Ever since Pro Football Focus recently shifted their clientele targets and no longer provide full access to their premium statistics to lay people, we no longer consistently have access to their data tracking, but they do frequently pass along choice bits of information via Twitter by noting certain trends or rankings.
A few days earlier, the site’s Twitter account posted a table listing the top six wide receivers in the NFL last season based on their ratio of dropped passes, and Antonio Brown, the seventh-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, placed fifth on the list.
In their charting, Brown was targeted 190 times over the course of the 2015 regular season—an absurd number, if we are being honest—catching 136 passes on 141 catchable passes, resulting in five total dropped passes, and a drop rate of 3.55 percent.
Now, as you know, we do our own charting for the site as well, and I was curious as to how that matched up with our data. After properly sorting the data for drops, it turned out that we had Brown marked for nine drops over the course of the season—that included one drop in the postseason, and thus not reflected in PFF’s data here—so I wanted to see where the discrepancy lay.
It’s worth noting that we had a changeover in who was doing the charting over the course of the season, and that determining drops if very much a product of personal interpretation, just to get that out of the way, but I went back and looked at the plays that we had marked as dropped passes, and I chose to turn over one of those plays, which, after further review, appeared to be sufficiently contested to qualify as a defended pass.
Another pass that I left as a dropped pass was the deflected pass in the Kansas City game that resulted in an interception. While the deflection rerouted the football, it rerouted it in such a way as to allow the ball to be catchable. Brown failed to secure it and bobbled it in the air, though I can certainly understand why one might not mark this as a drop.
That gets us down to six drops, and there are probably a couple of choices there, such as a play against the 49ers in which a vertical pass was contested late by the oncoming safety and prevented Brown from securing the pass, which was a bit underthrown, but which was still catchable.
Of course, Brown’s most infamous drop of the season came in Week Four against the Ravens, with Mike Vick at quarterback. Midway through the second quarter, on first down, Vick elevated a deep pass about 40 yards through the air, six yards into the end zone, chasing to the sideline. Brown would have had to make an impressive effort to catch the ball, but it ultimately went through his hands.
I will say that he only had a couple of ‘soft’ drops over the course of the year, and even one of them came on a pass that was clearly delivered higher than intended on a bubble screen. Brown obviously prides himself on his reliable hands, which is why he is liable to see perhaps 200 targets his way this year. Looking at the differences in how we determined drops, it makes me wonder how many ‘uncatchable’ passes Brown caught last season, such as the one featured up top.