Aside from the horrid run defense, the 2021 Chargers were also plagued by another chronic issue: Drops.
While I’m sure it’s a lot harder to catch passes from Justin Herbert than the likes of Philip Rivers due to obvious differences between the two, this was the second season a lot of these guys had been hauling in passes from their young quarterback so excuses should be few and far in between. Plenty of first downs and touchdowns were left out on the field this past season and it certainly played a role in the Chargers narrowly missing the postseason.
In year two under Brandon Staley, this is an issue that must be eradicated.
Here are three players that must shore up their hands ahead of the 2022 season.
(*Statistic via Pro Football Reference)
WR Jalen Guyton
For the past two seasons, Guyton has played the role as one of, if not the only, deep-threat for the Chargers offense. That means his looks in the passing game are usually a little more sparse compared to the likes of Mike Williams or Keenan Allen. So of course it’s a cause for concern when a role player — one of the more important roles at that — leads the entire team in drop percentage. Guyton finished the 2021 season with a drop rate of 8.3 percent. In all, he dropped just four passes among his 48 targets while successfully catching 31 balls.
I’ll give Guyton a small amount of props, however. He did improve his drop rate from a year ago which was 9.1 percent. Any improvement is still improvement, but obviously there’s still plenty of room to improve in this area.
RB Austin Ekeler
After the 2021 season, many have been quick to give Ekeler the title of the NFL’s best pass-catching running back. As of now, his current receiving grade from Pro Football Focus is a 94.2, the highest among all running backs over the past five seasons. He also leads all running backs in yards after the catch since 2019. The guy does it all and deserves every bit of praise he gets.
That being said, Ekeler saw his efficiency catching the ball take a bit of a dip in 2021. Heading into the season, Ekeler’s highest drop percentage was 3.8 in 2018. This past season, that number almost doubled to 7.4 percent as he finished second on the team with seven drops. This is a far cry from where he was just three seasons ago when he hauled in a career-high 92 receptions while dropping only one ball (0.9 percent).
We’ve seen how high the bar can be set for Ekeler so I don’t think it’s wrong to expect a major bounce back in this area during the 2022 season.
WR Keenan Allen
Slayer?! On this list? Unfortunately the answer is “Yes.”
Despite racking up his usual 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards, Allen had an uncharacteristically down season when it came to his efficiency as a pass-catcher. He posted a career-high 5.1 percent drop rate to go along with another career-high eight drops.
Allen did set a career high in receptions with 106 and was just two targets off his career high in that area, as well, so it’s easy to cut him some slack. At the same time, Allen has long been deemed to have some of the safest hands in the entire league. Things could be a lot worse in regards to a team’s WR1 but I’m sure Allen would be the first to tell you he expects much better from himself.