Receivers Headline A Misleading NFL List

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The fine NFL mathematicians over at Pro Football Focus recently compiled a list of the best and worst receivers in the league, based on the rate of passes dropped in 2011.

Drops are one of the trickier stats in the NFL, because one man’s drop is another man’s incomplete pass.  Determining if a pass was ‘catchable’ is a judgment on the part of the stats crew, and is rarely a black and white discussion.

With that being said, the Redskins had one of each in their top two receivers catching honors: Jabar Gaffney, for his ridiculously good hands this season, and Santana Moss for being uncharacteristically shaky.

Here’s a look at the numbers, with a possible explanation for the failures.

Of all NFL receivers in 2011, Gaffney ranked seventh, with 69 catchable balls and 67 receptions.  That makes two drops for a drop-rate of 2.9 percent.

Gaffney was brought in before training camp as a guy looking to compete for a job.  The Redskins traded a player in Jeremy Jarmon who didn’t even make the Broncos team, and acquired the team’s top receiver in production and consistency.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was the only receiver with zero drops, and Gaffney trailed only two receivers with one drop.  While many other receivers had two drops, Gaffney had a very low percentage of drops thanks to his high number of converted opportunities.

(Interestingly, two of the players listed ahead of Gaffney were Saint Marques Colston and Colt Reggie Wayne.)

On the flip side of that, Santana Moss ranks 72nd, with 53 catchable balls and 46 receptions.  That makes seven drops for a drop-rate of 13.21 percent.

In a list of 91 receivers, finishing 72nd puts Moss near the bottom, but it can also be misleading for several reasons.

Moss’s season was shortened and complicated by a broken hand, suffered in Week 7 vs. the Panthers.  Rather than go on injured reserve, or even wait until the hand was fully healed, Moss pushed his recovery time in an effort to return.  As a result, he missed only four games, but dealt with lingering consequences, including hand strength for the remainder of the season.

His 46 receptions were his lowest total since joining the Redskins in 2005, and his 584 yards were his lowest since 2002.  But he was also reliable in clutch situations (especially before his injury), catching two fourth down conversions, including this beauty:

Before his injury, Moss was Grossman’s top target, and the team went winless without him in the starting lineup.  Even at the end of his career, Moss still commands respect from the defense that makes it easier for players like Gaffney to get open.

Obviously Moss dropped some passes, and he even did so in a few frustrating situations.  But to say that he had a case of the drops ignores the fact that he was battling injury, and discounts a number of big catches that he was still able to make.

Hopefully with an offseason to rest and rehab the hand, Moss can return to 2010 form in 2012.

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