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November 20, 2019

Analysis of the Eagles' 23 drops so far this season

Each year, at some point during the offseason when news is slow, we take a look at every Eagles incompletion on the season and tally the number of drops for each skill position player. 

As you might imagine, it takes a long time. Because the poor play of the Eagles' receivers has been by far their biggest issue this season, it made sense to take an early sneak peek at the drop tally after 10 games. I found 23 drops, and posted video all 23 of them on Twitter. If you have the stomach for it, you can go watch them all here:

Done? Cool. That was fun, huh? 

The following is my Eagles drop tally with six games remaining in the 2019 season. We'll order them by number of drops, but the column to the far right shows the total drop percentage of what we'll refer to as "reasonably catchable passes," or drops divided by (drops plus catches). To be clear, that's not total targets, which I believe are a bad measure of drop percentage, seeing as the receiver often has no chance of catching some of those targets. Got it? Good.

 PlayerDrops Catches Drop % of catchable passes 
 Alshon Jeffery34 12.8% 
 Nelson Agholor36 10.0% 
 Darren Sproles33.3% 
 Dallas Goedert24 11.1% 
 Mack Hollins10 16.7% 
 Zach Ertz55 3.5% 
 J.J. Arcega-Whiteside25.0% 
 DeSean Jackson10.0% 
 Jordan Howard10 9.1% 
 Miles Sanders24 4.0% 
 2 players (Boston Scott, Jordan Matthews)0.0% 
 TOTAL23 213 9.7% 

The biggest offender, from a total number of drops standpoint, is Alshon Jeffery, with five. He also led the team a season ago with five drops, which didn't include his season-ending drop in the divisional round of the playoffs in New Orleans.

Of course, Nelson Agholor has his share of drops as well, but fewer than I would have thought, at four. His drops just came at much more devastating times in games (we'll get to that shortly), and he had several other plays that didn't go down as drops, but were still very clearly bad plays. Examples:

  1. His "Agholorator arm" play in Dallas when he failed to track a catchable deep ball, and didn't even put his arms out to try to catch it.
  2. His complete lack of awareness of where he was on the field when he caught a ball two yards out of the back of the end zone against the Patriots.
  3. Any number of the other contested catch opportunities in which he meekly fell to the ground begging for pass interference, instead of aggressively trying to attack the football. (There were more than just a handful of those.) 
  4. His "catch" and fumble against the Lions when nobody touched him. I bet you forgot about this gem:

While Jeffery and Agholor are the biggest offenders, with Dallas Goedert not far behind, it's a team issue. Is a team drop percentage of 9.7 percent bad? Yes, definitively, it is indeed very bad. Here's how the last three seasons compare with the drop rate pace the Eagles are setting so far in 2019:

Year Drops Catches Drop % of catchable passes 
2016 43 380 10.2% 
2017 32 341 8.6% 
2018 29 422 6.4% 
2019 (on pace for) 36.8 340.8 9.7% 

The Eagles' 2019 drop rate isn't far off the pace of the 2016 team, when Dorial Green-Beckham couldn't catch a cold, and Agholor hadn't yet shown some life during the 2017 season.

The devastating impact of the Eagles' 2019 drops

For some reason, as heavily as the NFL is covered from a statistical metric standpoint, there seems to be a lack of reliable sources for drops. Perhaps that is because they are so subjective. If you look around at some sources, however, what you'll find is that the Eagles are typically in the top 5 in the NFL for drops this season, but not No. 1.

However, without the benefit of watching every incompletion for every team this season, I can confidently assume that there is no way in hell that any team has had as many high leverage drops as the Eagles this season. The list of game-altering drops is kind of absurd. Let's go ahead and rank the top 5 by biggest result-altering ramifications:

1) Arcega-Whiteside's drop against the Lions very likely cost the Eagles a game. If he makes that catch, he probably falls back into the end zone for a TD. With a successful PAT, the Eagles are kicking off to the Lions with a four-point lead, and 40 seconds remaining. (The Lions had 2 timeouts.)

2) If Agholor tracks the ball better against the Patriots, giving himself a better chance of making a game-tying catch (with a successful PAT), the Eagles would have been kicking off to the Pats with 58 seconds left. (They did have all 3 timeouts.)

3) Agholor's drop down the sideline against the Falcons may or may not have gone for a score. Here's a look at the All-22 at the moment Agholor dropped it. You decide.


If Agholor scores on that play, the Eagles go up 3, and Atlanta gets the ball back with a little under 2 minutes to go. (They had all 3 timeouts.)

4) Hollins' drop against the Lions would have put the Eagles at around the Lions ' 36 yard line with a fresh set of downs. They'd have at least been in field goal range with 1:30 to play a chance to continue to drive for a TD. Instead, they ended up settling for the prayer downfield to Arcega-Whiteside, which as noted above, should have been answered.

5) Jeffery's drop on 4th and 2 against the Vikings would have given the Eagles the ball at around the Vikings' 35 yard line. Instead, the Vikings took over on downs near midfield, and scored a TD on their ensuing drive.

Beyond the game-altering drops mentioned above, 12 (!) of the Eagles' 23 drops have occurred on 3rd or 4th down.

But can we overlook the drops because they're offset by other big plays?

Above, we noted that while the Eagles are among the league leaders in drops, they aren't No. 1 in any of the half-hearted attempts by some sites to track them.

If you watch a full Sunday slate of games on the Red Zone Channel from the comfort of your couch, you will undoubtedly see a whole slew of outstanding catches around the league. They have almost become routine. As such, for some teams that have high drop rates, you can almost forgive the drops if their receivers are making up for them with other spectacular catches.

In the case of the Eagles, I'll pose this question: How many great -- hell, how many good -- catches have Eagles receivers made this season that you wouldn't otherwise reasonably expect them to make?

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