Patriots Receivers Drop It Like It's Hot

Jamie Sabau

Tom Brady had terrible luck with drops last season- but part of it is the nature of the Patriots offense.

"Only counting half the drops as completed pases I bet last year’s rating would be just in line with his carreer average, if not better." - Donostiarra

Fact. Tom Brady ranked 2nd in the league with 53 dropped passes, behind only Matthew Stafford with 58.

Fact. Donostiarra is correct; if Patriot receivers dropped only half of his passes (let's even round up to 27 drops), Brady would have beaten his career average. If we increase Brady's completions by 26, his adjusted completion rate is 64.6%. Brady is a career 63.4% completion passer. Voila.

However, this number is slightly disingenuous when it comes to accuracy, especially in the art of playing "woulda, coulda, shoulda."

First, we need to note that the nature of the Patriots offense leads to more dropped passes. Quick fires across the middle, with near immediate contact, leads to drops. That's the nature of a prevalant slot role in the offense.

Second, we need to compare the Patriots offense to the league average to see what a normal rate of drops would look like (and does cutting Brady's drops in half truly reflect a fair opinion).

Looking at the past four seasons, Patriots receivers have dropped an astounding 178 passes, or just over 4.1% of all the drops in the league. That percentage doesn't seem like much, but here's the context: if each team dropped the same amount, the Patriots would only be responsible for 3.1% of the drops. This means the Patriots have dropped over 32% more than "league average" (total drops divided by 32 teams).

However, this number isn't truly fair since the Patriots throw roughly one hundred thousand times per game. We need to weight each team's drops according to how many passes they throw. So instead of expecting the Patriots to have 3.1% of the drops, that number increases to 3.4%- a representation that 9.7% more than the average NFL team.

Still, we see that the Patriots drop rate is higher than their pro rata share.

If Brady's receivers dropped the average rate, they would have dropped 37 passes in 2013, instead of 53. This would lead to a completion percentage of 63.1%, or just a hair below his career average of 63.4%.

I used Pro Football Focus's (PFF) drop numbers to see that receiver drops came a cumulative 487 yards down the field; in other words, if nobody dropped all season, Brady would have had 487 more passing yards. Adding the percentage of added receptions in the above exercise would yield 147 additional yards. PFF also shows that 44.7% of Brady's passing yards come after the catch, which brings the total additional yards to 213.

In this world of fantasy, we puff up Brady's completion percentage to 63.1% and his passing yards to 4556, finally increasing his passer rating to 90.8 (good enough for 6th out of quarterbacks with 500+ passing attempts)!

But that's if the team was average. The Patriot way to more than what is expected and we can see that Patriots receivers have dropped an average of 8 passes more than their expected amount over each of the past four seasons. If we assume that an average Brady season would have featured 8 drops above his 37 expected drops, that would provide Brady with a 61.8% completion rate. Perform the same math for added yards and his expected passer rating is 89.5, or roughly equivalent to Matt Ryan.

Not elite production, but not terrible given the circumstances. If anything, it shows that were it not for Brady's receiving targets, we'd be comparing his season-end numbers to the likes of Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger, instead of Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer.

No, this does not excuse Brady's disastrous second quarter of the season, where he posted a league worst 61.6 passer rating. But it shows that maybe his hand injury had more to do with what we thought. That perhaps second half Brady is more indicative of his current level of play (passer rating: 99.2, 7th best), than first half Brady (passer rating: 74.9, 27th best).

Maybe it shows that even Tom Terrific needed an adjustment period to his new arsenal of receivers (duh). Maybe there was a rookie growth period for Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce (duh). Maybe missing Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, and Sebastian Vollmer impaired the offense (duh).

As we head into 2014, we need to note that the overall numbers, without context, doesn't show the whole picture for where Brady currently stands. Second half Brady is still undeniably fantastic. First half Brady was undeniably terrible. Whichever Brady comes to play in 2014 will help determine where the 2014 season will end.

---

For added context, here are the drop rates:

Year League Patriots
2010 6.1% 8.7%
2011 6.0% 5.7%
2012 6.4% 7.4%
2013 5.9% 8.4%
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