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 15, we will analyze the list of the 63 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 14
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 14.
Davante Adams (118 air yards, 70.7%) – Adams is now up to second on the year in both total air yards (1,658) and share of the team’s air yards (43.4%). Anyone who sold Adams shares thinking he would take a dip without Aaron Rodgers was soundly mistaken.
Donovan Peoples-Jones (231 air yards, 66.4%) – This is now six games this season with at least 80 air yards for Peoples-Jones. To put that in context, high-salary WR1 Amari Cooper has just nine of those games. This is also three times in the last five games DPJ has led the Browns in receiving yards. Does Deshaun Watson have a favorite target yet? It doesn’t seem that way.
Ja’Marr Chase (167 air yards, 60.5%) – How dominant has Chase been in air yards this year? Even though he missed four games, he has 850 air yards on the season or just 30 less than Devonta Smith, who has played all 13 games. Christian Kirk has had an amazing year. He has just 60 more air yards than Chase in four more games.
Justin Jefferson (225 air yards, 49.0%) – Only third in air yards this year? After leading the league for two seasons? He should be ashamed. In all seriousness, Jefferson also is fourth overall in air yards share and first in receiving yards by 50 yards. He is the likely 1.01 in PPR formats next season.
Tyreek Hill (159 air yards, 47.7%) – With this game, Hill takes the lead in air yards on the season with 1,676, just a handful more than Davante Adams. He has fallen off a bit from the record receiving yards pace he was on, but he still has 1,460 with four games still to go. “But he won’t be good without Mahomes!”
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.
CeeDee Lamb (30 air yards, 8.8% air yards share) – Lamb (and Dak Prescott) were completely shut down through the air by the Houston Texans this past week, but that somehow has been par for the course this season. The Texans allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to the wide receiver position this year.
Jameson Williams (31 air yards, 11.6% air yards share) – It’s really great story that Williams has been able to make it back less than 12 months after tearing his ACL in the NCAA title game. He only caught one of his targets, but it went for a 41-yard score, showcasing the kind of big play potential that might make him and the Sun God one of the best duos in the NFL.
Christian Kirk (36 air yards, 11.8 % air yards share) – Kirk didn’t get in on the pass-happy party that Trevor Lawrence threw for Zay Jones and Evan Engram last week. Not to worry, Kirk is still the WR1 in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars are sixth in the NFL in passing rate over the last three weeks.
Positive Regression Candidate
DK Metcalf (158 air yards, 71 receiving yards) – Here are Metcalf’s catch rates in the five games leading up to Week 14: 60%, 83%, 67%, 73% and 100%. In Week 14, his catch rate was 50%, a sure sign that it was an outlier, especially against Carolina.
Metcalf saw his third-most targets on the season and his fourth-most air yards on the year. The fact that he only caught 50% of his passes for 71 yards was just a product of Geno Smith being under constant pressure throughout the game. As we know, much better games are ahead.
Negative Regression Candidate
Chris Moore (90 air yards, 124 receiving yards) – Chris Moore won a bunch of people some money in DFS in Week 14, but I bet he is still out on your waiver wire this week in redraft leagues. He was peppered with short targets all day but turned in some nice runs after the catch to get his 124 yards.
Moore is a low-aDOT kind of receiver, seeing less than nine yards aDOT in eight of his 10 games this year. He should get volume with Nico Collins and Brandin Cooks out, but I will bet the under on another 10-catch, 124-yard performance.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
If this is truly the end for Deebo Samuel this year after he suffered an MCL and ankle sprain in Week 14, it brings a merciful conclusion to one of the most disappointing fantasy seasons ever for a player drafted among the top 20 picks in PPR formats.
He is a respectable 20th among all wide receivers in half-PPR fantasy points this year, but that hides an ugly truth. Since Week 8, Deebo is just 31st in fantasy points at the position in that format, behind guys like Joshua Palmer and Darius Slayton.
He ends the year with almost 1,400 fewer air yards than in 2021 and over 300 fewer yards after the catch. But perhaps the most shocking stat is that his share of his team’s air yards dropped from 25% in 2021 to 15.8% in 2022.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Stefon Diggs (24 air yards, 37 receiving yards) – Diggs probably feels left out when he sees Chase, Hill, Adams, and Jefferson up in that top list. We shouldn’t panic here one bit since Diggs has more than 120 air yards in five of his last seven games.
Kendall Hinton (24 air yards, 38 receiving yards) – Many thought (hoped?) that Hinton would make for a nice waiver pickup with Courtland Sutton sitting out Week 14 and Jerry Jeudy recently hobbled. NOPE. Jeudy caught everything for every score, and Hinton couldn’t crack 40 receiving yards.
Devin Duvernay (12 air yards, 0 receiving yards) – I’ll reference Duvernay as a proxy here for all Baltimore pass-catchers. Until further notice, just don’t. With no Lamar Jackson, the identity of this team will be to establish the run and establish it hard. Baltimore passed at the lowest rate in the league last week (31.1.%).