ScoutNFL Analysis: Dropped Passes

Last year only one team made the playoffs when their receivers dropped more than ten percent of their quarterback's catchable throws.'s Ed Thompson looks at the teams that paid a price last year -- and which teams are off to a rough start this year heading into Week 5.

NFL quarterbacks and receivers spend countless hours each year working together on timing, route-precision, the accuracy and velocity of passes, and the art of watching the ball all the way into the hands while sprinting down the field.

And it's called a completed pass when they execute it well.

But sometimes a quarterback can be throwing the ball well, but if he doesn't get reliable help at the other end from his receiver, his completion percentage can suffer and his team can come up short when a crucial first-down or score is needed.

Last year, out of the quarterbacks who had at least 320 attempts (20 per game) by the end of the season, no one was victimized by his receivers more than Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck. He watched 30 well-thrown passes go through the hands of his teammates -- 12.5 percent of all the catchable balls he threw.

What's a catchable ball? It's the number of completions plus the number of drops.

How significant are they? That can certainly be debated.  But consider the fact that out of last year's quarterbacks who had 10 percent or more of their catchable passes dropped, Hasselbeck was the only one who wasn't at home watching the playoffs on television.

Miami's Joey Harrington was having a tough enough time last year without the added grief from his receivers. They dropped a total of 29 passes (11.5 percent of his catchable throws) and he ended up with a pink slip and a ticket to Atlanta earlier this year.

Another hard-luck story was Tampa Bay rookie Bruce Gradkowski. While Bucs' receivers only dropped 23 of his passes, on a percentage basis it matched Harrington's results.  Honestly, those drops probably didn't hurt him as much as the 25 sacks he took during his 13 game appearances, but he had to wonder if the combination of events wasn't some sort of rookie hazing ritual. Gradkowski is now safely tucked away on the sidelines as the team's third-string quarterback.

Meanwhile, Atlanta's Michael Vick (11.3 percent), Green Bay's Brett Favre (11.1 percent) and Tennessee's Vince Young (10.2 percent) were all undoubtedly hoping for talent upgrades at the wide receiver position during this past offseason.

Ironically, some of the quarterbacks who had the most reliable receivers last year didn't benefit from it very much. Out of the four who enjoyed the luxury of having less than five percent of their passes dropped, only the Rams' Marc Bulger (4.9 percent) came out of the season looking like one of the league's top performers at his position.

Chicago's Rex Grossman (4.4 percent) made it to the Super Bowl, but unraveled despite the good support from his surrounding cast. San Francisco's Alex Smith (4.8 percent) was experiencing growing pains.  And Buffalo's J.P. Losman (4.3 percent) got the best support of anyone from his receivers, but it didn't start to pay off until the second half of the season.

So which quarterbacks are taking the hit this year for their receivers' sloppy handwork heading into Week 5 of the NFL season? For those passers who have averaged at least 20 throws for each game completed by their team, here's the current unfortunate lot who are watching their catchable passes slip through the fingers of their targets:

Quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Alex Smith
Paul Sakuma/AP

1. Alex Smith (20.4 percent) - What happened to the 49ers wide receivers? After posting the third-least drops in the league last year, they've been killing Smith and the San Francisco offense by dropping 11 out of 54 catchable throws. They're making Seattle's league-worst 12.5 percent from last year look good. Seven different receivers have drops so far, with running back Frank Gore leading the group with 3 drops in just four games. Smith separated his shoulder last weekend, so veteran Trent Dilfer gets his chance to see if the receivers can catch his tosses any better.

2. Jason Campbell (17.0 percent) - Redskins receivers have dropped nine passes in three games. They've got to do a better job of helping their young quarterback. The primary culprit is wide receiver Santana Moss, who's dropped four of them, 16 percent of the balls thrown to him so far.

3. Drew Brees (13.5 percent) - Not much is going right for the 0-3 Saints so far this season, so it's no surprise to see Drew Brees is among this group. New Orleans receivers have botched 13 opportunities so far in three outings with two players contributing eight of the miscues -- wide receiver Devery Henderson (5) and running back Reggie Bush (3). 

4. Eli Manning (13.2 percent) - The Giants have dropped 13 passes over the course of four games. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress leads the team with four drops (11.7 percent of his chances) while tight end Jeremy Shockey has muffed three (9.7 percent).

5.  Jake Delhomme (12.7 percent) - The Panthers quarterback has the league's third-best quarterback ranking despite eight drops by his receivers during his three starts. David Carr was pressed into action late in the third quarter of Week 3, and the receivers have treated him even worse, dropping four balls in his roughly five quarters of play. Star wide receiver Steve Smith has dropped four passes (10.8 percent of his chances) while wide receiver Keary Colbert has three drops (15.8 percent).  If you combined Carr and Delhomme's results over four games, the Panthers would be tied for third-worst in drops percentage with the Saints at 13.5 percent.

So far this year, there are seven quarterbacks who have benefited from their receivers dropping less than five percent of their catchable passes, including Tennessee's Vince Young (2.3 percent) who went from the bottom five last season to now enjoying his association with the most sure-handed receivers in the league. During their first three games, Titans receivers collectively have only been charged with one dropped pass.

Baltimore's Steve McNair (2.6 percent), the New York Jets' Chad Pennington (3.1 percent), Houston's Matt Schaub (3.2 percent), San Diego's Philip Rivers (3.3 percent), Kansas City's Damon Huard (3.7 percent) and Detroit's Jon Kitna (4.9 percent) round out the rest of the more fortunate signal-callers as they head into Week 5 action.

Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and are syndicated through's NFL team pages. You can contact him by email through this link.

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2007 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited. 

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