Terrell Owens dropped passes, as great receivers do

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We noted earlier that one Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ron Borges, has finally made an on-field case for why Owens should be excluded, that he dropped too many passes. We’ve now taken some time to examine that claim, and we find it to be weak.

Although drops are not an official NFL statistic, Borges appeared to be relying on Stats, LLC, which has tracked drops since the 1990s, for his claim that “Owens not only led the NFL in drops once, he finished in the top four in drops seven other seasons during his 15-year career.” That is true, but missing the important context that league leaders in drops are often among the NFL’s best wide receivers.

After going through all the Stats, LLC, drops data for Owens’ career, I’ve compiled these notes on Owens’ dropped passes in each of his 15 NFL seasons:

1996: Owens dropped just one pass while making 35 catches as a rookie.

1997: Owens dropped five passes and wasn’t even in the Top 50 in drops. Hall of Famer Michael Irvin was second in the NFL with 11 drops, while Hall of Famer Tim Brown was tied for fourth with nine drops.

1998: Owens dropped five passes and wasn’t even in the Top 50 in drops while catching 64.4 percent of the passes thrown to him. His teammate Jerry Rice dropped eight passes and was tied for 12th in drops while catching 54.3 percent of the passes thrown to him.

1999: Owens again dropped five passes, again wasn’t even in the Top 50 in drops, and again had better marks than Rice while playing in the same offense: Owens caught 61.2 percent of the passes thrown to him while Rice dropped nine passes and caught 54.0 percent of the passes thrown to him.

2000: Owens dropped 13 passes and was fourth in the NFL in drops. Leading the NFL in drops that year with 16 was Rod Smith, who has been discussed as a Hall of Fame candidate.

2001: Owens dropped 10 passes and was tied for fourth in the NFL. (Owens also led the league in touchdown catches.)

2002: Owens dropped 10 passes, tied for ninth in the NFL. Tied with, among others, Jerry Rice, who dropped the same number of passes while having fewer catches, fewer yards and fewer touchdowns than Owens. Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison led the NFL with 16 drops.

2003: Owens dropped 11 passes and was tied for third in the NFL. He also caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl.

2004: Owens dropped seven passes. There were 17 NFL players who dropped as many or more passes than Owens while catching fewer passes that season.

2005: Owens dropped five passes, tied for 36th in the NFL.

2006: Owens led the NFL with 17 drops. This is Owens’ first year in Dallas and the one and only year when it’s legitimate to argue that he dropped an inordinate amount of passes. It’s also worth noting that he led the NFL in touchdown catches.

2007: Owens dropped 10 passes, tied for third in the NFL. He also caught 81 passes for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns and was chosen as a first-team All-Pro.

2008: Owens dropped 10 passes, fourth in the NFL. He also caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns.

2009: Owens dropped nine passes and was tied for fourth in the NFL. He also led an otherwise terrible Bills passing offense with 55 catches for 829 yards.

2010: Owens was tied with Brandon Marshall for third in drops. Wes Welker was first and Reggie Wayne was second.

So did Owens drop a lot of passes? Sure, especially as his career was winding down in Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati. But a lot of great receivers drop a lot of passes. Is Borges going to argue that Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison should be removed from the Hall of Fame because they were all on the drops leaderboards with Owens? Is Borges going to argue that Rod Smith, Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and Reggie Wayne don’t have good career résumés because they were all on the drops leaderboards with Owens?

When you’re knocking a player because he did a lot of bad things — dropped a lot of passes or threw a lot of interceptions or fumbled a lot — it’s important to remember that you can only be in a position to do a lot of bad things if your team is relying on you a lot, and your team is only going to rely on you a lot if you’re a good player. Brett Favre is the NFL’s all-time leader in both interceptions and fumbles, but no one disputes that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Owens dropped a lot of passes, which tells us that his quarterbacks threw to him a lot, and he got his hands on the ball a lot. A mediocre NFL receiver doesn’t get the opportunity to drop a lot of passes because he doesn’t get open often enough for his quarterback to throw to him, he doesn’t adjust to the ball well enough to get his hands on it, and he doesn’t last long enough to stay on the field if he keeps dropping the ball.

Great receivers like Owens, Rice, Irvin, Brown and Harrison dropped the ball a lot because they got the ball thrown to them a lot. And they got the ball thrown to them a lot because they’re Hall of Famers. At least, all of them but Owens are Hall of Famers. Owens’ absence from Canton says more about voters like Borges than it says about Owens himself.

55 responses to “Terrell Owens dropped passes, as great receivers do

  1. Borges is an idiot and a plagiarist. I wouldn’t trust a thing he writes or says.

    However, if one wanted to use “drops” as a factor, then calculate it as a percentage of times thrown to.

  2. All Borges is saying is that, with the drops, Owens is not a first ballot hall of famer. He never said Owens wasn’t worthy of getting in. Your issue is that some voters are making him wait. He’s waiting because of the drops and disruptions. He’ll get in. You’re just upset because he didn’t get in this year. Would it be a great injustice if TO got in after a one-year wait or is that some horrible thing?

  3. Nice work creating a tally of drops. I concur with other comments that we can’t draw conclusions strictly from this tally, rather we need a Bayesian approach. Beyond that, some teams play in colder, wetter, muddy conditions, and environmental factors are significant. So, ultimately, this “drop” narrative is nonsense.

    T.O. is one of the best wide receivers to play the game, and he should be a slam-dunk for the Hall of Fame.

  4. The terrell owens who played the final season of his NFL career in Cincinnati (2010) played scared with alligator arms.

    Too many times Carson Palmer put it on the numbers and/or where the ball NEEDED TO BE… and… owens would drop the ball or just stop going to the ball while focusing on approaching secondary.

  5. Well done, Mike. Thanks for doing all the work to lay the lie at Borges’ feet. Just another piece of sloppy jounalism by Borges. It hasn’t been his first, or second, or third….

  6. Sad state of affairs that Borges has a HOF vote. He’ll be arguing against Belichick in a few years. “He lost two super bowls, clearly not a HOFer”

  7. His game was based on physicality, winning at the LOS, exploding with speed and power after the release, running sharp routes and shielding the ball with his body at the point of the catch.

    Man he did a whole LOT of things to compensate for hands that frankly where average. Not terrible, not outstanding, NFL average. Its just the rest of his game was a couple floors above average. You would put every asset he had against most WRs in the HOF, he would win in most cases.

  8. Great case Florio. It just shows, or reinforces the HOF committee’s bias against T.O. They didn’t like his attitude, or character. Reality is, there are plenty of guys in the HOF who were great on the field, & complete turds everywhere but between the sidelines. Love him or hate him, T.O. was a GREAT WR, & deserves to be enshrined in Canton.

  9. There are a lot of great players that don’t get into the HOF on the first couple ballots they’re on. I just don’t understand the outrage the TO isn’t in yet.

    He has plenty more chances and eventually he’ll get in. But this oh woe is me I don’t give a crap about the HOF while he’s crying his eyes out that he didn’t immediately get in is a fine example of why he didn’t deserve to be a 1st or 2nd ballot HOFer.

    I can’t think of any other player that made such a stink about not immediately getting in. Its embarrassing to the player, not the HOF.

  10. Give up the fight, he has said he doesn’t care if he’s in the HOF. I think they should honor him and abide by his wishes and leave him out.

  11. I agree that the big difference between TO and Moss was that TO’s hands were less than great, especially at the end (I think he had a hand injury that required surgery at one point), but to say that is the reason to keep him out of the HOF is just stupid. His prime was much longer than many receivers in the Hall even his downside wasn’t horrible. His worst year of “drops” at 17 was a year he lead the NFL in TDs and was a beast – I’ll take that.

  12. The sad thing here is this process is becoming the same as the probowl selection; a popularity contest. Owens wasnt close to the troubled man Michael Irvin was during his playing days or the diva Deon Sanders was.

    And for that matter he played harder when the ball wasnt coming his way that Randy Moss did. Guess they wont elect Randy either because he didnt block or pursue an interception return very hard and was terrible on the Raiders for 2 years.

  13. Great article. Bottom line is that HOF voters are desparately looking for “football’ reasons not to admit TO, when in reality they just don’t like him.

  14. I wish they would just put him in so we don’t have to hear about this idiot (T.O.) ever again.

    He gets in when he gets in…..period

  15. Stop with the TO nonsense. Can we all finally agree that he was a toxic jerk and that is why he will never be in the HOF? It should be obvious that stats alone are no guarantee of enshrinement and just maybe there is this thing called Karma at work here. His supporters and detractors both need to find something new to talk about as all this TO business is going nowhere.

  16. The dropped passes thing is weak because we go over this every year. The best receivers are always near the top of the league. Owens clearly didn’t have great hands, yet he still dominated and was a difference maker. If someone is using that crutch to keep him out, they need to get some new material.

  17. As a Patriots fan and Massachusetts native, I’m no fan of RBorges. Never met the man, probably never will, don’t care to. His almost pathological hatred of Belichick and the Patriots is legendary around here. But this piece is one of the lowest, classless hit jobs I have ever read. Borges article made a lot of good points. It wasn’t all about drops, although the fact that TO was among the league leaders MANY times is significant to me. It was also about the fact that it’s HARD to get in, unlike other sports HOF. The baseball HOF is a joke. Only 32 NFL WRs are in. Borges also notes TO probably gets in someday. He also points out that many other players that dominated their era are still waiting, and backs it up with facts. The fact that TO was disruptive, as Parcells put it, also comes into play. You may disagree with the fact Borges has a HOF vote, but his peers evidently think he’s earned that stripe, unlike anyone that works at this site.

    The cheap, thinly veiled reference to plagerism was the icing on the cake. That charge resulted from Borges posting a snippet from a Seattle newspaper in his long Sunday Football Notes column and forgetting to give credit. Lazy, yes. A big deal,no. All because he mentioned Florio’s name once in the article. Then his subordinate got on the case. Classless.

  18. “We’ve now taken some time to examine that claim, and we find it to be weak.”

    Anyone from Boston could have saved you all the analysis. Of course it’s weak, Borges wrote it. But as much as I despise Borges this article ignores his larger point. He rightfully points out many deserving candidates who either waited longer or are still waiting and uses the drops argument as part of his justification for Owens’ wait. Borges article makes a very compelling but flawed overall point about waiting behind deserving players that have waited longer for a very limited number of seats at the table. He points out “only five receivers have been first ballot Hall of Famers — Jerry Rice, Don Hutson, Lance Alworth, Paul Warfield and Steve Largent. One can quarrel over the last two perhaps (although not if you ever saw Warfield play, which few of those railing about T.O. did), but not the first three.” The problem there of course is that Tomlinson and Taylor both made the grade in their 1st year of eligibility and not even Borges for all his twisted logic can make a valid argument they were better at their positions than Owens was at his.

    I have a lot of contempt for Borges but I will give the devil his due, at least he put his ‘logic’ out there rather than anonymously hiding in the crowd

  19. It’s just like anything else: voters will make up their minds first, then come up with excuses that fit their agenda.

    “Me.O.” turned off a lot of people with prima-donna behavior and antics during his playing career. Now it turns out some of those people are voters who will decide his HOF fate.

  20. Nice breakdown but some things are amiss. Why use the end of his career as an excuse for drops but fail to mention that Rice and others were at the end of their careers when they were dropping as many passes as Owens?

    Owens is not yet in the HoF. So what? He was only considered twice so far and both times he failed to make the cut to 10 even though his stats are impressive. The reasons why are many. Yes, he had a bunch of drops. He was targeted for two reasons. First because of his talents and second because he constantly whined and made a fuss about getting the ball thrown his way. He has those stats BECAUSE he demanded the ball and made things difficult for everybody when he didn’t get his way. His stats are not as impressive when you consider the volume of attempts he demanded and had. If you talk a bunch of junk about getting the ball and THEN you drop it, you kinda deserve the backlash.

    You guys keep dissecting differing opinions in order to promote your personal opinions. Fine. Here is one. Owens was a difficult teammate and threw just about every QB he ever had under the bus at some point. He wore out his welcome everywhere he went. If you want to dispute this narrative then offer some good examples of when Owens was a selfless teammate who helped his teammates get better so the teams could win. Go ahead. We’ll wait. And then we will notice when you can’t do it or how “weak” your efforts seem.

    Owens will get in. Missing out twice is not an injustice and certainly does not deserve the crusade you guys are waging

  21. Nice breakdown with the drops, but here’s the flaw in the logic. It was always, ‘TO was in the top 4 in drops, but so was this guy.’ ‘TO was in the top 4 in drops, but so was this other guy.’ ‘TO was in the top 4 in drops, but so was so was this 3rd guy.’ ‘TO was in the top 4 in drops, but he did all these other things.’ Common denominator? TO was always there and dropped a lot of FBs. I don’t think anyone denies he was a great player; deserving of the HOF someday. But, I believe Borges’ point, along with the others he made that seem to be ignored, was well taken.

  22. Wes Welker didn’t have a great career, it was all system. Now you are going to tell me that Edelman, Amendola, and Hogan (never played football until a few years ago) are HoFers too? It’s all system. They run pick plays and/or screen passes with 7 blockers lined up in front of them. Any receiver at any level can do that. Imagine Jerry Rice catching one yard passes with all those blockers in front of him. 2500 yard seasons. Welker led the NFL in drops multiple times including a huge one to lose the SB in 2011.

  23. Yeah, the West Coast offense wasn’t a system. It took a lot of 46 style defenses out of the mix by using short passes to substitute for a running gm. That’s why they barely missed a beat when system QB #2 Steve Young replaced system QB #1 Montana, barely missing a beat. Watch a game sometime. A lot of them are excellent

  24. This is an invalid statistical analysis. It’s like saying Drew Brees is a bad quarterback because he has 200+ incomplete passes every year. Only an idiot would come to the conclusion that Brees is not a hall-of-fame quarterback due to one stat that is clearly taken out of context.

    And if you disagree with me and want to judge people’s careers by one statistic, that’s fine – Borges has one important stat that is easily found online – the time he was suspended for plagiarism by the Boston Globe without pay.

  25. People are just looking for an excuse to keep him out because he was an abrasive personality. This stuff is really nonsense.

    Fans, both for and against knew he was always a threat and clenched their cheeks when he got the ball thrown his way.

    Should have been a first ballot but they wanted to get others who had waited longer, now they are making him play the waiting game.

  26. He should have cheated like Jerry Rice. He was going to get cut because of drops… then a few trips to the stick um factory and we’re talking about him as the greatest player ever.

  27. Thats a great article, I have been saying that for years. He dropped a lot of passes because he was targeted so much. HOF committe are gonna have to come up with another excuse, hopefully for their sake one that doesn’t make them look so ignorant

  28. That’s a lot of years of being in the top 4 of dropped passes. That season of 17 drops is atrocious. That’s over a drop per game. Between this and his crappy, divisive attitude, he should wait another year.

  29. TO and Moss were the best receivers of their generation. The next closest to them by the numbers is HOF Marvin Harrison. There is not one GM who would have traded either one for Harrison. Consistently QBs would have career years while either was on board and decline when they left.

  30. Let’s not lose focus here. Borges doesn’t speak for any voters but himself. I even seriously doubt that was the reason he didn’t vote for him. Sounds like something he made up after the fact.

  31. hairpie2 says:
    Feb 18, 2017 5:51 PM
    He should have cheated like Jerry Rice. He was going to get cut because of drops… then a few trips to the stick um factory and we’re talking about him as the greatest player ever.


    Anyone talking about jerry rice as the best player ever has absolutely no credibility on the subject. He’s not even the greatest receiver ever.

  32. Ron Borges is a little old man who has a history of plagiarism and has no clue about football. The game clearly passed him by about 20 years ago. But this is exactly why the NFL HOF is a joke. This year alone they elect a RB with 3 great years, 1 good year and nothing else. A 4 year career is worthy of the HOF? Now it is with these buffoons. Dan Fouts also spoke out about TO. Is there anyone more clueless about football than Dan Fouts? And Peter “give everyone a trophy” King is a voter. Silly process with awful voters. Get rid of the dead weight like former players, set an age limit of 60 and let the current football writers elect the HOF. You will find the results making much more sense than these old farts.

  33. TO was a positive for most teams, ON THE FIELD. Off the field his negatives offset much of the good he had done.

    Football isn’t tennis, it is a team sport and there is a whole lot more to being a team player, than just on the field. Undermining the coaches and creating problems in the locker room are part of how voters evaluate HOF candidates.

    If his problems had only occurred on one, or even two, teams folks might believe it was a team problem, not a TO problem. But he left a trail of destruction at too many teams … it was a TO problem.

    TO made a lot of selfish choices and they obviously concerned many of the voters. He will get in, but not soon.

  34. If TOs off the field negatives have kept him out of the HOF, should we not revisit such statements when a convicted abuser of small children [AP] goes in the HOF in his first year of eligibility ?

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