By Tim Graham
Drops are an unofficial stat. So when a group puts in the time and effort to track them, I devour the data with great interest.
ProFootballFocus.com analyst Khaled Elsayed shared his site's drop research this week. PFF, which charts every NFL play, broke down drops by position over the past three years.
Stevie Johnson is the player Buffalo Bills fans probably are most curious about. Johnson has garnered a reputation as a receiver with a bad case of the dropsies. He's had a few high-profile mishaps.
But is Johnson's reputation warranted?
Johnson didn't make it onto the three-year-review chart for wide receivers because he has been a regular for only two seasons. PFF's tally for 2010 put him in a tie for the NFL lead with 13 drops, including five in his infamous game against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- after which he made his infamous God tweet.
But Johnson, No. 17 on my AFC East player rankings, reduced his drops considerably last season. He had only five drops and just one game with two drops (Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders). Forty-one receivers had more drops than Johnson did.
Brandon Marshall's 35 drops led all receivers over the past three seasons, while Wes Welker's 32 were second in PFF's research. Those mostly were based on volume, however. Welker didn't rate among the 15 worst in PFF's drop rate (percentage of catchable balls dropped), while Marshall was 10th at 10.5 percent.
Elsayed explained that PFF defines a drop as an incompletion on "a pass a receiver gets his hands to and would reasonably be expected to bring it in for a completed pass." Yes, that's subjective. But as long as PFF's definition is applied to every incompletion, then the data is useful.
The most sure-handed receivers were Earl Bennett (3.15 percent drop rate), Larry Fitzgerald (3.27 percent), Kevin Walter (3.38 percent) and Lance Moore (3.68 percent).
Fans won't be surprised that a Bill didn't make the tight ends list. The Bills simply hadn't used tight ends before Scott Chandler made an impact last season. Vernon Davis and Brandon Pettigrew led with 24 drops over the past three seasons.
For the record, Chandler had zero drops last year on 43 targets. PFF calculated his percentage caught (of all targets, not just catchable balls) at 88.4, tops in the NFL for tight ends with at least 10 receptions. Dennis Pitta from the Baltimore Ravens was the only tight end with more targets and no drops.
Among running backs the past three years, Fred Jackson tied for seventh with 12 drops, but his drop percentage of 9.4 percent wasn't in the bottom 10.
Tim Hightower had an NFL-high 16 drops on just 109 catchable balls, a whopping 14.7 percent drop rate. Pierre Thomas was the best with three drops on 120 catchable balls.
(Photo: Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)