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 was able to 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.
Each week, this column will dissect air yards, looking for actionable info in the weeks to come. For Week 2, we will do a quick analysis of the list of the 65 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top 5 in Week 2
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 2.
Amari Cooper (106 air yards, 68.4%) – Good to see one of our old favorites making it back on the list after he was essentially ignored in Week 1 (three catches for 17 yards). His 10 targets and 101 yards are more like what we are used to, but I worry that Jacoby Brisset and his 25th ranked deep ball accuracy rate ain’t going to get it done here.
Chris Olave (361 air yards, 64.3) – One of these things is not like the other, one of these things doesn’t belong. If you notice, the other players on this list have between 106 and 132 air yards. All strong numbers. Olave left Sunday with 361 air yards, which is an extremely rare number to reach. If he and Jameis Winston can just start connecting, the breakout is coming. I’m talking like A 14-year-old-kid-who-doesn’t-wash-their-face breakout. It’s going to be huge.
Tyler Lockett (110 air yards, 60.8%) – Similar to Amari Cooper, this was a strong sign of things we wanted to see after a lackluster Week 1. Lockett was targeted 11 times and managed to pull down nine catches for 107 yards. The Seahawks are going to be trailing in a lot of games, so if Geno Smith can keep hitting Lockett with these throws, the offseason hand-wringing over Lockett may have been overblown.
CeeDee Lamb (100 air yards, 56.5%) – Identical targets to Week 1 (11), but much more efficient this week with Cooper Rush under center (seven catches for 75 yarsds). Hmmmm. A Dak Prescott problem? Likely not, as the Bengals don’t provide near the defensive pressure or coverage as the Buccaneers.
Mike Williams (132 air yards, 56.4%) – As expected. With Keenan Allen out, Mike Williams dominated the wide receiver looks. His targets bolted up to 10, he crossed 110 receiving yards, and saw 14 yards per reception (just 5.00 in Week 1).
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.
Allen Lazard (30 air yards, 24% air yards share) – The Packers didn’t actually have a need to throw much in this game, but our worst feats about the Green Bay passing attack may be confirmed. A full eight players saw between 2-4 targets on Sunday night, with no player above four. At least Lazard got the long shots, but there is no difference-maker here yet.
Jahan Dotson (47 air yards, 13.5% air yards share) – I understand he has three touchdowns already, but this guy is just 48th among wide receivers in air yards and 43rd in receiving yards. Those scores are masking the fact that Dotson only has a 10.8% target share this season, otherwise known as the same as Olamide Zaccheaus. Proceed with caution here.
Robbie Anderson (43 air yards, 22.4% air yards share) – Well that’s quite a crash from Week 1. After 90 air yards and a 30.8% target share in their first game, Anderson comes back and cuts those both in half with 43 air yards and an 18.5% target share. But you knew this story before you opened the book. It’s boom and bust weeks all year with this guy.
Positive Regression Candidate
Brandon Aiyuk (122 air yards, 63 receiving yards) – We have seen an interesting change in the type of throws Aiyuk is seeing in the early going of 2022. His aDOT was under 10 yards each of his first two seasons but has been above 12 in both of his 2022 games.
That, of course, is a double-edged sword whereby the balls that connect tend to gain more yardage, but they can often be less accurate. That’s where Garoppolo can be so useful going forward. In his limited action Sunday, Jimmy GQ was 12th in deep ball accuracy rating, and he was number one overall in red zone accuracy.
It’s not heresy to admit that Jimmy Garoppolo will be a better pure passer than inexperienced Trey Lance. And if Aiyuk is getting more and more bombs downfield, we could be looking at a huge year ahead.
Negative Regression Candidate
Nelson Agholor (70 air yards, 110 receiving yards) – Much of Agholor’s yards in this game (44, in fact) came in a pseudo-Hail Mary play on third down with just 19 seconds left in the first half of the game.
Beyond that, he compiled just 66 yards on five catches and he will always be tied to a Mac Jones offense this year. The real wide receiver threat in the Patriots’ offense is Jakobi Meyers. Meyers earned 13 targets on Sunday to go along with his six from Week 1, which places him top-15 in the league.
Agholor, on the other hand, is 48th in targets after two weeks and only has a 17.2% target share. Don’t fall prey to the one big play.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
Well, this is going to get interesting now. We were all hyped up to see what Samuel was going to do with Trey Lance, a running threat, under center. Now with those hypes dying on the grass at Levi’s Stadium, Deebo will get his partner in crime back from last year. Jimmy Garoppolo should help Samuel recreate some of the YAC magic from 2021.
We already saw a glimpse of it on Sunday. Samuel had a 1.9-yard aDOT against Seattle, which was the sixth-lowest of all wide receivers. But he still managed 44 yards on five catches somehow plus 53 rushing yards on just four attempts. With George Kittle looking likely to come back, I think we can predict with a high degree of confidence that Samuel will have ample space in the flat now after these short dump offs.
Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Juaun Jennings will stretch the field while Samuel gets rush attempts and short passes. With San Francisco running backs dropping faster than my 401K, Samuel looks to be in line for massive work going forward.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Greg Dortch (19 air yards, 55 receiving yards) – Those who thought Dortch might ascend to the number two pass-catcher in Arizona after nine targets in Week 1 were left disappointed. Dortch was out-targeted by Zach Ertz, A.J. Green, and Marquise Brown. He also tied for targets with James Conner and Eno Benjamin. In a game where Arizona was in catch-up mode from the first quarter, it was discouraging – but not surprising – to see Dortch marginalized.
Jarvis Landry (21 air yards, 25 receiving yards) – The magic that Landry and Jameis Winston created in Week 1 was nowhere to be found against Tampa Bay in Week 2. Landry dropped from nine targets and 114 yards to five targets and just 25 yards. His yards per target plummeted from 12.67 to 5.00. If the targets can bounce back, that’s fine, but it looks like Winston is developing eyes for just Olave and Michael Thomas.
Hunter Renfrow (19 air yards, 59 receiving yards) – Hunter Renfrow’s 1.9 aDOT was the same as Deebo Samuel on Sunday, but he was still able to turn seven catches into 59 yards. But it was the 10 targets that were even more encouraging after he saw only six in Week 1 when Davante Adams ruled the world with 17 of his own. It was good to see Renfrow so involved again. Now about those fumbles…