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Breaking down the Patriots’ drop numbers from the 2020 season

Related: Stephon Gilmore, N’Keal Harry among most penalized Patriots during the 2020 season

New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The New England Patriots had plenty of issues over the course of their 2020 season. Their most prominent one, however, might have been the inability to move the football through the air: with Tom Brady taking his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the group led by new starting quarterback Cam Newton was unable to consistently challenge teams in the passing game.

Newton deserves some blame for this, even though the circumstances — from his comparatively late arrival to the Coronavirus pandemic wiping out the preseason — certainly did not work in his favor. However, his receiving corps also cannot be left out of this discussion: the group did not provide him with consistently reliable receiving weapons, an issue that already had plagued the Patriots over the previous two seasons as well.

There was a wide variety of issues, and one of the most prominent ones was dropped passes. They are a therefore a proper illustration of the shortcomings of New England’s pass catching group. With that being said, let’s dig a little deeper into the matter to find out how exactly the drop numbers look like for the Patriots’ 16 regular season games over the course of the 2020 campaign.

Wide receiver drop statistics

Name Position Total Targets Catchable Passes Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Name Position Total Targets Catchable Passes Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Donte Moncrief WR 2 1 1 0 0.0%
Isaiah Zuber WR 2 2 2 0 0.0%
Gunner Olszewski WR 5 5 5 0 0.0%
Jakobi Meyers WR 78 62 59 3 4.8%
N'Keal Harry WR 55 35 33 2 5.7%
Damiere Byrd WR 73 52 47 5 9.6%
Julian Edelman WR 35 26 21 5 19.2%
Pro Football Focus

As can be seen, three members of the Patriots’ wide receiver group were not credited with a drop this season. Donte Moncrief, Isaiah Zuber and Gunner Olszewski combined to see only nine passes thrown their way, however, which is a reflection of their small roles within the offense all year long. The regular pass catchers, meanwhile, were unable to haul all the catchable balls coming their way in.

The best of the group was New England’s leading receiver: Jakobi Meyers dropped three passes on 62 catchable targets. His total drop rate of 4.8 percent is not just quite solid and the best among the Patriots’ starting-caliber receivers, but also a noticeable improvement compared to his 2019 rookie season when he dropped 10.3 percent of the catchable passes thrown his way.

Fellow second-year receiver N’Keal Harry also showed some improvement in 2020. After registering a drop rate of 17.6 percent last season, he let only 5.7 percent of passes slip through his fingers. That number is markedly better than the next best pass catcher: first-year Patriot Damiere Byrd dropped five of 52 catchable throws for a rate of 9.6 percent. That rate is not necessarily bad, but also not really encouraging.

The Patriots’ leading wide receiver in terms of drops, however, was Julian Edelman. One year after positing a 9.6 percent drop rate, he was unable to haul five of 26 catchable throws in for a drop rate of 19.2 percent — a disappointing number amidst what has been a disappointing season for Edelman.

Running back drop statistics

Name Position Total Targets Catchable Passes Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Name Position Total Targets Catchable Passes Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Damien Harris RB 7 5 5 0 0.0%
Sony Michel RB 8 7 7 0 0.0%
Jakob Johnson FB 9 8 8 0 0.0%
Rex Burkhead RB 30 26 25 1 3.8%
James White RB 57 51 49 2 3.9%
J.J. Taylor RB 2 2 1 1 50.0%
Pro Football Focus

Even with Tom Brady no longer throwing the footballs, New England’s running backs were still used in their normal capacity during the 2020 season: Rex Burkhead and James White served as the primary receiving backs, with Damien Harris and Sony Michel working the early-down role.

Burkhead and White naturally also saw the most passes thrown their way, but the two still posted some solid drop numbers at a near-identical rate: Burkhead dropped 3.8 percent of his 26 catchable targets, with White registering a 3.9 on 51 throws coming his way. While both numbers are slightly worse than last year’s — they dropped 3.2 and 2.5 percent of passes, respectively — both still were reliable contributors in the passing game.

As for Harris and Michel, meanwhile, they did not register any drops at all: together with fullback Jakob Johnson, they caught everything thrown their way. Nobody will confuse them with top-tier receiving backs like Burkhead and White, but they still stepped up whenever their numbers were called.

Tight end drop statistics

Name Position Total Targets Catchable Passes Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Name Position Total Targets Catchable Passes Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Jordan Thomas TE 1 1 1 0 0.0%
Dalton Keene TE 5 3 3 0 0.0%
Ryan Izzo TE 19 16 13 3 18.8%
Devin Asiasi TE 7 3 2 1 33.3%
Pro Football Focus

The Patriots’ tight end position was a major issue throughout the 2020 season, being virtually non-existent in the passing game for the second straight year. When its players were eventually involved, meanwhile, they did not stand out: top-two tight ends Ryan Izzo and Devin Asiasi combined to drop four passes on just 19 catchable throws.

New England needs to get more production out of its tight end position, and the team will hope that Asiasi and Dalton Keene — who did not drop any of his three catchable targets — make a massive second-year jump. But even if they do, adding higher-upside players to serve as depth options alongside them would be key. The Patriots’ tight ends posting similar receiving (and drop) numbers in 2021 as the last two years would be a recipe for disaster.

All in all, though, the Patriots did slightly improve when it comes to dropping passes compared to 2019: while they had a combined drop rate of 8.3 percent last season, they posted a 7.5 in 2020.