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 17, we will analyze the list of the 69 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 16
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 17.
D.J. Moore (81 air yards, 62.8%) – Moore is having quite an interesting year. He is far and away the NFL leader in air yards share. At 52%, no other player is within twelve percentage points of his number (Tyreek Hill is at 40%). But he is just 14th in total air yards (1,289) behind guys like Diontae Johnson and Jaylen Waddle, who are under 32% of their team’s air yards. But as he did on Sunday, no player does more with their air yards, as Moore posted 83 yards and a touchdown on just five catches.
Drake London (109 air yards, 55.1%) – London has been hampered by the lethal combination of poor quarterback play and playing for a tremendously run-heavy team. Despite a losing record, the Falcons throw the ball just over 44% of the time, 31st in the league. However, a more neutral game plan and improved quarterback play in 2023 should send London’s stock soaring.
Tyreek Hill (133 air yards, 51.4%) – Death, taxes, and Tyreek Hill in the top five of air yards and air yards share for the week. He is first in air yards and second in air yards share among all wide receivers this year. Don’t fear using him in championship week with Teddy Bridgewater. In Bridgewater’s two starts, Hill has 29 targets.
Kendrick Bourne (195 air yards, 50.0%) – This is the second week in the top four of air yards share for Bourne as he continues to be the only reliable pass-catcher for the Patriots. Even Rhamondre Stevenson lost his way against Cincinnati. New England may need to throw to keep pace with Miami this week, which raises Bourne’s appeal even more.
Amari Cooper (68 air yards, 49.2%) – Drawing 68 air yards in the game environment the Browns and Saints played in on Sunday would be like 200 air yards in a normal game. With 10 more targets Sunday, this is the fourth time in six games Cooper has 10 or more in a game.
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.
Adam Thielen (36 air yards, 10.8% air yards share) – Both Thielen and Osborn saw under 40 air yards in a predictable shootout with the Giants on Sunday. That’s because Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson both placed in the top-five players overall in total air yards. I am of the opinion that, since Osborn has emerged this season, this might be the end of the line for Thielen in Minnesota.
Zay Jones (36 air yards, 28.1% air yards share) – Well, this was a punch in the gut for championship week. After a five-game stretch where he averaged 10 targets, seven receptions, 83 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game, he caught just one ball for 14 yards against the Jets. Look for him to get back on track against Houston in Week 17.
Chris Godwin (35 air yards, 14.5 % air yards share) – Godwin was lucky to come away with a decent PPR game on Christmas against the Arizona Cardinals, finishing with eight catches for 63 yards. He had some decent runs after the catch to get there, but the Godwin who was catching balls 10+ yards downfield two years ago is long gone.
Positive Regression Candidate
Allen Lazard (138 air yards, 61 receiving yards) – Lazard may see some natural positive regression back to WR1 if Christian Watson’s injury won’t allow him to go in Week 17. Still, there were signs of life for Lazard against the Dolphins that had not been present in recent games.
Lazard’s 28.9% target share led the team and was the first time he was over 19% since Week 11. He saw almost 44% of his team’s air yards, and Rodgers looked to him early and often in this one despite Watson and Romeo Doubs combining for 14 targets.
If Watson is out Sunday, there is a very real possibility that Lazard will be a championship winner for many teams considering the Vikings allow the third-most fantasy points and most receiving yards to wide receivers this season.
Negative Regression Candidate
D.J. Chark (70 air yards, 108 receiving yards) – Elsewhere in the NFC North, Chark bounced back from an abysmal game with 108 yards. But he got those yards on just four catches, including a 51-yard strike that set up a score for the Lions.
Chark certainly has the ability to catch these long passes, but the problem is on the other side of the equation. Goff’s 58.8% deep ball catchable pass rate ranks just 17th in the league, and with guys like Amon-Ra St. Brown and De’Andre Swift available, there isn’t much incentive to take a lot of downfield shots.
That leaves Chark needing to catch four of his five targets and add some significant yards after the catch to generate his production. However, we know from the Deebo Samuel model this year that yards after the catch are not that sticky which makes Chark a boom-or-bust option each week.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
Two positive things regarding Deebo Samuel came out of this week even though Samuel missed his third game of the season on Sunday. First, coach Kyle Shanahan indicated he would likely return to practice this week. That means that those Neanderthals who have their championship in Week 18 might have his services back for that one.
Second, someone in my keeper league dropped Deebo Samuel and I was able to scoop him up at a very low cost. So shout out to me and the hopeful positive regression that will come to Samuel next year.
None of this, of course, is any consolation to the hundreds of thousands who drafted Deebo Samuel in the second round of their drafts this season only to have him tank their teams.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (27 air yards, 0 receiving yards) – With almost a full year of the experiment over, it’s safe to say the MVS and Patrick Mahomes connection just isn’t going to happen. If your name wasn’t Juju Smith-Schuster, Travis Kelce, or Jerick McKinnon, Mahomes essentially didn’t care about you in the receiving game this season. This is rock bottom for someone who was once thought to be a Desean Jackson clone.
Rashid Shaheed (22 air yards, 41 receiving yards) – I am two minds about this game Shaheed had. One, the horrible weather was to blame for a lack of involvement in the passing game and low air yards. But on the other hand, this team was missing Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Jarvis Landry. Shaheed has the ability to earn targets with those players missing, so hopefully, he gets them back in Week 17.
Tyler Boyd (13 air yards, 21 receiving yards) – Despite being on one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL (sixth-highest pass rate), Boyd looks to be fazed out recently due to the emergence of Trent Irwin. In his past five games, Boyd averages 3.8 targets, 2.8 receptions, 26.4 yards, and 0.2 touchdowns.