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 4, we will do a quick analysis of the list of the 77 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 3
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 3.
Amari Cooper (134 air yards, 64.4%) – This is the second straight week at the top of this list for our old friend Mr. Cooper. Many thought his fantasy value would absolutely tank when Deshaun Watson was suspended, and noodle-arm Jacoby Brissett got the call, but the last two weeks have been outstanding. He has back-t0-back weeks with at least 10 targets, 100 receiving yards, and a score. Cooper ranks sixth among all wide receivers with a 30.8% target share, so that will definitely get the job done, even with Cleveland at 27th in the NFL in passing yards per game.
Robert Woods (133 air yards, 59.4%) – Woods is not usually a player we think of when we discuss air yards, and it has been with good reason. In 2021, Woods’ average depth of target (aDOT) was just 9.1 yards, 187th among all NFL pass-catchers. This year, it’s up to 12.5 yards per throw. So, even if Treylon Burks is ascending (more on that below), Woods can have nice flex value if he keeps up seven targets per game like his last two contests.
Jaylen Waddle (101 air yards, 56.7%) – Either Waddle or Tyreek Hill will likely be on this list all year long. Waddle has 42% of the team’s air yards this season. Hill has 36%. No other player has more than 3.8%. So if you have either one, just enjoy the narrow passing tree ride this year.
DeVante Parker (213 air yards, 54.8%) – Don’t buy into this for a second. Jakobi Meyers was out for this game, and now Mac Jones is out for multiple weeks. If you think Brian Hoyer is going to come in and suddenly unlock DeVante Parker, I’ve got some old laser discs to sell you that will surely be valuable someday.
Courtland Sutton (106 air yards, 51.5%) – Russell Wilson may need some cooking lessons these days, but Sutton is still getting his regardless of how Wilson looks. This is back-to-back weeks with at least 10 targets and 97 receiving yards. Sutton is second in the league in total air yards behind only Chris “Air Yards King” Olave.
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 Robinson (34 air yards, 17.3% air yards share) – Washed. Dust. Done. You choose the descriptor. At just 12 targets in three weeks and a career-low 8.7 aDOT, he could be done just when he made it to the right opportunity.
Justin Jefferson (39 air yards, 11.3% air yards share) – One week after getting the Darius Slay treatment, Jeff Okudah shut down Jefferson in Week 3. Okudah allowed only two catches and nine yards on his coverage assignments to the all-world receiver. Better days are ahead.
Michael Thomas (37 air yards, 8.3% air yards share) – We know the story with Jameis Winston. He likes to chuck it downfield. Or, as my son would say, he likes to risk it for the biscuit. That image aside, Winston has two downfield weapons in Olave (15th in the NFL in aDOT) and Tre’Quan Smith (eighth in the NFL). Thomas is just 92nd and has a target share under 20%.
Positive Regression Candidate
Ja’Marr Chase (130 air yards, 29 receiving yards) – Anytime you see more than 100 yards difference in air yards to receiving yards, flashing lights should be going off in your brain that this is fluky. Chase still had 10 targets but somehow finished the game with the second-lowest yards per target and yards per reception of any game in his career.
The aDOT was a very strong 13 yards on Sunday and was much higher than it had been the first two games (7.1 yards). For some reason, Chase and Tyler Boyd seemed to switch roles on Sunday, with Chase catching all the short stuff while Boyd got longer throws and massive yards after catch (YAC) against the Jets.
Negative Regression Candidate
Tyler Boyd (54 air yards, 105 receiving yards) – As we saw above, Boyd saw an aDOT of just 10.8 yards on Sunday (67th in the league) but somehow managed the sixth-most receiving yards for the week. We call that getting YAC-lucky and is not something that is sustainable.
In fact, Boyd’s 21 receiving yards per target on Sunday was the highest of any game in his career by more than two full yards. Boyd is simply not a catch and make-a-guy-miss player. Expect Chase to take over that role as soon as Week 4.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
Tough week for our guy Deebo Samuel, but it’s difficult to tell if that was a product of the overall suckiness of the San Francisco 49ers offense or of some regression in the air yards and yards after the catch areas. Deebo caught five of his eight targets for 73 scoreless yards on Sunday. That doesn’t kill you as long as you can pair it with some strong rushing totals as well.
What’s that? He rushed five times for six yards? Therein lies one of the problems with Deebo Samuel’s status as a WR1. On the nights when the rushing is not getting it done, he has to rely on the otherworldly YAC because of the low aDOT. His aDOT this week was 6.4 yards, 84th among all wide receivers.
On the season, his aDOT is now just 4.1 yards, and while he is seeing an almost elite 27.5% target share, he will once again have to be an extreme outlier in the YAC department to get to weekly WR1 status. On the days when that doesn’t happen, you will have some significant valley weeks, just like in Week 3.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Romeo Doubs (24 air yards, 73 receiving yards) – This Doubs situation is one where the eye test should trump the spreadsheet. Doubs was heavily involved in the passing game, resulting in 73 receiving yards and his first score. The fact that they wanted to pepper him with short targets to make sure he got the ball should not be held against him. Right now, in the Green Bay WR1 battle, it’s advantage Doubs.
Treylon Burks (23 air yards, 13 receiving yards) – I’m actually not panicking here despite just two targets and one catch for Burks on Sunday. He played 69% of the snaps, which is up from 45% in Week 2 and 37% in Week 1. The good stuff is coming for Burks and he is a buy low right now.
Devin Duvernay (15 air yards, 25 receiving yards) – But I’m definitely worried about anyone in this Ravens’ passing offense not named Mark Andrews. Both Duvernay and Rashod Bateman have target shares under 20%, while Andrews is at 36.5% – the highest mark in the league.