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:
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: