One of my favorite "advanced" stats is wide receiver drop rate.
It's really fairly simple, taking the number of drops and dividing them by the number of targets a wide receiver receives. Unfortunately, most NFL stat places don't keep track of how many of those targets are catchable, and which are not, which is critical when looking at drop rate.
Fortunately, Pro Football Focus has kept track of that since 2008, making a drop rate that is extremely useful when comparing wide receivers.
After an extremely frustrating year for Colts wide receivers in terms of drops, I started playing with PFF's wide receiver numbers and decided to take a look back into the past five years and look at the Colts' numbers. The final product was fascinating, at least to me.
Team Drop Rate: 8.18% (8th)
League Average: 10.14%
Reggie Wayne: 88 catchable, 7 drops, 7.95% dropped (26th among 81 qualifying individuals)
Anthony Gonzalez: 61 catchable, 5 drops, 8.2% dropped (28th)
Marvin Harrison: 66 catchable, 6 drops, 9.09% dropped (36th)
With all of the top three receives doing a very good job in drops that year, the Colts finished in the top ten in the league. Pierre Garcon and Roy Hall each had a couple of passes thrown their way without dropping any as well.
It'd be fascinating to have more of this data to compare with Marvin Harrison from earlier in his career. Every Colts fan will swear by the man's hands, and this being his send off doesn't give a very accurate picture.
Team drop rate: 4.95% (5th)
League Average: 8.32%
Reggie Wayne: 103 catchable, 3 drops, 2.91% dropped (12th of 101)
Austin Collie: 63 catchable, 3 drops, 4.76% dropped (25th)
Pierre Garcon: 51 catchable, 4 drops, 7.84% dropped (51st)
With each wide receiver again above average in drop rate, the Colts managed to have the 5th best hands in the league. With Harrison gone, Wayne's targets skyrocketed in 2009, and he stepped up to the challenge and was a huge reason why the 2009 offense continued to be so efficient.
Of course the rookie, Collie, coming in with sure hands didn't hurt either. Then there's Pierre Garcon, who everybody will remember for his huge drop in the Super Bowl. Despite revisionist history however, Garcon wasn't exactly Mr. Dropsies in '09. But, With everyone else on the team looking so good (Dallas Clark had a pretty good year as well, 19th among TEs), Colts fans expected more out of Garcon, perhaps a little unfair for the second-year pro.
Team drop rate: 9.29% (17th)
League Average: 9.35%
Blair White: 37 catchable, one drop, 2.7% dropped (6th among 89)
Austin Collie: 62 catchable, 4 drops, 6.45% dropped (19th)
Reggie Wayne: 120 catchable, 9 dropped, 7.5% dropped (33rd)
Pierre Garcon: 80 catchable, 13 dropped, 16.25% dropped (83rd)
One of the reasons why the Colts' offensive efficiency suffered in 2010 (injury reasons aside) was the increase in drops, specifically by Garcon. For this year, Garcon deserved the ridicule, dropping 13 passes in just 80 catchable balls. Garcon was 7th worst in the league in 2010 among starters.
On the other end of the spectrum, Blair White may not have had the speed and quickness of Austin Collie, but he sure could catch. Meanwhile Wayne and Collie continued where they left off in 2009, with hands of Stick-Um. Oh what could have been…
Team Drop Rate: 5.26% (2nd)
League Average: 9.69%
Reggie Wayne: 77 catchable, 2 drops, 2.6% dropped (5th among 95)
Austin Collie: 57 catchable, 3 drops, 5.26% dropped (11th)
Pierre Garcon: 74 catchable, 5 drops, 6.76% dropped (28th)
Once again, a stellar year for the Colts receivers, as Garcon bounced back with a huge year for the Manning-less Colts, and Wayne and Collie improved on their numbers from the previous year. While Dallas Clark's hands fell dramatically (2nd to last at over 19%), the wide receivers were on the top of their game.
Oh what could have been…
P.S. This is why I was on the "re-sign Garcon train" after 2011. 2010 looked like more of a fluke for Garcon's hands than a trend. Overall in his career he's been an average receiver in terms of consistently catching the ball.
Team Drop Rate: 12.83% (30th)
League Average: 9.70%
Reggie Wayne: 116 catchable, 10 drops, 8.62% dropped (39th among 82)
LaVon Brazill: 13 catchable, 2 drops, 15.38% dropped (Didn't qualify)
Donnie Avery: 72 catchable, 12 drops, 16.67% dropped (79th)
T.Y. Hilton: 60 catchable, 10 drops, 16.67% dropped (79th)
After years of very good seasons by Colts wide receivers in terms of consistent hands, the 2012 crew dropped the ball. (PUNS ARE FUN, GUYS)
Wayne, although still above average, had his worst year of the last five. Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton both had awful seasons, tying for the third worst drop rate among starting wide receivers. With Hilton, it's not as big of a deal, he can improve and offsets it with his explosiveness. But with Avery, it's a trend. It's his fourth year in the league now, and he's never had a drop rate lower than 11%.
One interesting thing to keep an eye on and/or ponder: Does Andrew Luck throw a ball that's harder to catch than that of Manning (or even Painter/Orlovsky for that matter)? Drop rates were high across the board for the Colts this year, and even Wayne had a bad year by his standards. I have my own thoughts on the issue, but I'm curious to hear what you think.
Team Drop Rate: 8.39% (7th)
League Average: 9.45%
As they go into 2013, the Colts' wide receiver crew needs to work on their hands. One of the biggest reasons why the Manning-era Colts were so efficient was their consistent hands. One of the biggest reasons why the 2012 Colts were so inefficient was their penchant for drops in key moments (see the 4th quarter of the Ravens playoff game).
For their #2 wide receiver next season, the Colts will need to add someone who's hands will be dependable. They don't have to be great, but they can't afford to have another Donnie Avery in the #2 spot.