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 6, we will do a quick analysis of 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 5

These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 5.

Mike Williams (121 air yards, 64.4%) – With Keenan Allen still out, Mike Williams continues to dominate the air yards for the Chargers. His 121 in Week 5 were 75 more than all other Chargers’ wide receivers combined. In fact, no other receiver has been within even 20 air yards of Williams in any game since Week 2. Williams is 10th in fantasy points in half-PPR reception leagues this year, and he’ll maintain that spot as long as he has this kind of usage. 

Nico Collins (86 air yards, 63.7%)Brandin Cooks was almost nonexistent in this game against Jacksonville on Sunday. Instead, it was the Nico Collins and Dameon Pearce show as the Texans pulled off the upset. “One week noise!” you might say. Well, Collins has led the team in air yards in three of five games. It’s just that Davis Mills is so damn inaccurate that the fantasy results aren’t there (54th among WRs this season). 

Justin Jefferson (92 air yards, 62.2%) – Welcome back, air yards king. His temporary absence was short-lived, and he returned to a 33% target share in Week 5. He only has one week with less than 90 air yards, and you don’t need me to tell you he is a top-two option at the position. 

Darnell Mooney (121 air yards, 62.1%) – That’s back-to-back weeks in the top five for Mooney, who is essentially getting everything that Justin Fields throws these days. But the issue is still the lack of passing attempts. Let’s put it this way. Mooney has led the Bears in four of five games in air yards but is still 33rd in the NFL in total air yards. 

Darius Slayton (73 air yards, 56.2%) – Slayton also makes a second consecutive appearance on the top five of this list. This week he turned seven targets into 79 yards and led the Giants’ wide receivers in total air yards, receptions, and receiving yards again. Assuming Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney can’t get their acts together, Slayton is a player worth targeting on waivers. 

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.

Chris Godwin (34 air yards, 13.9% air yards share) – Godwin was fourth on his own team in target share, air yards, and an average depth of target (aDOT), but he still finished second on the team in receiving yards. That’s because the Buccaneers know how to use him in space. He will be fine. 

Jaylen Waddle (47 air yards, 15.2% air yards share) – Don’t read much into this either. Waddle was banged up, and the Dolphins got smoked by the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. I think if you told the Dolphins this would be a 23-point game, either way, Waddle would not have been on the field. 

Josh Palmer (35 air yards, 18.6% air yards share) – Those who were hoping for a Josh Palmer breakout once Keenan Allen got injured have been sorely disappointed. That honor has gone to Gerald Everett, as Palmer has less than a 20% target share in three of the four games Allen has missed. 

Positive Regression Candidate

Diontae Johnson (177 air yards, 60 receiving yards) – I’m not ready to call Kenny Picket the most inaccurate quarterback ever after just 1.5 games, but just five catches on 13 targets should at least raise our eyebrows. All other receivers for the Steelers caught over 50% of their passes on Sunday, so this looks like it’s probably just a fluky outcome. 

The point worth stressing is that Johnson tied for the NFL lead in targets in Week 5. The Steelers were trailing by 30+ for much of this game, but at least we can be encouraged that Johnson — and not George Pickens — was the number one target. Right now, it seems like all will be well for the top-20 receiver. But keep your eye on him. 

Negative Regression Candidate

Rondale Moore (17 air yards, 68 receiving yards) – For those hoping that the Cardinals would use Rondale Moore a little bit more downfield this season, the results are in after his first games, and it’s a resounding NO. His aDOT was 2.1 yards, which was the sixth-lowest among all wide receivers in Week 5. 

I suppose Rondale Moore could be a Deebo Samuel lite-lite-lite, but we shouldn’t expect 10 yards per reception every game with such a low aDOT. Add in the bromance between Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown, plus the impending return of De’Andre Hopkins, and Moore is likely to be very boom or bust. 

Deebo Watch

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

A touchdown masked what was going to be an absolutely abysmal game for Deebo Samuel in Week 5. Despite blowing out the Panthers 37-15, Samuel only caught two of nine targets for 20 yards and rushed for 12 yards. Not much was needed out of Samuel when the 49ers were able to rush 155 yards, and it became the Tevin Coleman/Jeff Wilson game with their three combined touchdowns. 

Deebo’s yards per route run dropped to a season-low 0.71, which is what tends to happen when you don’t get the long yards-after-the-catch plays like we saw in Week 4. Last season, Deebo made two or three of those plays happen every game. But this year, it’s been about every other game. So we knew some regression was coming after a historic aDOT/yards per reception season, and this is what it can sometimes look like. 

Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards

Garrett Wilson (28 air yards, 27 receiving yards) –  This is the third week in a row where the targets and usage for Wilson, Corey Davis, and Elijah Moore have been essentially identical. Joe Flacco had googly eyes for Garrett Wilson, but Zach Wilson likes to spread the love around. His mom and ex-girlfriend can verify that. 

Amon-Ra St. Brown (19 air yards, 18 receiving yards) – Injured. Probably didn’t need to be playing anyway. He definitely shouldn’t have played, considering the Lions were shut out anyway. Get well during the bye, Sun God, and get back to dominating PPR leagues. 

Adam Thielen (27 air yards, 27 receiving yards) – When Justin Jefferson feasts, it usually means the rest of the Vikings are fighting for scraps. Jefferson had a 35% target share in this game, and the rest of the wide receivers totaled 32.5%. These types of games will come when you line up across the field from a football unicorn. 

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Itsbetterthanthis
Itsbetterthanthis
3 months ago

Interesting stats on Nico and Godwin- not sure I trust any Houston pass catcher and I agree Godwin seems like a catch and run type receiver with plays designed specifically for him…

I have a gamesmanship question- I’m torn on who to start at WR3. My options are: any jets WR, aiyuk, or Pierce. The gamesmanship comes in because my opponent is starting Matt Ryan (tie points gained by Matty ice to pierce) and I’m also forced to start tyler Conklin at TE and not sure I want too much of the jets passing game right now.

Thanks!

Draft Dodgers
Draft Dodgers
3 months ago

Who do you like more after this week..,Doubs, Pickens or Rondale…best bet to be viable down the stretch? .5 PPR