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 75 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.

Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 15

These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 15.

A.J. Brown (246 air yards, 55.2%)A.J. Brown is getting close to joining one of the most exclusive wide receiver clubs in the NFL. Only three receivers have at least 40% of their team’s air yards and 40% of the team’s target share: Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and D.J. Moore. Brown is at 41% air yards share and 29.3% target share after Sunday’s massive outing. He had 73 more air yards than any other player and has worked his way into a potential top-15 draft pick next season. 

Ja’Marr Chase (114 air yards, 52.1%) –  Every one of the 20 players who have at least 850 receiving yards this year has played at least 12 games. Except for Ja’Marr Chase who has played 10. His 377 yards after the catch rank 11th in the NFL, even though he missed four games. Even with competent pass-catchers like Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon around, Chase stands above all others and is simply masterful at making big catches and turning them into bigger plays. 

Mike Evans (151 air yards, 47.3%) – Evans joins Terry McLaurin and Chris Olave as the only members of the top 12 in air yards to have fewer than six touchdowns on the year. Each of those receivers has exactly three. But you see, McLaurin and Olave have terrible quarterbacks. Mike Evans has Tom Brady. Or at least the corpse of Tom Brady. At 452 more air yards than receiving yards this year, Evans is close to winning the annual Allen Robinson Can Someone Please Throw The Ball To Me In Stride award. 

D.J. Moore (111 air yards, 46.1%) –  It may or may not surprise you that Moore is the only player in the NFL with more than 50% of his team’s air yards this season. In fact, his 51% is 10% higher than any other player (Adams and Brown). One truly does wonder what D.J. Moore would be without Cam Newton/Baker Mayfield/Teddy Bridgewater/Sam Darnold/PJ Walker/Kyle Allen throwing him the football. 

Diontae Johnson (68 air yards, 44.7%) – Will someone please get this man a real quarterback? Of the 13 players with at least 1,200 air yards this season, only Diontae Johnson has less than 900 receiving yards. He has 735. This Mitch Trubisky/Kenny Pickett turd sandwich is destroying his fantasy value, plus they still haven’t been able to get him into the end zone. 

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.

Jerry Jeudy (32 air yards, 26.7% air yards share) –  Jeudy gets one good game with Russell Wilson and then proceeds to get Brett Rypien’ed the next week. The running backs and tight ends got all the work in this game on Sunday as the Broncos chose to play it conservatively against the Arizona Trace McSorleys. 

Terry McLaurin (39 air yards, 12.2% air yards share) –  Don’t read too much into this one. It was the first time since Week 6 that McLaurin didn’t have at least a 25% target share and Wink Martindale’s scheme was clearly to take him out of the game. 

Marquise Goodwin (35 air yards, 17.4 % air yards share) – Assuming Goodwin plays this week (he has been banged up in practice), I put this here as a point of reference for next week. With Tyler Lockett likely to miss Week 16 and Goodwin next in line, he could be a fantasy playoff winning piece against a Kansas City Chiefs team that allows the most passing touchdowns and seventh-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Expect the air yards to go way up for Goodwin in this one. 

Positive Regression Candidate

Mack Hollins (154 air yards, 40 receiving yards) –  In the wild game against the New England Patriots, Mack Hollins caught 50% of the passes thrown his way. Not a great catch rate, but when you have 154 air yards, that should get you a decent fantasy day. But that’s not what happened to Hollins. He caught four of eight targets for 40 yards, even though his average depth of target in this game was over 22 yards. 

Hollins caught everything close to the line of scrimmage and just missed on every deep throw down the field. Some of those (even with Derek Carr throwing the ball) will connect in the future, so if this usage continues, bigger days are ahead. 

Negative Regression Candidate

CeeDee Lamb (88 air yards, 126 receiving yards) – Truth be told, it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster for Dallas Cowboys pass-catchers lately. Their inconsistency has been maddening, and Lamb on Sunday was just the latest example. He was lucky to finish the day with 126 receiving yards after just 88 air yards and 7.6% of the team’s air yards. 

Since Week 10, Lamb has two weeks with more than 45% of the Cowboys’ air yards and two weeks under 20%. He has two games with more than a 34% target share and two games under 17%. The numbers are going to be there in the end for Lamb, but it’s bound to be a rocky road to get there this year. 

Deebo Watch

This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.

The more the 49ers keep winning, the less likely it is we see Deebo Samuel until the playoffs begin. With San Francisco winners of seven straight and already having the NFC West locked up, what incentive do they have to rush him back from an MCL injury?

If this is the end, he finishes the year with 612 receiving yards, including 465 yards after the catch. Such a far cry from his 1,397 and 787 yards after the catch last season. 

Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards

Isaiah Hodgins (29 air yards, 37 receiving yards)  – Well, this is disappointing for anyone who dropped some FAAB on Hodgins the past two weeks. He had back-to-back games with a 21% target share, but that plummeted to 13% in Week 15. It appears Daniel Jones (the few times he passes) still has eyes for Darius Slayton and Richie James when the ball isn’t going to Saquon Barkley

D.J. Chark (22 air yards, 18 receiving yards) – This is who D.J. Chark is. Sometimes he has 100+ air yards, like in Weeks 1, 3, and 13. And sometimes he has under 30 air yards, such as in Weeks 11 and 15. You know he’s boom or bust, and that’s what makes him an unreliable fantasy asset. 

Donovan Peoples-Jones (17 air yards, 31 receiving yards) – ""Peoples-Jones missed practice on Wednesday for a “rest” day. I’m not exactly sure what he was resting from after his four catches for 31 yards. He also had his lowest yards per reception on the season at 7.75. This Cleveland passing situation is maddening right now, and it may take until next season until we see the version of Deshaun Watson we are used to.