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 11, we will analyze the list of the 61 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 10
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 10.
Christian Watson (165 air yards, 73.0%) – “I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson!” And if you make a habit of 165 air yards and a 42% target share, Aaron Rodgers is going to make you a stud in this league before you can say Elementary! With Romeo Doubs and Randall Cobb injured, Amari Rodgers shipped out of town, and Allen Lazard supremely disappointing, the hype Watson is getting may just be worth it.
D.J. Moore (55 air yards, 60.4%) – Everything under the hood of Moore’s Thursday night performance looked good. A 60% air yards share, 37.5% target share, and 46.4% targets per route run. But with 55 air yards representing 60% of the team’s total, that just ain’t gonna work. With Baker Mayfield getting back under center this week, I’m hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
Josh Palmer (118 air yards, 57.3%) – The big days may be coming to an unfortunate end soon, I’m afraid. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both practiced this week, and they would immediately supplant Palmer’s robust role from the past few weeks if they return to the field. We’ve seen the talent with Allen and Williams out of commission, so now we just wait and hope he can have some kind of relevant role in this or some other offense.
CeeDee Lamb (151 air yards, 52.2%) – Lamb’s best fantasy game of his career came on Sunday afternoon, and the 35% target share came when all of Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, and Tony Pollard were healthy. While we clearly won’t expect 11 catches, 150 yards and two scores every work, Lamb is now up to 43.4% of the Cowboys’ air yards this year (fourth in the NFL). He is a no-doubt-about-it WR1 when Dak Prescott is healthy.
Justin Jefferson (216 air yards, 49.9%) – Rightfully lost in all the hyperbole around Jefferson’s Catch of the Century is the fact that he set a career-high in air yards and moved into the top five in total air yards on the season. It looks like the Vikings are starting to use Jefferson more down the field as well. His last two weeks marked the only times he reached a 13-yard average depth of target (aDOT) this season. Each other game was 10.7 or below. Considering Jefferson’s catch radius and ability, this is a VERY good thing for his fantasy managers.
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.
Kadarius Toney (35 air yards, 13.4% air yards share) – Somehow, Toney took these mediocre numbers in his first real Chiefs game exposure and turned them into 57 receiving yards and a touchdown. He played on only 44% of snaps in Week 10, but with Juju Smith-Schuster now concussed, there could be some massive opportunity coming Toney’s way.
Darnell Mooney (37 air yards, 20.3% air yards share) – This was Mooney’s first game since Week 2 with less than five targets, so I’m not going to overreact here. Fields running all over the field for two million yards every game doesn’t help Mooney, but this is still his clear WR1, and more shootouts and games where the Bears are trailing are surely ahead.
George Pickens (37 air yards, 17.6 % air yards share) – This Pickens/Pickett combo is going to need quite a bit longer to marinate, apparently. This is now three out of four games with 32 or fewer receiving yards for the 2022 stud rookie receiver. He is just 45th among wide receivers in fantasy points since Week 6 and hasn’t quite yet seen the uptick we hoped for after Chase Claypool left town.
Positive Regression Candidate
Mack Hollins (129 air yards, 18 receiving yards) – Once Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller were officially ruled out for Week 10, the hype train started rolling for Hollins. He had a spike week once already this year, and with so many targets vacated in the short to intermediate part of the field, Hollins seemed like an easy value play on fantasy teams and in DFS.
Well, the Raiders certainly tried. But just like the rest of the Raiders’ season, it just ended in failure. Hollins got six targets and 129 air yards, good for sixth-most this week. But all that work ended in 18 yards and no scores for Hollins. But we can’t get too discouraged here. If Hollins is going to have this kind of role for the remainder of the season, he will definitely pay off whatever you spent to grab him off waivers.
Negative Regression Candidate
Darius Slayton (35 air yards, 95 receiving yards) – We can always look for the one guy who had the massive run after the catch play to find an easy regression candidate, and this week Slayton’s number is called. His 95 receiving yards came on just three receptions, one of which went for 54 yards, with most of those after the catch.
The entire Giants team caught just 17 passes for 197 yards against the Houston Texans because they asked Saquon Barkley to turn into a Derrick Henry-Adrian Peterson hybrid for one week (he had 35 carries). Barkley looks like an MVP this year, and the Giants will continue to run all of the offense through him. Slayton is likely to lead the team in target share and receiving yards, but his days are going to be up and down for the rest of the year.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
We are officially at Defcon 1 for Deebo Samuel and his fantasy value this year. After just two receptions for 24 yards (plus 27 rushing yards), it’s time to start thinking about whether or not we bench him on a week-to-week basis.
Since Week 6, Deebo Samuel is 62nd among all wide receivers in half-PPR fantasy points. Trent Sherfield, Rashid Shaheed, and Chris Moore have more points than Samuel in that span. I understand that Samuel is dealing with some nagging injuries for a couple of weeks, but the 49ers keep running him out there. We, however, should not keep running him out there.
His 26 air yards, for context, were the same as Scotty Miller and Jalen Virgil.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Parris Campbell (28 air yards, 76 receiving yards) – I bet somewhere this week you have read the sentence: “Parris Campbell has been sneaky good when Matt Ryan is his quarterback.” Well, he has, even when Ryan only gives him 28 air yards. Campbell turned this middling air yards into 76 yards plus a score on nine targets. Campbell’s last three games with Ryan at QB? He drew 32 targets.
Van Jefferson (23 air yards, 27 receiving yards) – Jefferson was last week’s candidate for positive regression after more than 130 air yards but zero receiving yards. Well, you need more than three targets and 23 air yards to fill those shoes, but Jefferson did get a red zone touchdown and now has the opportunity to fill a Cooper Kupp-sized hole in the offense. Better days are still ahead.
Amari Cooper (22 air yards, 32 receiving yards) – This home/road thing is the real deal for Cooper this year, isn’t it? At home, Cooper has 453 yards in five games with five touchdowns. On the road, he has 132 yards in four games with zero scores. Makes it easy for fantasy analysis, I guess? One more week with Jacoby Brissett before big weeks arrive with Deshaun Watson.