Last week, I took a look at the Colts' drop rate over the last five years, noting that this year's drop rate was abnormally bad for an uptempo Colts team. A big part of that was the young skill players, notably Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton.
One of the things that a reader brought up was the possibility that part of the issue likely could simply be that with rookie and young wide receivers learning a new system, some improvement could be anticipated in 2013 and beyond. The same reader (thellamajockey) asked about Peyton Manning's rookie receivers through his tenure in Indianapolis, and whether they showed significant improvement in drops in their first 2-3 years in Indianapolis.
So, I decided to tackle the problem. The only issue is that Pro Football Focus, who I used for the initial piece, only has tracked dropped balls since 2008. Fortunately, STATS LLC. has tracked drops since 1992, all available on SportingCharts.com (the only place where the complete lists can be found, and historical data).
The bad news is that STATS LLC and PFF tend to differ in their interpretation of drops. Usually STATS LLC is a bit more lenient on receivers, and generally has a lower drop count (although not always). I tend to line up with PFF's interpretation more often, but they don't go back as far and we need uniformity for this study.
So, before we go into the case study, let's review the STATS LLC numbers from this year (and we'll include TEs for this study as well, as they were a big part of the reasoning).
Note: The drop rate formula is simply drops divided by catchable balls (Receptions plus drops). Many websites include drop rate to be drops divided by targets, but I completely agree with PFF on this one, it makes much more sense to track it by catchable balls than be targets. A receiver can't do anything about an over thrown ball.
2012 Rookie/New Receiver Numbers
If you read the piece from last week, you'll notice that there's a big difference in Hilton and Avery's rates, but because STATS LLC is pretty consistent with it, it still results in them having two of the worst rates in the league (in the 130s out of 161 total players with at least 40 targets).
Of course, that seems to be a theme with this young group. Only Allen had solid numbers in drop rate, 35th among all players, 11th via PFF's ranks for tight ends (out of 37).
But what we're really interested in for this particular study is their potential for improvement. How much of this can be attributed to simple unfamiliarity, not only with the offense and scheme but with the league in general? How much can be improved, and how much is a natural tendency?
Peyton Manning's Rookie Receivers and Tight Ends
For this study, I'm mainly looking at rookie wide receivers and tight ends, but it's not limited to that. For example, I also include Marvin Harrison (along with Dilger and Pollard), because he was a young wide receiver when Manning and Tom Moore came to town in 1998, and he had to learn the system and grow with timing with Manning just like anybody else.
Note: The year included is the year that that particular player was integrated into the offense on a serious level for the first time, which my baseline was 20+ catches in that first year. Garcon and Tamme, for example, were on the team prior to those years, but didn't begin to get reps with the first team and whatnot until those years.
|Name||Year Entered||True Rookie||1st yr. drop rate||2nd yr. drop rate||3rd yr. drop rate||Improvement 1st-2nd||Improvement 2nd-3rd||Overall Improvement|
With a sample size this small, the amount that we can get out of it is small, and should be taken with a grain of salt, but a few things are interesting.
- Overall, there was a decrease in drop rate over the three-year sample, but the biggest drops came in year three for just about everybody. For every player but Ken Dilger and Dallas Clark (and Anthony Gonzalez, whose third year was taken by injury), the difference between their second and third year was better than the difference between their first and second. Resulting in the majority of the overall improvement coming in the third year.
- While a few players bucked the "trend," it seems that in general, players who were true rookies in these systems had a better chance of improving than the young veterans did. Pollard, Dilger, and Harrison all actually saw their drop rate get worse through the first three years of the new quarterback and offense, while Brandon Stokley just slightly improved over the three year span. On the other hand, rookies who came into Manning/Moore's system had a chance to get better, such as Wayne, Pathon, and Gonzalez and Collie (and to a lesser extent, Garcon).
- For a guy like Tamme, there's not much that's statistically significant, simply because his drop rate is so low all three years. Yes, the numbers say it got worse, but getting 1% worse in drop rate isn't notable when it's only four and five percent.
So, what does this mean for the young wide receivers on the Colts roster?
Well, the hypothesis would need more testing among other NFL rookie receivers before we could take it as solid, but because this matches up with my initial thoughts, I'm going to go ahead and say it.
While Donnie Avery, a now four-year veteran, doesn't have much of a chance at improving his drop rate (it's been high throughout his whole career), guys like T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, and Coby Fleener have an opportunity to dramatically improve their drop rate over the next couple of years.
In addition, it's very possible that we might not see a huge change this year, but in year three instead.
This makes sense to my mind. Receivers like Reggie Wayne didn't have a great drop rate in his rookie year, but he's become one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league. Consistent hands are one thing that receivers CAN improve upon. Wayne didn't spend all those hours in the JUGS machine for nothing.
Hopefully that's rubbing off on these younger receivers.
kyle, Thanks for all the hard work. Wish I saw this on Monday. Picked the wrong day to install a new router & printer step up and new operating systems.
Your work does show that the Colts do have good reason to anticipate a drop rate improvement at least among last years rookies. Allen already looks impressive. Still I am more optimistic than you in regards to Avery. Avery was on nobody's radar when Grigson signed him. Pollard was impressed with Avery's comeback. Also, folks need to remember that Luck was several months behind the other rookie QBrs due to his Stanford Junior year graduation requirements. With a new Offensive system and a very aggressive vertical passing attack at that, limited off season QB/Receiver workouts, new coaching staff, a slew of rookies needing attention, two rookie QBs, loss of Collie, Pagano's absence .... there was a lot to persevere through.
Personally, By late this year I see Avery being passed in the rotation by Hilton, maybe Brazil and perhaps who knows, sharing time with a Griff Whalen or any of a number of later round draft picks or UDFAs. Still for this year it looks like Avery sticks around.
Most likely Avery is a transitional journeyman player, But Avery will still see significant playing time as Colts look to make of most of Wayne's final years as they develop a corp of young receiving talent.
Change in scheme could help someone like Avery, perhaps? Seems like many of Avery's drops saw him laying out, double covered, or otherwise deep downfield. I agree that he was a liability, but unless Brazill really comes on, or the tall guy whose name I can't remember have a really great camp, I definitely see a way for Avery to win his spot back. Who knows what free agency and the draft might bring, though? I'm kind of rooting for Brazill, personally.
I think Luck was amazing as a rookie but to the defense of Avery and Hilton along with the other recivers was the fact that Luck quite often threw the ball high and off target. I'm sure that had to do with being unfamiliar with the WR's but it is an area he should improve this offseason. I belive we should resign Avery I really liked him, even though he did drop some catchable balls not all were his fault. He's a smaller reciver who relies on his speed to make alot of his plays and Luck throwing the ball high and off target kept him from the big plays. I think if we resign him Luck will be more comfortable and on target hitting Avery in stride letting him make more plays with his crazy speed. Thats one thing you cannot teach or coach is speed. So I hope to see Avery back with a resonable new contract.
If the offense swings towards a Stanford style offense, sure hands are more important than speed to keep the chains moving with short passes. With Wayne being double teamed, we need another reliable 3rd down option. I like Allen's drop numbers about. Pretty impressive. If another receiver can step up (Hilton or Avery) and catch the ball consistently, I feel good about our receivers although I'd love a 6'3 guy with hands, but those are not easy to come by!
Just going out on a limb here: Avery seems to be part of the Colt's future plans. After his first season in Indy, I was hoping for his departure and for Hilton to take over the #2 role, or eventually take it over if we signed someone to be our eventual post Wayne #1 receiver. However, I do trust Grigson and company at evaluating talent ~ especially on their own roster. I don't know Avery's full story, but I do know that even with 4 years under his belt, health has kept him from playing a lot of games. It is entirely plausible that his drop rate was atrocious this year due to rust. If Avery works on his hands, and stays healthy for most of next year, he could potentially develop much like a rookie. I'm not defending his past season by any means, but I'm postulating that perhaps he does have potential because he hasn't had a regular 4 years. Thus he really isn't a true veteran receiver. He should be inexpensive, and giving him ONE more year may prove to be genius. He may also play better under Pep's new scheme as well. On that note, I hope to see a lot of development with Fleener in the new system. We need to get away from running every time we have a 2 TE set on the field. Allen had an awesome year, sure handed, and good speed once he got the ball in his hands! All of that to say that with Wayne, Allen, Fleener, possibly a new receiver from the FA market (or who knows how Jeremy Kelley will work out) Avery may actually compliment the team. I do think that Hilton's ceiling is higher, but Avery could be a good depth guy as long as he isn't cheap.
@NateWalton I'm not saying that Avery's stats can't improve, just that I think it's unlikely that they do. He's been in the league long enough that it's simply not likely to change, IMO. Could it? Sure, but there's no precedent for it, and we didn't see it improve throughout the season for him.
I think it would be a grave mistake to have Avery be the #2 receiver again in 2013. He was one of the league's worst WRs in 2012, by pretty much any metric you choose to use. He hurt the offense more than most realize. Could he improve, sure, but it doesn't seem likely.