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Tony Gonzalez is good at not fumbling

Gonzalez has made 13 Pro Bowls.

Gonzalez has made 13 Pro Bowls.

Do you remember Robert Thomas? He was selected by the Rams with the 31st overall pick in the 2002 draft. He started 30 games at linebacker for the team in three years, grabbed a cup of coffee in Green Bay, and then had three forgettable years with the Raiders during the nadir of the Al Davis era.

In week 16 of the 2006 season, the 7-7 Chiefs traveled to Oakland to face the 2-12 Raiders. Kansas City held a 10-6 lead when they took possession with 11:38 left in the second quarter. Trent Green completed a short pass to the right side of the field to Tony Gonzalez, who was tackled by Thomas. In the process, Thomas jarred the ball loose from Gonzalez, and Kansas City’s second-string tight end, Kris Wilson, pounced on the ball and recovered, keeping possession for the Chiefs. Kansas City eventually won 20-9, and clinched the playoffs by winning the following week against Jacksonville. Oakland finished 2-14 and was rewarded with JaMarcus Russell.

Thomas’ fumble wouldn’t even register as a footnote in the game recap, let alone seven years later. But here’s the thing: from the start of the 2000 season until that play began, Gonzalez had caught 547 passes and fumbled zero times. Since that fumble, Gonzalez has caught 526 receptions… and zero fumbles. Thomas’ forced fumble was the only time since 2000 that Gonzalez has ever let the ball hit the ground.

That crazy stat comes courtesy of Bill Barnwell on this podcast. After hearing about it, I decided to see look up career fumble rates. Excluding the postseason, Gonzalez has 6 career fumbles while recording 1242 receptions, 2 rushes, and one pass attempt. That’s a fumble rate of under half-a-percent per touch! That’s the second best rate of any player to enter the league since 1950, minimum 1,000 touches (defined as every time a player touched the ball).

Who is number one? The guy who can’t stop fumbling in the NFL playoffs. Before presenting the list of the players with the top 100 fumble rates, let me get in a quick disclaimer. Fumble rates, in general, are declining. And the fumble rates are dramatically different on returns relative to running plays, which have different fumble rates than quarterbacks on pass plays, which is way higher than the fumble rates on a reception by a receiver. But hey, if you just want a list of fumbles per touch, ignoring context, check out below:

1Ray Rice20082012RB153670.46%
2Tony Gonzalez19972012TE124560.48%
3Bert Jones19731982QB3030160.53%
4Joseph Addai20062011RB128870.54%
5Errict Rhett19942000RB126470.55%
6Robert Smith19932000RB160990.56%
7DeAngelo Williams20062012RB136180.59%
8Brian Westbrook20022010RB1893120.63%
9Ron Dayne20002007RB104170.67%
10Anthony Thomas20012007RB115980.69%
11Peyton Manning19982012QB8415590.7%
12Marion Butts19891995RB1416100.71%
13Edgar Bennett19921999RB1409100.71%
14Curtis Martin19952005RB4005290.72%
15Andy Dalton20112012QB119890.75%
16Priest Holmes19972007RB2126160.75%
17James Stewart19952002RB1699130.77%
18Maurice Morris20022011RB116390.77%
19Matt Ryan20082012QB2952230.78%
20LaDainian Tomlinson20012011RB3812300.79%
21Warrick Dunn19972008RB3200260.81%
22Steven Jackson20042012RB2807230.82%
23Karim Abdul-Jabbar19962000RB109590.82%
24Joe Kapp19671970QB109290.82%
25LaMont Jordan20012009RB109190.82%
26Dorsey Levens19942004RB1571130.83%
27Matthew Stafford20092012QB2038170.83%
28Joe Namath19651977QB3942330.84%
29LeSean McCoy20092012RB105590.85%
30Ryan Grant20072012RB104990.86%
31Joe Montana19791994QB6161530.86%
32Chris Johnson20082012RB1695150.88%
33Rodney Hampton19901997RB2028180.89%
34Joey Harrington20022007QB2807250.89%
35Thomas Jones20002011RB3005270.9%
36Chad Henne20082012QB1554140.9%
37Julius Jones20042010RB1430130.91%
38Rudi Johnson20012008RB1649150.91%
39Matt Forte20082012RB1530140.92%
40Larry Johnson20032011RB1584150.95%
41Charlie Garner19942004RB1992190.95%
42Jim McMahon19821996QB3142300.95%
43Ronnie Brown20052012RB1465140.96%
44Fred Taylor19982010RB2824270.96%
45Cullen Bryant19731987RB1137110.97%
46Michael Turner20042012RB1753170.97%
47Joe Theismann19741985QB4314420.97%
48Corey Dillon19972006RB2870280.98%
49Terrell Owens19962010WR1122110.98%
50Ken Anderson19711986QB5270520.99%
51Cadillac Williams20052011RB1203121%
52Marshall Faulk19942005RB3607361%
53Tom Flores19601969QB1798181%
54John Brodie19571973QB4773481.01%
55Harold Green19901998RB1375141.02%
56Clinton Portis20022010RB2484261.05%
57Larry Csonka19681979RB1997211.05%
58Marvin Harrison19962008WR1133121.06%
59Maurice Jones-Drew20062012RB1957211.07%
60Vince Ferragamo19771986QB1769191.07%
61Drew Brees20012012QB6687721.08%
62Don Perkins19611968FB-HB1669181.08%
63Bill Mathis19601969FB-HB1195131.09%
64Troy Aikman19892000QB5303581.09%
65Terrell Davis19952001RB1824201.1%
66Sonny Jurgensen19571974QB4538501.1%
67Arian Foster20092012RB1177131.1%
68Matt Hasselbeck19992012QB5699631.11%
69Jerome Bettis19932005RB3685411.11%
70Kevan Barlow20012006RB1166131.11%
71John L. Williams19861995FB1792201.12%
72Randy McMillan19811986RB1154131.13%
73Carson Palmer20042012QB4526511.13%
74Daryle Lamonica19631974QB2839321.13%
75Cam Newton20112012QB1327151.13%
76Fran Tarkenton19611978QB7416841.13%
77John Stephens19881993RB1056121.14%
78Dick Wood19621966QB1220141.15%
79Cedric Benson20052012RB1720201.16%
80Aaron Rodgers20052012QB3180371.16%
81Deuce McAllister20012008RB1717201.16%
82Elvis Grbac19942001QB2737321.17%
83Earnest Byner19841997RB2650311.17%
84Marshawn Lynch20072012RB1621191.17%
85Stephen Davis19962006RB2127251.18%
86Jim Everett19861997QB5437641.18%
87Marty Domres19691977QB1018121.18%
88Eddie George19962004RB3133371.18%
89Marc Bulger20022009QB3547421.18%
90Jim Kiick19681977RB1266151.18%
91Jim Hart19661984QB5479651.19%
92Natrone Means19932000RB1516181.19%
93Lamar McHan19541963QB1681201.19%
94Darren Sproles20052012RB1173141.19%
95Marion Barber20052011RB1340161.19%
96Keith Lincoln19611968FB-HB1004121.2%
97Barry Sanders19891998RB3423411.2%
98Tom Brady20002012QB6664801.2%
99Alan Ameche19551960FB1071131.21%
100Rob Carpenter19771986RB1393171.22%

What if we drop the threshold to just 100 touches? I’ll close with the ten players with the most touches (under 1,000) and 0 fumbles, 1 fumble, 2 fumbles, 3 fumbles, and 4 fumbles:

Darnay Scott19942002WR44600%
Scottie Graham19921997RB38500%
Jackie Battle20072012RB31500%
Roger Carr19741983WR27200%
Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala19982004RB27100%
Charles Evans19932000RB26800%
Dave Middleton19551961E-HB-FL26500%
Mike Cloud19992005RB26300%
Leslie Shepherd19942000WR23000%
Dwayne Carswell19942005TE19700%
Ricky Sanders19861995WR54210.18%
Donald Brown20092012RB50610.2%
Travis Minor20012008RB46710.21%
LaRod Stephens-Howling20092012RB40210.25%
Kevin Walter20032012WR37210.27%
Doug Martin20122012RB36810.27%
Torrance Small19922001WR36310.28%
Vincent Jackson20052012WR35910.28%
John Jefferson19781985WR35910.28%
Greg Jones20042012RB34610.29%
Raymond Berry19551967E63320.32%
Jamel White20002005RB61620.32%
Red Phillips19581967E40120.5%
Gene A. Washington19691979WR-SE39220.51%
Tim McGee19861994WR39020.51%
J.J. Arrington20052008RB38920.51%
Steve Watson19791987WR36020.56%
Del Shofner19571967E-DB35720.56%
J.J. Stokes19952003WR34320.58%
Gary Collins19621971FL-WR-P33620.6%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis20082012RB83730.36%
Ozzie Newsome19781990TE68230.44%
Antonio Gates20032012TE64230.47%
Jerious Norwood20062011RB64230.47%
Deion Branch20022012WR57030.53%
Olandis Gary19992003RB55730.54%
Edd Hargett19691973QB47730.63%
Brandon Jackson20072012RB46930.64%
Charles Way19951999RB46030.65%
Wesley Walls19892003TE45230.66%
Derek Loville19901999RB65040.62%
Justin Forsett20082012RB52540.76%
Dwight Clark19791987WR51540.78%
Art Powell19591968SE-DB-WR51340.78%
Mark Duper19821992WR51240.78%
Steve Breaston20072012WR48340.83%
Jabar Gaffney20022012WR47040.85%
Jake Locker20112012QB45940.87%
Pete Retzlaff19561966E-HB-TE45840.87%
Brooks Bollinger20042008QB45040.89%
  • I think it probably says a lot about me that I could have told you off the top of my head that, since 1950, Scottie Graham holds the record for career rushing attempts while never fumbling. I could not have told you anything else about him at all, but I knew that. BenJarvus Green-Ellis of course held the record for a little while as well, which is why I discovered Scottie Graham holding it in the first place.

    Something I’ve always found interesting is Jerry Rice’s fumble rate. If I did my math correctly, he fumbled on 1.64% of his total touches, which seems like quite a high rate for a wideout who didn’t get many carries (87 in his career) or return kicks (though he did return one kick in his career). We’re still only talking about 27 total fumbles in the guy’s career, so it’s really not a big deal, but it is unusual to find someplace where Rice is so far outside the realm of GOAT territory.

    It’s also both sad and comical at the same time that Earnest Byner is on this list.

  • Brugg

    Danny-That’s a great post you wrote for Niners Nation. Thanks for the link.

  • James

    Well now I want to know who’s fumbled it the most…