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 16, we will do a quick analysis of the list of the 66 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top 5 in Week 15
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 15.
Justin Jefferson (153 air yards, 61%) – I kept seeing tweets before the Vikings game against the depleted Bears’ secondary that was some version of “this guy better have 20 targets, 250 yards and three touchdowns against these guys!” Based on those expectations, four catches for 47 yards and a score is major letdown. But he had 10 targets and his air 153 yards were fourth-most on the week. Beggars can’t be choosers, my mom always used to day.
James Washington (72 air yards, 61%) – 25 total pass attempts by the Steelers? 16 total receptions by the team? Uh oh. It may be time to take Big Ben to the glue factory a few weeks early. Truthfully, Washington occupies the spot often filled by Diontae Johnson. But Johnson let his fantasy and DFS managers down with five targets, his lowest since January 3rd of last season. This is quickly becoming a passing offense a la the Jets and Colts – one where you want no part of it.
Cooper Kupp (131 air yards, 57%) – For as great as he is this year (more on that below), we typically don’t see Kupp show up on the air yards top five. We normally see him all over the yards after catch top five. But a strong 10.1 aDOT in Week 15 (season number is 8.8 yards) plus another 13 targets will get shoot you up the leaderboards in a hurry. God, what a season by this guy.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (154 air yards, 54%) – Always start MVS when you’re trying to make a leap above a cutline in #Razzbowl. Always start MVS when you’re trying to make a leap above a cutline in #Razzbowl. It was glorious to see how overjoyed Aaron Rodgers was that MVS finally had a great all-around game.
Donovan Peoples-Jones (111 air yards, 54%%) – Two weeks in a row on this top-five list. But I don’t know what we can extrapolate from his 111 air yards except that Garrett Gilbert also sees DPJ as his favorite target. This is a passing offense with three less-than-mediocre quarterback options available and ranks 27th in pass rate this season anyway. Target share and air yards share don’t pay the bills and for all the advanced stats, he could still only pull down four catches for 48 yards.
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.
Davante Adams (37 combined air yards, 13% air yards share) – FLUKE. He averages 111 air yards on a 10.0 aDOT on 10.4 targets per game this year. In Week 15 it was seven targets for 37 air yards and an aDOT of 5.3. He should have smashed against the Ravens. He didn’t. We move on.
Van Jefferson (22 air yards, 10% air yards share) – This is now two scary weeks in a row for V-Jeff. Three targets in Week 14 and now two in Week 15? Considering he had 31 targets in the prior four weeks, I’m not pressing the panic button yet, but he needs to start delivering against these next two cupcake matchups against the Vikings and Ravens.
Positive Regression Candidate
Mike Williams (104 air yards, 49 receiving yards) – Several things in play here for Williams that led to this disappointing result. First, he was coming back after a missed game due to COVID protocols in Week 14. Second, he had to reluctantly enter the blue medical tent with a shoulder injury on the first drive which took away some production. Third, his 11.6 aDOT stretched out a bit from his seasonal 10.7 yards and Herbert was having a hard time hitting Williams on the long throws.
In Week 15, Williams and Keenan Allen combined for 19 targets and 73% of the Chargers’ air yards. The rest of the team combined for 18 targets and 27%. This is exactly the type of passing tree we want to see for Williams and Allen in this pass-happy offense. On the season, the Chargers pass at the seventh-highest rate in the league (62.3%) so more 100+ air yard games for Williams should provide more fireworks in the last two weeks of fantasy playoffs.
Negative Regression Candidate
Tyler Boyd (64 air yards, 96 receiving yards) – Boyd had a fantastic game against the Broncos on Sunday, pulling in five of his six targets for 96 yards and a score. But it is sure to go down as one of his outlier games of the season.
Boyd’s advanced usage in Week 15 was astounding, including 43% of the air yards, 29% of the targets, a 10.67 aDOT, and the sixth-most yards after the catch in the NFL. But those numbers look out of line with his seasonal production. On the year, Boyd sees 20% of the air yards, a 20% target share, a 7.65 aDOT and ranks 19th on the season in YAC.
We have seen a bit of a shift in targets to Boyd lately with 18 in his past three games, but this level of outcome is likely unsustainable.
This is the weekly place where we check how Cooper Kupp is breaking the air yards model.
Since we ran out of superlatives long ago to describe this season Kupp is having, it’s time to turn our attention to some all-time records he could break in the coming weeks. First, targets. Marvin Harrison demanded 205 targets in 2002. Kupp, even in a 17-game season, is “only ” on pace for 199 targets, so he would need to kick it up a notch to break this one.
Receiving yards: Calvin Johnson holds the record in 2021 with 1, 964 yards. Kupp presently is on pace for 1,974 so this is certainly within reach. All he needs is 113 yards per game to get there.
Receptions: Michael Thomas caught 149 balls just a couple seasons ago in 2019. Kupp is right on the edge of this one, and is on pace for 148 catches this season. But certainly achievable.
Receiving touchdowns: Randy Moss crossed the chalk 23 times in 2007. While Kupp leads the league with 14 through 14 games, this one seems like the most out of reach. Not that fantasy managers would mind three scores per game over the next three weeks.
Bewildering. There’s a superlative I haven’t used yet.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Diontae Johnson (8 air yards, 38 receiving yards) – These next three guys represent Letdown Alley for Week 15. All were desperately and overwhelmingly counted on for fantasy and DFS in Week 15 only to lay major eggs, starting with Johnson and his empty 28 receiving yards. This was only the second time this season below six targets (three) and he just finished a stretch of five games with at least 10 targets. The usage isn’t a concern, but the arm delivering the ball certainly is.
Tee Higgins (15 air yards, 23 receiving yards) – What Tyler Boyd giveth, he also taketh away. Similar to Johnson, this was only Higgins’ second game all season below five targets (three in Week 15) so I’m not panicking with games against the Ravens and Chiefs up next.
Hunter Renfrow (29 air yards, 32 receiving yards) – To go from an average of 11 targets in his last three games to five in Week 15 was a Rocky Balboa gut punch to those who plucked Renfrow off of waivers. Both Foster Moreau and Zay Jones saw season-high targets numbers Sunday so can expect some positive regression in Renfrow’s direction beginning in Week 16.