Gregg Rosenthal

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Who's got the best hands?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The ability to catch passes in traffic is an oddly underrated skill among NFL receivers. While the highlight shows focus on the long touchdowns, I'd much rather watch Antonio Gates shake off two defenders while plucking a ball out of traffic. Both Gates and Steve Smith made some insane catches last week despite being well covered. Watching tape this week, I got to thinking about who the best players in the league were at making the difficult grab. Using Rotoworld's Season Pass stats, I wanted to check if the top-five list in my head all had high "catch percentages." Here's my list, with their accompanying catch percentage.

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Steve Smith – .61
T.J. Houshmandzadeh – .70
Antonio Gates – .57
Keyshawn Johnson – .58
Andre Johnson – .75

Catch percentage is a tool we use that simply divides a players receptions by the number of times they are targeted. Plenty of caveats apply: the player's role, quarterback, and system are big factors. Still, catch percentage is a great indicator of how efficient a player is. If you have good hands, you should have a high catch percentage.

Anyone over .60 is doing a great job. Any wide receiver over 70% is phenomenal. Andre Johnson's astronomical average is another example of how amazing his breakout season has been to this point. He's the new T.O., with better hands, and a lot less mouth. I was surprised that Gates' number wasn't a little higher.

Here's the best of the best at wideout in catch percentage this season with a minimum of 20 pass targets.

Josh Reed, Bills – .81
Eric Moulds, Texans – .81
Andre Johnson, Texans – .75
Arnaz Battle, 49ers – .77
Keenan McCardell, Chargers – .77
Antwaan Randle El, Redskins – .72
T.J. Houshmandzadeh – .70
Jerricho Cotchery – .70

Other than Johnson, most of these players are possession receivers – they don't stretch the field. The Bills should try to get Reed more involved in the offense, while de-emphasizing Peerless Price. Eric Moulds is having a renaissance away from Buffalo. We've long thought of Battle as a poor man's Hines Ward and now he's finally healthy enough to make a difference. Don't be surprised if he catches more passes this year than teammate Antonio Bryant. Keenan McCardell isn't the offenses' focus anymore, but he's still effective. Cotchery has rewarded Eric Mangini's faith with a big third season.

On the flip side of this list are players with a catch percentage below .50. Plaxico Burress and Drew Bennett are two players that are annually among the league leaders in dropped passes. They make big plays, but they aren't efficient. Burress has improved this season, and is currently catching .53 of the targets sent his way. Bennett makes our notable player list at .50 or below.

Terrell Owens, Cowboys - .50
Antonio Bryant, 49ers - .48
Drew Bennett, Titans - .47
Bernard Berrian, Bears - .46
Braylon Edwards, Browns - .44
Chris Chambers, Dolphins - .43
Joey Galloway, Bucs - .38
Roddy White, Falcons - .36

Chambers and Galloway are the biggest offenders on this list because they get the ball thrown their way so often. Poor quarterback play isn't helping either player, but Chambers has teammates who have been much more efficient. People fall in love with Chambers' size and speed, but he's suffered from inconsistent hands at best throughout his career.

Bryant and Berrian are among the league leaders in yards-per-catch, so their long routes clearly don't help their percentage. Roddy White is having a sophomore slump that Michael Clayton could be proud of.

Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
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