View Full Version : Best and Worst Hands in the NFL

06-05-2006, 09:45 PM
Pretty interesting article from ESPN insider:

One of the things I most enjoy in researching football scientifically is debunking traditional football wisdom. How many times have you seen a sure-handed receiver drop a pass, only to have the announcer say something like, "That almost never happens. He'll catch that pass 99 times out of 100."

I always wondered if that was true. Do the best receivers catch 99 percent of the passes thrown their way?

As a result, I tracked the number of drops every qualifying receiver had during the 2005 season (minimum of 40 catches to qualify). I also divided the number of drops by the number of catchable passes to come up with a dropped pass percentage.

Here are the top 20 receivers in dropped pass percentage from the 2005 season:

Dropped Passes
Player Team Dropped passes Dropped pass %
Houshmandzadeh Cincinnati 3 2.6%
Marvin Harrison Indianapolis 4 3.2%
Bobby Engram Seattle 4 4.3%
Jason Witten Dallas 4 4.5%
Steve Smith Carolina 7 4.7%
Scottie Vines Detroit 3 4.8%
Tony Gonzalez Kanas City 6 4.9%
Eric Parker San Diego 4 4.9%
K. Johnson Dallas 6 5.1%
Joe Jurevicius Seattle 4 5.1%
Eric Moulds Buffalo 7 5.5%
Keenan McCardell San Diego 6 5.6%
Reggie Wayne Indianapolis 7 5.7%
Lee Evans Buffalo 5 5.9%
Jabar Gaffney Houston 5 6.3%
Larry Fitzgerald Arizona 10 6.4%
Chris Cooley Washington 6 6.5%
Marcus Pollard Detroit 5 6.7%
Deion Branch New England 8 6.7%
Jermaine Wiggins Minnesota 6 6.7%

If last season is any indication, the best receivers don't drop only one pass for every 99 they catch. The best ratio is more like one drop for every 40 catches.

It was no surprise to see Marvin Harrison near the top of this list, but I was somewhat surprised to see T.J. Houshmandzadeh rank No. 1 in this category. Houshmandzadeh is known as a very good possession receiver, but this chart shows he may be one of the best.

Steve Smith's reputation as a home run threat is well earned, but having dropped only seven passes in 150 catchable attempts shows his hands are certainly underrated.

I also found it interesting to see two Seattle receivers -- Joe Jurevicius and Bobby Engram -- in the top 20. Having two of the most sure-handed receivers in the NFL certainly was a big reason Seattle was finally able to become a championship contender in 2005.

Let's also examine how the worst receivers in the league did (also a minimum of 40 catches to qualify).

Dropped Passes-2
Player Team Dropped passes Dropped pass %
Ernest Wilford Jacksonville 13 19.1%
Justin McCareins NY Jets 16 16.7%
Reggie Brown Philadelphia 13 16.3%
Roy Williams Detroit 13 14.6%
Brian Finneran Atlanta 11 14.3%
Erron Kinney Tennessee 10 14.1%
Antonio Bryant Cleveland 16 13.9%
M. Muhammad Chicago 18 13.6%
Greg Lewis Philadelphia 13 12.9%
Eddie Kennison Kansas City 14 12.8%
Randy McMichael Miami 12 12.0%
L.J. Smith Philadelphia 12 11.8%
Alge Crumpler Atlanta 13 11.5%
Mark Clayton Baltimore 9 11.3%
Donte' Stallworth New Orleans 14 11.2%
Chris Chambers Miami 17 11.0%
Todd Heap Baltimore 11 10.4%
Terrell Owens Philadelphia 9 10.2%
Plaxico Burress NY Giants 17 10.2%
Ben Troupe Tennessee 8 10.1%

This chart shows that Ernest Wilford dropped nearly one out of every five passes thrown to him last year. Despite this abysmal drop percentage, Wilford still ranked fourth in the league in total yards per catch attempt. Most of Wilford's drops came on accurate passes, so he has a ton of upside for the upcoming season.

Two highly touted rookie receivers -- Reggie Brown and Mark Clayton -- also found their way on this list. While their drop percentages were fairly close, Clayton was actually much more sure-handed when considering the accuracy of the passes each receiver dropped.

The accuracy of a pass is a subjective measurement, but I use a set of rules to hopefully limit its subjective nature. The rule of thumb I use to grade the accuracy of a pass is whether the receiver is forced to reach behind or dive to make the catch.

I segment dropped passes into three categories. The first is an accurate dropped pass. The blame for dropping an accurate pass falls completely on the wide receiver. The second is an inaccurate dropped pass. These are passes that are thrown outside of the receiver's catching frame, but are still catchable. A receiver may not catch all of these passes but the best ones still catch most of them.

The third type of dropped pass is what I call stripped/drop passes. These are passes a receiver gets his hands on, but has the ball stripped away by the defender for an incompletion. Most scoring systems list these as passes defensed. However, since the receiver got his hands on the ball and had it stripped away, I figure it should be segmented away from the standard pass defensed (i.e., when a DB knocks the pass down before it gets to the receiver).

So how did Clayton and Brown fare in these categories? Four of Clayton's nine total drops came on accurate passes, while only three came on inaccurate passes and two on stripped passes. Meanwhile, nine of Brown's 13 drops came on accurate passes, while only four were due to inaccurate passes and none were due to stripped passes. The nine accurate pass drops tied Brown for fifth-worst in the league in that category last year.

Having a pair of good pass-catching hands is a natural talent, but as Raymond Berry proved years ago, it is also something that can be improved upon with practice. If these numbers are any indication, Reggie Brown has the most room for improvement of any second-year wide receiver.

KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. His latest book, Scientific Football 2006, is now available for preorder at his Web site, http://thefootballscientist.com.

Black@Gold Forever32
06-05-2006, 09:50 PM
Where did Hines and CJ rank?

Livinginthe past
06-06-2006, 05:23 AM
Excellent post 85.

The football scientist always comes up with some great analysis from statistics.

To me, it is absolutely no surprise that there are so many Eagles on the list of highest % catch droppers - they have a deserved reputation in this area.

Housh's stats are impressive for sure - that does have possession reciever written all over it.

Good to see my man Branch breaking the top 20.


06-06-2006, 09:20 AM
Glad we have nobody on one list, and wish we had somebody on the other list

tony hipchest
06-06-2006, 09:34 AM
i think heath miller only missed about 2 throws all year. but he probably didnt have the required 40 receptions. very telling stat that seattle went from having 2 of the worst (butterfingers k. robinson, and hands of stone d. jackson) to addressing the problem with 2 of the best and landing in the sb.

add alligator arms pinkston to the eagles list, and remember that they dumped "id like to thank my hands" fred ex, and it becomes appearant that it wasnt just injuries that did them in and found them out of the playoffs. if your gonna be a passing team you must be able to convert. good article!

06-06-2006, 10:21 AM
Holy Mother of God, Plax dropped a full 10% of his passes!

06-06-2006, 02:43 PM
Holy Mother of God, Plax dropped a full 10% of his passes!
I thought you guys would appreciate that stat. :sofunny:

06-06-2006, 02:59 PM
Great post man. Rep points to you! I would like to see a Steeler in that top list but I know from last season we throw less and it just f*cks us over from a statistical standpoint to get highly ranked in passin. So many wonder how we do so well when it can seem statistically the Steelers don't always rank on top for certain areas. I believe it has to do with the fact that wit the Steelers team is a group that is "greater than the sum of its parts." However, with the chance of throwin more this season we may get a better chance of gettin on both lists (lets hope for the top one). Good to see Plax is bein humbled slightly as well as TO. I have nothin against Plax as of now but I cannot stand TO. Peace.


boLT fan
06-06-2006, 03:15 PM
Glad to see E. Parker on that first list, he's as good as posession receiver as you can find.

Nice post.

06-09-2006, 01:45 PM
Excellent post 85

I would add, without taking anything away from a well-written article, that there is more to being a reciever than catching the ball...Eddie Kennison is a case in point...Cant/Wont block to save his life ...can get the worst case of alligator arms in the NFL if smacked in the mouth at the beginning of the game...and doesnt run crisp routes
TJ on the other hand not only doesnt drop balls....He is precise in his routes ..but can get up smiling after a big hit...making him dangerous in traffic. He might not be the blocker that Ward is but he wont shy away from contact. Give me a well-rounded WR anyday over a sure-handed speedster. You can always bring someone else up to help cover that type of WR...but a technician can KILL your defense...and if he doesnt get the ball thrown his way...he WILL make you regret forgetting that they are the down-field blockers.

06-09-2006, 03:20 PM
Interesting follow-up article on TJ:

Only dropping his name
June 9, 2006

Posted: 4:10 a.m.

The man they call the ?The Football Scientist? has proven what Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh already believed.

Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati?s No. 2 receiver opposite three-time Pro Bowler Chad Johnson, has the best hands in the NFL after dropping just three passes in 2005.

It certainly wouldn?t surprise two quarterbacks named Jon Kitna and Carson Palmer.

?I told Kit and then I told Carson,? Houshmandzadeh said, ?I?ll take the hit for the catch.?

The observation comes from ESPN.com insider KC Joyner, who submits that Houshmandzadeh had the lowest dropped pass percentage in the NFL last season with 2.6 percent, leading a top five that includes the Pro Bowl trio of Marvin Harrison at No. 2 (3.2 percent), Jason Witten at No. 4 (4.5) and Steve Smith at No. 5 (4.7).

For a guy who has always felt his worth has been determined more by his seventh-round selection than his production, Houshmandzadeh appreciates the research.

?Drops and catches are cut and dried,? Houshmandzadeh said. ?Saying who is the best receiver and all that is subjective. It?s not surprising to me. Everyone is going to know me after this season, but it means nothing for the new year.?

In his column, Joyner said that he divided the number of drops by the number of catchable passes to come up with the dropped pass percentage. Although Johnson wasn?t ranked in the top 20 in that group, the good scientist ranked him tied for No. 5 in the NFL with total yards per catchable attempt at 9.6. Johnson finished third in the NFL with 1,432 yards and fifth with 97 catches and he wasn?t the only leading receiver not on Joyner?s list.

Anquan Boldin of Arizona and the Rams? Torry Holt (each with 102 catches), Washington's Santana Moss (an NFL-runner-up 1,483 yards), and San Diego's Antonio Gates (who led all tight ends with 89 catches) also weren?t ranked in the top 20 of lowest dropped pass percentage.

Which makes Houshmandzadeh?s season of 78 catches for 956 yards and seven touchdowns even more remarkable. According to Joyner, only Detroit?s Scottie Vines dropped as few as three passes. But Vines caught the minimum 40 catches to qualify, working out to a 4.8 dropped pass percentage.

?It was no surprise to see Marvin Harrison near the top of this list,? Joyner wrote, ? but I was somewhat surprised to see T.J. Houshmandzadeh rank No. 1 in this category. Houshmandzadeh is known as a very good possession receiver, but this chart shows he may be one of the best.?

Houshmandzadeh and Bengals wide receivers coach Hue Jackson have been talking like that for a couple of years. At 6-1, 200 pounds, Houshmandzadeh has a best-of-both-worlds physical grittiness and soft hands.

?T.J. is one of the best players in this league; Chad would be a guy that wouldn?t be surprised by this,? Jackson said. ?He knows how good T.J. is day in and day out. This shows you that not many guys can do what he does, which is make the catches in close quarters and go up and get the ball and take it away from people. He?s a very smart receiver. I?ve seen a couple of scouting reports that say he?s not a smart player, and I don?t know where they get that.?

Jackson, who can motivate with a needle longer than the Steelers? winning streak, hasn?t hesitated showing Houshmandzadeh the reports.

?I don?t know who?s writing it, where it?s coming from, or whatever, but that guy needs to get fired. They shouldn?t be getting paid writing like that,? Houshmandzadeh said. ?Being smart is one of my strengths. I laugh at these guys who look at film and say I?m not that fast. Any time you see a guy who?s running every route as fast as he can, I?ll show you a guy who?s having trouble getting open."

?It?s about changing direction. It?s about knowing when to settle, knowing when to run by, knowing where the hole is going to be. Put it this way; If I had an arm, I?d be a quarterback. I?ve been lucky. Even when I was in school and I was interested in a subject, I picked it up fast. It?s strange, because I didn?t always play football. But whenever I did watch it, I paid attention.?

Getting a late start
The man with the best hands in football came to the game late and the scouts have been even later coming to him. He played just one season of high school before the junior college route translated into him getting drafted in the last round of 2001.

?I always had pretty good hands,? Houshmandzadeh said. ?I think a lot of it is being in shape. When you get tired, you lose your concentration. Fatigue has a lot to do with it, I think. The more tired you get, I think the more drops you?ll have.?

Joyner puts dropped passes into three categories: off an accurate pass, off an inaccurate pass (outside of the receiver?s frame but still deemed catchable) and off a ball stripped by a defender.

Houshmandzadeh said he dropped two off accurate passes, and one was stripped.

?See, I remember them all,? he said. ?I dropped two five-yard routes. One was at home against Cleveland. I turned and it just went through my hands. The other one was in the playoffs against Pittsburgh, going toward our locker room, and I think it was on the same drive I scored a touchdown.

?I had one stripped in Kansas City. I thought they were going to call it a fumble because I thought I took two steps after the guy came from behind. I considered it a drop because I should have (protected the ball).?

Third-down receptions didn?t necessarily translate to the drops percentage. Houshmandzadeh tied Carolina?s Smith and Arizona?s Larry Fitzgerald with five third-down touchdowns. Smith, who led the NFL in catches and yards, had seven drops for a 4.7 percentage that was good for fifth. Fitzgerald finished 16th with 10 drops for a 6.4 dropped pass percentage.

But the AFC?s top five third-down receptions leaders - Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Laveranues Coles, Jerry Porter and Jimmy Smith - aren?t on Joyner?s list.

?It surprises me that Steve Smith had so few drops because I know how many chances he does get,? Houshmandzadeh said.