Air Yards are the Gordon Ramsey of fantasy receiving stats. They tell us exactly what was right and clearly what was wrong with how a receiver performed in a given week. Often, it’s not easy to hear. But you as a fantasy manager need to pay attention to the under-the-hood numbers from your receivers instead of just blindly trusting the box score results, you donkey.
Each week, this column will dissect air yards for actionable info in the weeks to come. For Week 15, we will do a quick analysis of the list of the 75 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top 5 in Week 14
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 14.
Tyler Lockett (234 air yards, 65.2%) – Lockett has become an air yards king over the last five weeks and now ranks fourth in the NFL with 1399 total air yards. That’s more than Hill, Adams, Kupp, Chase, and a whole host of other elite pass catchers. His 15.04 aDOT is the highest among the top ten receivers so he is making a huge impact despite being the only receiver in that group with less than 107 catches (93). D.K. Metcalf weeps as he sees Lockett’s air yards share (41%) now higher than his own (37.8%). [Post-submission edit: Tyler Lockett entered Covid-19 protocols but is vaccinated so he can play this week if he tests negative twice]
Justin Jefferson (188 air yards, 54.2%) – He is top five in everything: receiving yards, target share, air yards, air yards share, touchdowns, you name it. This feels like a sentence I will be writing for 10 years. He actually doesn’t get a huge boost with Adam Thielen hurt because he was such a monster already.
Stefon Diggs (151 air yards, 53.7%) – Diggs and Terry McLaurin will battle until the end of the season for the title of who should positively regress more. McLaurin’s situation with Taylor Heinicke (1,403 air yards, only 808 receiving yards) is more understandable. Diggs (1,424 air yards, 972 receiving yards), is much more difficult to comprehend, but perhaps it’s simple regression after last year’s utter dominance.
Donovan Peoples-Jones (107 air yards, 52.7%) – Last man standing gets all the air yards. Makes sense, and should be a similar situation this week with DPJ, Hooper, and Jarvis Landry getting all the targets. I’m rolling him out with confidence in Week 15. [post-submission update: The Browns are one giant mess of Covid and Baker Mayfield is calling publicly for the game to be canceled. Stay tuned and check your news update sources before locking your roster]
Robby Anderson (149 air yards, 48.7%%) – Welcome back from the dead, Robby. It was in this space about four weeks ago where we conducted Anderson’s fantasy funeral. But with Cam Newton and PJ Walker taking snaps, they have rediscovered Anderson and his ability to grab deep balls. His aDOT was back up to 12.4 in Week 14 and the target share was an elite 34.3%. He might just be available on your waivers right now.
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.
Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy (59 combined air yards, 17.3%, and 15.6% AY share) – This is now officially an unplayable situation for the top two Denver pass-catchers. Beyond the 59 air yards, they combined for just eight targets, six catches, and 56 receiving yards. As Denver continues to feature their two-headed running back committee, more games like this with less than 200 total receiving yards are coming.
Odell Beckham (37 air yards, 14.8%) – The 14.8% of air yards is a bit deceptive since Beckham did have a strong 26.9% target share but it was accompanied by an uncharacteristically low 5.3 aDOT. He still managed 77 total yards and a score, so not to worry here. Only four players caught passes in the Week 14 game for the Rams, which is exactly what we want to see for players like Beckham and Van Jefferson moving forward.
Positive Regression Candidate
K.J. Osborn (125 air yards, 83 receiving yards) – The 83 receiving yards and a score from Thursday certainly will pay the bills, but it could have been so, so much more. Osborn and Jefferson combined for 313 air yards in this game, but only 162 receiving yards as they could not come down with 14 of Kirk Cousins’ targets.
This seems fluky as Player Profiler list Cousins as having the seventh-best deep ball completion percentage and the 11th-best catchable pass rate in the NFL this season. On Osborn’s side, he has the 11th-best drop rate in the NFL at just 1.6% so we should be able to chalk this one up to bad luck.
If Thielen misses any more time, Osborn will continue to be a strong WR3 play for fantasy.
Negative Regression Candidate
Brandin Cooks (76 air yards, 101 receiving yards) – On the opposite end of the quarterback efficiency spectrum are the Texans, who continue to pepper Cooks with targets (108 on the season, sixth-most in the league), but the throws are just laughably bad.
Cooks’ target accuracy rating this year ranks 80th among wide receivers and this catchable target rate is an eye-gouging 98th (65.7%) according to Player Profiler. In order to secure eight of his 11 targets on Sunday, Cooks’ aDOT had to drop from his seasonal 10.8 yards all the way down to 6.9 for that game.
If the Texans continue to throw to him on these short dump-offs and crossing routes, the catchable targets may go up, but the fantasy points will likely continue to languish.
This is the weekly place where we check how Cooper Kupp is breaking the air yards model.
Another 15-target game for Kupp gives him 151 on the season which is 20 more than any other player in the NFL. He has more targets than Tyler Boyd and Amari Cooper combined, if that gives you some context.
But perhaps the most amazing thing we can point to in Kupp’s season is how he is amassing such huge numbers without being a receiver who gets constant long bombs down the field. There are 23 wide receivers who have at least 1,000 air yards this season. Kupp (8.74 yards) is the only one of them to have an aDOT lower than (9.25). And 21 of the 23 have an aDOT greater than 10 yards.
He is lapping the field in yards after the catch (76 more than Chris Godwin) and is still the only player in the NFL seeing at least a third of his team’s targets. Simply an unbelievable season.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Mike Williams (19 air yards, 61 receiving yards) – Many in the fantasy and DFS space thought Williams would get a massively increased role with Keenan Allen sidelined Sunday. Nope. Josh Palmer and Jalen Guyton filled in just fine around the slot and Big Mike was left with just six targets. It came with an anomaly of an aDOT of 3.2 yards, so expect that to tick up as soon as tonight against Kansas City.
Deebo Samuel (18 air yards, 22 receiving yards) – So apparently Samuel is a running back now. In a game where George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk combined for 26 targets and 256 air yards, Samuel saw one for 18. he did rush eight times, but even lost that battle to Jeff Wilson (13 carries). After such a majestic start to the year, Samuel’s arrow appears to be trending down at the absolute wrong time.
Emmanuel Sanders (21 air yards, 25 receiving yards) – Sanders left Sunday’s game with a knee injury so the low totals here reflect that, but the more important news is what it does to the other pass-catchers. All of Cole Beasley, Gabe Davis, and Dawson Knox saw at least eight targets against Tampa Bay on Sunday, and we should continue to see that kind of usage considering the Bills simply do not want to run the ball with their running backs.