What are air yards, you say? The name kind of gives it away, doesn’t it? Air yards, irreverently discussed in this air yards primer, matter because we actually get some context of how much a quarterback WANTED to get their receiver the ball, not just how often the receiver could catch it. It’s a stat that gives us much more clarity on what went right and what went wrong in a given team’s passing attack.
This column will dissect air yards each week, looking for actionable info in the coming weeks. Looking ahead to Week 10, we will analyze the list of the 46 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 9
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 9.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (80 air yards, 81.6%) – In two years of writing this column, we have never seen a player with an air yards share of almost 82%. I guess, in hindsight, it’s not terribly surprising. T.J. Hockenson was traded. Josh Reynolds was hurt. Their best pass-catching running back was banged up. Jamaal Williams doesn’t catch passes. The air yards total is laughable, but St. Brown looks like he could have an even bigger role in the offense than he had in the first half of the year.
Davante Adams (188 air yards, 54.0%) – You see Adams here and Stefon Diggs below, and you just have to say, “yep, that’s right where they belong.” After burdening fantasy managers with 0.3 fantasy points two weeks ago, Adams’ 17 targets for 146 yards and two scores was a perfect way to get back in our good graces.
Van Jefferson (122 air yards, 52.1%) – I will save most of my notes for the Positive Regression section below, but suffice it to say, this was a VERY UNUSUAL outcome for Jefferson when you look at the box score.
Garrett Wilson (69 air yards, 51.9%) – Somehow, the Jets were able to beat the Bills primarily with a rushing attack that went for 34 carries, 174 yards and a touchdown. That meant Zach Wilson was only asked to throw 25 times, and Wilson earned more than a third of those targets. He managed 92 yards on those 69 air yards as he continues to show some uncanny yards after the catch ability.
Stefon Diggs (187 air yards, 49.5%) – Pray to whatever fantasy gods you know that Josh Allen is not seriously or long-term hurt with an elbow injury. If he is, these kinds of games from Stefon Diggs will not pop up as often. Sure, he will see the high air yards share, but all these games with 90+ receiving yards will be more difficult to achieve with Case Keenum under center.
Market Share of Air Yards: Highlights from the Bottom 20
These are intriguing highlights from the bottom 20 wide receivers with at least 30 air yards.
Chris Godwin (39 air yards, 12.5% air yards share) – Is his 2022 fantasy relevance slowly slipping away? It’s hard to tell. He does have four straight games with 10+ targets and five overall. But he also has zero scores on the year and four of seven games under 60 receiving yards. Moreover, his yards per reception (9.6) are by far the lowest of his career, as 45-year-old Tom Brady just isn’t getting him the ball downfield this year.
Tyler Boyd (37 air yards, 23.3% air yards share) – Even though he does have a touchdown, Boyd’s two games without Ja’Marr Chase have largely been fantasy irrelevant. With just eight total catches and 82 yards across two games, the usage left behind by Chase has not gone Boyd’s way. It has, however, gone Joe Mixon’s way. Cincinnati calls a run on 37.6% of their plays in 2022. In Week 9, it was 54.2%.
Michael Pittman (49 air yards, 29.0% air yards share) – The percent of air yards earned is just good-not-great, and 49 air yards certainly led the team on Sunday. But Sam Ehlinger completed just 50% of his passes and took nine sacks this week. No one on the team had more than 23 receiving yards. This is a bad situation that could get worse in the weeks to come.
Positive Regression Candidate
Van Jefferson (122 air yards, 0 receiving yards) – Week 9 was Jefferson’s second game back from injury this year. Many expected him to have his legs back in this game and finally get involved as a complement to Cooper Kupp. Well, he was out there. They tried to get him involved. But the result was an outcome you very rarely see in the NFL.
Jefferson ranked eighth in the NFL with 122 air yards in Week 9 but ended up with zero catches and, obviously, zero yards. While anyone who used Jefferson as a cheap DFS play or waiver wire pickup was supremely disappointed, but better things should be ahead. Jefferson was second to Kupp in targets, and the air yards total was very encouraging.
Negative Regression Candidate
Custis Samuel (72 air yards, 65 receiving yards) – Let me put it this way. Curtis Samuel has played 90 games in his NFL career. His 21.67 yards per reception was the second-highest of his career. The 16.25 yards per target were the fourth-highest of his career. The takeaway here is that this was an outlier game.
It’s not often we see Curtis Samuel make a Hail Mary-type catch after a bomb from Taylor Heinicke. But that’s what we got in a 49-yard reception that had zero yards after the catch. That’s just not Samuel’s game. More than half of Samuel’s NFL games have a yards per reception under 10.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
Deebo was on his bye this past week, so there is no new information from which to further push him down into negative regression. He is practicing this week, so the tea leaves look like he will be good to go on Sunday.
Check out this column from last week to get my mid-season thoughts on Deebo and how predicting his regression from an extreme outlier season was a fairly easy proposition.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
DK Metcalf (28 air yards, 37 receiving yards) and Tyler Lockett (23 air yards, 67 receiving yards) – Both of these totals were masked by the fact that Lockett and Metcalf both scored touchdowns on Sunday, but there is a more macro problem that all Seattle pass-catchers will need to deal with moving forward. Pete Carroll has a new Marshawn Lynch at his disposal. Kenneth Walker is a brutal, bruising back who will literally carry defenders with him when he runs. With that kind of weapon, Carroll will want to establish the run and establish it hard. That will lead to a lot of 50/50 pass/run play-calling, as it did on Sunday, even in a shootout.
DeAndre Hopkins (18 air yards, 36 receiving yards) – After Hopkins caught a couple of passes, including a 22-yard touchdown on the Cardinals’ first drive on Sunday, the Seahawks found a way to completely take him out of the game. The result was 109 total yards for Zach Ertz and Rondale Moore, and Hopkins’ target share dropping way down. But considering he was above 35% in his first two games, we can confidently predict the bigger games are coming.