dolphins 311 505 61.6% 87% C
Bears 298 484 61.6% 87% C
Eagles 314 510 61.6% 87% C
Falcons 309 511 60.5% 85% C
49ers 295 493 59.8% 84% C
Rams 301 511 58.9% 83% C-
Bills 240 409 58.7% 82% C-
Panthers 250 433 57.7% 81% D+
Titans 254 441 57.6% 81% D+
Chiefs 271 485 55.9% 79% D
Jets 202 366 55.2% 78% D
Lions 292 537 54.4% 76% D-
Buccaneers 264 487 54.2% 76% D-
Raiders 228 439 51.9% 73% F
Browns 208 414 50.2% 71% F

 

I even graded everybody on the curve, awarding two As and two Fs, six Bs and six Ds, and sixteen Cs.  Take a look:

 

NFL Wide Receiver Drop Percentage Leaderboard
Including Team Passing Grades

Player Team Drop % Tm Grade
Mark Bradley KAN 15.8% D
Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 15.0% F
Bobby Wade KAN 13.0% D
Dwayne Bowe KAN 12.8% D
Ted Ginn Jr. MIA 11.1% C
Michael Clayton TAM 10.6% D-
Louis Murphy OAK 10.3% F
Michael Crabtree SFO 9.0% C-
Terrell Owens BUF 8.9% C-
James Jones GNB 8.8% C+
Michael Jenkins ATL 8.4% C-
Dennis Northcutt DET 8.3% D-
Nate Washington TEN 8.0% D+
Roy Williams DAL 8.0% C
Antonio Bryant TAM 7.8% D-
Mohamed Massaquoi CLE 7.7% F
Marques Colston NOR 7.7% A
Mike Furrey CLE 7.5% F
Donnie Avery STL 7.5% C-
Johnnie Lee Higgins OAK 7.3% F
Mario Manningham NYG 7.1% C
Maurice Stovall TAM 6.8% D-
Earl Bennett CHI 6.7% C
Santonio Holmes PIT 6.7% B-
Patrick Crayton DAL 6.6% C

 

Well, that's pretty much what you'd expect, isn't it?  Most of the guys with the highest percentage of dropped passes are on teams with average (and in most cases, below average) completion percentages.  This would suggest that the quarterback - along with the pass protection he receives, the quality of the running game to complement the passing game, and so on - are all contributing factors for players with higher percentages of dropped passes.

But let's be sure, and look at the data from the other direction:

 

NFL Wide Receiver LOWEST Drop Percentages
Including Team Passing Grades

Player Team Drop % Tm Grade
Eddie Royal DEN 0.0% C
Greg Camarillo MIA 0.0% C
Robert Meachem NOR 0.0% A
Mike Thomas JAC 0.0% C
Keenan Burton STL 0.0% C-
Mike Sims-Walker JAC 1.0% C
Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 1.1% D
Lee Evans BUF 1.1% C-
Steve Breaston ARI 1.3% B
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 1.4% B
Mike Wallace PIT 1.4% B-
T.J. Houshmandzadeh SEA 1.6% C
Brandon Gibson STL 1.6% C-
Jason Avant PHI 1.7% C
David Anderson HOU 1.9% A-
Kelley Washington BAL 2.2% C
Devin Hester CHI 2.3% C
Jeremy Maclin PHI 2.4% C
Anquan Boldin ARI 2.5% B
Josh Morgan SFO 2.5% C-
Hakeem Nicks NYG 2.7% C
Reggie Wayne IND 2.8% B+
Vincent Jackson SDG 2.8% B
Mark Clayton BAL 2.8% C
Jabar Gaffney DEN 2.9% C

 

This time, the guys with the lowest drop percentages are the guys who play on teams with at least average (and sometimes above average) overall completion percentages; only a few play on teams at the other end of the spectrum.

This data has also convinced me that my original worry - that standards for counting dropped passes are not being applied evenly across the league - was without merit.  I'd still love to know what those standards really are, but I am now willing to accept that whatever they happen to be, they are being applied fairly.  I stand corrected, Satchmo.

However... we're not done yet.  And this is where it gets interesting.

For just a moment, let's step back and look at the big picture.  What, exactly, is a dropped pass?  It's an incompletion.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  Sure... a drop hurts more at a critical point in a close game - a lot more - but the critical thing isn't really how many passes a receiver drops, but how many passes he catches.

So how can you measure how good a receiver really is? Let's see if we can figure out a way.

What if we compared a receiver's completion percentage to his team's completion percentage?  But let's add a twist: when we figure the completion percentage of the team, we'll remove that receiver's contribution.  So, for example, when we compare Dwayne Bowe's completion percentage to the team's percentage, the team's percentage will include passes to everybody except Dwayne Bowe. 

We'll call this the Completion Differential Percentage, and if we figure it for all the wide receivers in the league, here's what we get:

 

NFL Wide Receiver Lowest Completion Differential Percentages

Player Team Comp % Tm Cmp % Diff Drops Rk Drop % Rk
Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 22.5% 54.9% -32.4% 22 2
Michael Clayton TAM 31.9% 56.6% -24.7% 26 6
Louis Murphy OAK 32.2% 56.8% -24.6% 4 7
Roy Williams DAL 43.7% 66.9% -23.2% 12 13
Justin Gage TEN 40.0% 60.4% -20.4% 59 40
Mark Clayton BAL 46.5% 66.4% -19.9% 75 73
Pierre Garcon IND 51.6% 71.2% -19.6% 30 33
Bryant Johnson DET 38.3% 57.2% -19.0% 45 41
Isaac Bruce SFO 42.9% 61.7% -18.9% 56 29
Eddie Royal DEN 46.8% 65.5% -18.7% 95 91
Mohamed Massaquoi CLE 36.3% 54.2% -17.9% 14 17
Lee Evans BUF 44.9% 62.5% -17.6% 88 88
Johnnie Lee Higgins OAK 36.6% 53.5% -16.9% 53 20
Torry Holt JAC 49.5% 65.8% -16.2% 31 42
Mark Bradley KAN 42.1% 57.7% -15.6% 2 1
James Jones GNB 50.9% 66.4% -15.5% 27 10
Ted Ginn Jr. MIA 48.6% 63.7% -15.1% 7 5
Roddy White ATL 50.3% 65.0% -14.7% 38 69
Andre Johnson HOU 59.0% 73.3% -14.3% 21 53
Mike Wallace PIT 53.6% 67.7% -14.1% 86 85
Nate Washington TEN 47.1% 60.2% -13.0% 13 14
Donnie Avery STL 48.4% 61.2% -12.9% 15 18
Devin Thomas WAS 53.2% 65.7% -12.5% 55 27
Derrick Mason BAL 55.0% 66.7% -11.7% 18 35
Steve Smith CAR 50.0% 61.1% -11.1% 36 60

 

Wow.  What happened?  Only one Chief is in this Hall of Shame: Mark Bradley.  He's already been released, of course - and now, perhaps, we know why.  But how about the list of the 25 best?

 

NFL Wide Receiver Highest Completion Differential Percentages

Player Team Comp % Tm Cmp % Diff Drops Rk Drop % Rk
Mike Thomas JAC 77.4% 60.3% 17.1% 92 94
Wes Welker NWE 76.3% 62.3% 13.9% 25 62
Danny Amendola STL 70.2% 57.5% 12.7% 58 37
Greg Camarillo MIA 70.1% 60.3% 9.9% 94 92
Jason Avant PHI 69.0% 60.6% 8.3% 84 82
Kevin Walter HOU 76.1% 68.1% 8.1% 73 70
Mike Furrey CLE 57.5% 49.5% 8.0% 52 19
Robert Meachem NOR 78.2% 70.3% 7.9% 93 93
Kelley Washington BAL 69.6% 62.9% 6.7% 82 80
Davone Bess MIA 66.4% 60.3% 6.1% 48 63
Andre Caldwell CIN 67.1% 61.8% 5.3% 64 57
Brandon Marshall DEN 65.6% 61.2% 4.4% 20 48
Steve Smith NYG 66.0% 61.6% 4.4% 37 67
David Anderson HOU 73.1% 68.6% 4.4% 83 81
Hines Ward PIT 69.0% 64.7% 4.3% 24 44
Josh Morgan SFO 63.3% 59.2% 4.1% 77 76
Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 57.8% 54.3% 3.4% 89 89
Earl Bennett CHI 64.0% 61.1% 2.9% 29 24
Chris Chambers KAN 58.5% 55.6% 2.9% 71 61
Dennis Northcutt DET 56.7% 54.1% 2.6% 28 12
Antwaan Randle-El WAS 66.2% 64.2% 2.0% 41 32
Josh Reed BUF 60.0% 58.5% 1.5% 70 52
Jeremy Maclin PHI 62.7% 61.4% 1.3% 78 78
Miles Austin DAL 63.8% 62.7% 1.1% 35 54
Austin Collie IND 68.6% 67.9% 0.7% 46 45

 

Why... lookee here!  There's a Chief on this list, too: Chris Chambers.  Not the Hall of Shame, mind you... but the 25 best in the league.

But look who isn't on either list: Bobby Wade and Dwayne Bowe.  While he's out of the top 25, Bowe is actually a bit above average in this comparison - ranked 38th out of 99 WRs with 40 or more attempts.  That puts him ahead of Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ochocinco, among others.  Wade, on the other hand, is a bit below average at number 55.  Lance Long - who only has 38 attempts for the Chiefs this season - would likely fall just a few spots behind Bowe if he had a couple more balls this season.

In my first post on this subject, I said that I wouldn't dream of suggesting that drops haven't been a problem for the Chiefs this season.  I am not changing my position.  They have been - particularly for Dwayne Bowe.

But let's not get carried away, shall we?

I remember that during his first two seasons, there were plenty of people commenting on Dwayne Bowe's propensity for dropping easy catches - and then turning around and making spectacularly difficult ones two plays later.  These, of course, were the same two seasons in which he gained over 2000 yards and scored a dozen touchdowns as part of an incredibly anemic offense.

And during those seasons, I don't recall a single person ever suggesting that the Chiefs should offer Dwayne Bowe as trade bait.

Yet now - largely, in my opinion, because people have become so emotionally invested in whether the Chiefs' signing of Matt Cassel is going to pay off - Dwayne Bowe is suddenly Public Enemy Number One.  Not because he's not any good, but simply because he's... well, because he's still Dwayne Bowe.  He still muffs a gimme sometimes, and then catches an amazing TD pass in traffic with two toes just inside the boundary.  That's always been the Bowe Show.

Dwayne Bowe is not the reason Matt Cassel hasn't led his team to a winning season, as he did in New England last season.  That hasn't happened because the Chiefs have been in a whirlwind of transition since the opening week.  That's going to settle down in the second year of Todd Haley's administration.  We're already seeing how much difference a solid running game can make to Matt Cassel's performance - and in the performance of his receivers.  Last week, Bowe was targeted in a dozen plays - and caught nine of those balls.

So let's not go off half-cocked and offer Dwayne Bowe to anybody who'll give us a draft pick for him.  Find another solid guy - somebody better than Bobby Wade, and younger than Chris Chambers - to line up on the other side.  With that kind of a lineup - and a full offseason with everybody working together out of the same playbook - we won't have to be talking about the passes Dwayne Bowe dropped any more.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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