There are plenty of tasks in the job description for NFL receivers: running proper routes, blocking, developing chemistry with the quarterback. And there is one very basic requirement — catching the ball.
Not so easy, it seems, even for the likes of Super Bowl winners.
Drops are not an official NFL statistic, yet every team has a system for counting them. And every team have their share of players who make that statistic necessary, including the undefeated Green Bay Packers. They gave star quarterback Aaron Rodgers nightmares with all the throws his targets flubbed in last Sunday’s victory over the New York Giants.
“Drops are part of the game,” Rodgers said after the half-dozen blatant ones by his receivers. “They are going to happen. It’s just frustrating when they are having a direct impact on a drive, they may stall. I don’t know how many we officially had tonight, but more than is acceptable in an offensive run.”
Some players make spectacular catches — Santonio Holmes won a Super Bowl for Pittsburgh with one — and then cannot hang on to an easy pass. Others cannot hang on to any passes, as Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis showed a few weeks ago, with a drop in the end zone with nobody around him the most costly.
It seems to have reached epidemic proportions throughout the league, even though the weather has not turned bad yet.
Miami Dolphins wide receivers coaches Steve Bush and Ike Hilliard track drops when they watch film and they have seen far too many from Brandon Marshall, including four potential touchdowns.
Cris Carter, a contender for the Hall of Fame this year, was known for having one of the best sets of hands in the game. He does not see anything changing about all the drops anytime soon.
For one, the NFL has become a passing league, so more balls are in the air. Thus, more of them are landing on the ground. However, Carter, who made 1,101 catches for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns, sees another reason for the bobbles.
“A lot of receivers are not working on catching the football, as far as training, and not concentrating on catching it,” he said. “Their ability to catch the football is not better. Look at the advances of athletes and equipment, and yet what receivers were able to do 30 years ago compared to today, they don’t run better routes or catch the football better. The fundamentals, they don’t work on ... and they are really hard to get and the last things that really come together.”
Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker, Jason Avant and Reggie Wayne are among those who have mastered all aspects of receiving. Throw them the ball and they nearly always catch it.
They also don’t call special attention to themselves. Some would say that too many wideouts are divas, as concerned with their post-touchdown celebrations and calling attention to themselves as with catching the darn ball.
There also are too many wideouts who want to run with the ball before they get it. Ted Ginn Jr with San Francisco and Roy Williams with Chicago helped cost their teams games by deflecting perfect passes to the opposition. DeSean Jackson dropped three passes against New England, two that could have gone for scores, turning a close game into a lopsided loss for Philadelphia.
It drives coaches and offensive coordinators mad.
“Can’t drop balls, especially when they’re catchable,” said Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur, whose team unofficially lead the league in that category. “We talk about it all the time and the players would tell you: ‘Any ball in the air is ours.’ That needs to be the mentality and we’ve got to get that done.”