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February 27, 2021

Eagles 2020 dropped passes tally, with analysis

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

In 2015 and 2016, one of the biggest issues for the Philadelphia Eagles' lack of success was the play of the wide receivers, specifically, their penchant for dropping catchable passes. They corrected that issue somewhat in the Super Bowl season in 2017, and then again in 2018, at least during the regular season. In 2019, drops in extremely inopportune times helped cost the Eagles games against the Falcons, Lions, and Dolphins.

In 2020, Eagles receivers and tight ends weren't good, collectively, and they had their share of drops, but there were really only a few egregiously harmful ones. Dropped passes were somewhat of an issue, but they were very far down on the list of reasons the Eagles went 4-11-1. Here they are:

For some reason, as heavily as the NFL is covered from a statistical metric standpoint, there are no reliable sources for drops. While drops are subjective to some degree, the following is a representation of the number of drops by each Eagles player in 2020.

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? No? Yes? Well whatever, here's what I came up with (regular season only):

 PlayerDrops Catches Drop % of catchable passes 
Miles Sanders 28 20.0% 
Zach Ertz 36 12.2% 
John Hightower 10 23.1% 
Dallas Goedert 46 6.1% 
Greg Ward 53 5.4% 
DeSean Jackson 14 12.5% 
Travis Fulgham 38 5.0% 
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside 20.0% 
Corey Clement 16.7% 
 Alshon Jeffery14.3% 
Quez Watkins 12.5% 
Jalen Reagor 31 3.1% 
 6 players55 0.0% 
 TOTAL30 333 8.3% 

The following players had no drops in 2020, and at least one catch (number of catches in parentheses): 

  1. Boston Scott (25) 🥇
  2. Richard Rodgers (24) 🥈
  3. Deontay Burnett (3)
  4. Jalen Hurts (1)
  5. Adrian Killins (1)
  6. Jason Croom (1)
Kudos to Boston Scott and Richard Rodgers.

MORE: WTS: Bold offseason moves for Eagles, upgrading the WR spot (again) and more

Miles Sanders

The biggest offender, from a total number of drops standpoint, was Sanders, with seven. Sanders also led the team in 2020 in drop percentage among players with at least 20 catches, with a bad drop rate of 20 percent. That puts him second in single-season drop rate during the Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz era. Zach Ertz also made the leaderboard, but we'll get to him momentarily.

 PlayerDrops Catches Drop % of catchable passes 
 Dorial Green-Beckham (2016)12 36 25.0% 
Miles Sanders (2020) 28 20.0% 
Torrey Smith (2017) 36 16.3% 
Nelson Agholor (2016) 36 14.3% 
Zach Ertz (2020) 36 12.2% 
Alshon Jeffery (2019) 43 10.4% 
Nelson Agholor (2017) 62 10.1% 

Sanders was very effective as a runner in 2020, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and breaking off several long runs, but his regression as a receiver in 2020 was surprising and disappointing. As a rookie, Sanders had 50 catches for 509 yards (10.2 YPC) and 3 TDs. He was a weapon as a receiver both on short throws, and down the field. We had him down for 3 drops that season, or a drop rate of 5.7 percent.

But beyond just the drops, the Wentz-Sanders connection just wasn't there in 2020. Even when Sanders got open, Wentz often didn't hit him, with the most damaging miss coming against the Bengals Week 3: 


Zach Ertz

Ertz led the Eagles in receiving in four of the five years during the Pederson-Wentz era. The exception, of course, was 2020, when Ertz missed five games and had career lows in receptions (36), yards (335), yards per catch (9.3), yards per target (4.7), and TDs (1).

Since we've been tracking drops, Ertz has always been the Eagles' most reliable receiver in terms of actually catching the football. In 2020, however, he had his highest drop percentage, by far, since we've been tracking them:

 Zach ErtzDrops Catches Drop % of catchable passes 
2016 78 2.5% 
2017 74 5.1% 
2018 116 3.3% 
2019 88 4.3% 
2020 36 12.2% 

Whether it was a sharp decline in skills or unhappiness over his contract situation, or both, Ertz just wasn't himself last season.

MORE: Podcast: Should the Eagles draft a quarterback at sixth overall? | Recap: Eagles chat with Jimmy Kempski

John Hightower

Hightower made play after play after play in training camp. It didn't translate to the real games. He had two of the most egregious drops in the video above, and only had 10 catches on the season.

Jalen Reagor

On paper, Reagor's drop numbers (1 drop vs. 31 catches) look good. However, in watching every incomplete pass on the season, he lost more contested catch opportunities than he won. We didn't count those as drops, but he has to start making more catches while battling with opposing corners.

Side note: Carson Wentz

Finding every drop on the season requires me to watch every incompletion and interception on the season. It's a weird exercise from my perspective in that the quarterback is always going to look bad because all you're seeing is incompletion after incompletion. 

This year was different, as Wentz had an extraordinary number of easily completable throws that he simply missed, and often wasn't even close, whereas in other years, his incompletions were more "normal," if that makes any sense.

MORE: Eagles 2021 draft prospect review: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance | BYU QB Zach Wilson

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