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. air yards Week 7 NFL
This column will dissect air yards each week, looking for actionable info in the coming weeks. Looking ahead to Week 7, we will analyze the list of the 59 wide receivers who finished last week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top Five in Week 6
These players received the five highest percentage share of their team’s total air yards in Week 6.
Adam Thielen (115 air yards, 66.1%) – This is the second time Thielen has led the Vikings in air yards this season. In hindsight, we could have seen this coming considering the cover-2 the Dolphins employ that can often contain a dynamic, field-stretching receiver like Justin Jefferson. Thielen out-targeted Jefferson and also get the end zone targets leading to a score this week. This may be a pattern moving forward against teams that use that defense against them. The Vikings have not been afraid to use Thielen in the red zone for five years running.
Corey Davis (73 air yards, 60.8%) – Good luck predicting week to week who will get the targets and the air yards from the Jets. In their six games, Davis has led the team in air yards three times, Elijah Moore led twice (but had a zero on Sunday), and Garrett Wilson took one week. I’m almost to the point where I don’t want any of this passing game, considering how much two tight end, run-the-ball sets they deploy. The Jets have run the ball at the fifth-highest rate in the league over the past three weeks.
Zay Jones (58 air yards, 58%) – We will see later in this column that Christian Kirk has been pretty miserable for two straight weeks, so the benefactor of that has been Zay Jones. The 58 total air yards are nothing to write home about. But Jones did get a 23% target share and caught all five of his passes against the Colts. Jacksonville is throwing the ball at a top-ten rate this year, so the first couple of games for the receivers may have been somewhat of a mirage.
Ja’Marr Chase (108 air yards, 49.8%) – These last two on the list are the names we expect, and they were the alpha receivers we expect them to be in their respective shootouts. Chase finally got the shots downfield and benefited from Tee Higgins being somewhat limited and Marshon Lattimore being out. Even with a couple of slow weeks, Chase will be back near the top of these leaderboards on most weeks especially considering the Bengals’ evolving offensive philosophy. In the last three weeks, they have called pass plays at the sixth-highest rate in the league.
Stefon Diggs (147 air yards, 48%) – This is now Diggs’ fourth game this season with at least 99 air yards, and he is now above 36% of his team’s air yards for the season. And let’s be clear, air yards from Josh Allen are much more valuable than air yards from some other schmuck quarterback. You don’t need me to tell you he is a top-three wide receiver by all metrics.
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.
Wan’Dale Robinson (31 air yards, 18.9% air yards share) – Four targets for a 16% target share and an 18.9% air yards share is not bad for Robinson’s first NFL game coming off injury. His average depth of target (aDOT) was even a respectable 7.8 yards, so it’s not just dump-offs at the line of scrimmage from Daniel Jones. With all the chaos in the Giants’ wide receiver room right now, Robinson’s arrow is pointing way up.
Tre’Quan Smith (38 air yards, 13.1% air yards share) – By absolutely no measurement did Smith have a good game on Sunday, but he was just about the last wide receiver left standing after Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry were ruled. He ended up with 43 yards and a touchdown, but a Smith-Andy Dalton pairing is not something I want to rely on moving forward. The touchdown masked an abysmal 9% target share and 13% air yards share.
Rondale Moore (45 air yards, 13.3% air yards share) – Moore was our candidate to regress in last week’s column, and that happened. Sort of. Moore did get 10 targets for a 27.8% target share, which is outstanding. But 13.3% air yards share means he only ended up with 49 yards on his six catches. He will remain an asset in PPR leagues, but counting on him for week-to-week gaudy receiving numbers and touchdowns is a fool’s errand.
Positive Regression Candidate
Allen Lazard (159 air yards, 76 receiving yards) – Much like the rest of the Green Bay Packers, Lazard left a lot of production out on the field Sunday, and what was a good day (76 yards and a score) could have become a magnificent one. Lazard played his highest percentage of snaps on the season and had a yards per target that were double the previous game, but he just got supremely unlucky with just a 44% catch percentage.
Lazard has now seen more than 92 air yards in four straight weeks and has led the team in all but one of those games. His target share is over 20% in three straight, and Aaron Rodgers is turning more and more to Lazard and less to players like Romeo Doubs. It certainly helps Lazard’s case that Randall Cobb and Christian Watson have both been injured the past few weeks, but Rodgers loves to lock into one guy, and Lazard has the upper hand. Many more games like this with 150+ air yards, and we could be looking at some WR1 weeks soon.
Negative Regression Candidate
Chase Claypool (66 air yards, 96 receiving yards) – Let’s state two obvious things. First, Claypool had a fantastic game on Sunday, pulling in all seven of his targets for 96 yards and a touchdown. Second, Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett are still the quarterbacks employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Looking past that second simple fact, Claypool’s production compared to the air yards data doesn’t line up.
First, his 66 air yards were well above his seasonal average (57.5 yards). Also, his average yards per reception this season with those two quarterbacks is 9.8 yards. He was at 13.7 yards on Sunday, and his receiving yards per target in that game were more than double the rest of the season. I think Claypool will continue to have some sporadic spike games this year, but he is far outside the circle of trust as someone I would rely on week after week.
This is the weekly place where we check how Deebo Samuel is producing compared to his model-breaking 2021 season.
We are now seeing a trend in Deebo Samuel’s usage over the last three weeks. While he reached season-high numbers in targets (10) and catches (seven), he now has three straight weeks of exactly two carries. Of course, one awful San Francisco game against the Atlanta Falcons could be explained away, but this three-week trend tells us that part of the game is (for now) being phased out of Samuel’s bag of tricks.
It’s also not a function of the team’s offensive game plan either. The 49ers run the ball at the eighth-highest rate in the league, but while Jeff Wilson has four times the number of rush attempts as any other 49ers player, a full six players have at least 10 rush attempts this year, and that doesn’t even include injured Elijah Mitchell. San Francisco is spreading it around on the ground and making sure Samuel doesn’t take too much of a pounding.
The up-and-down usage has resulted in no games under eight fantasy points, but also no games over 17.7 fantasy points either. So far, he is a disappointment as just the WR15 in fantasy points per game.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Christian Kirk (22 air yards, 24 receiving yards) – While Kirk did come down with a touchdown on Sunday, the targets have been disappointing now for two straight weeks (three and five the past two games). I see this game more as an outlier than prescriptive of anything because Kirk had a yards per reception of 6.0 Sunday when every other game this year was at least 11 yards per catch.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (22 air yards, 0 receiving yards) – MVS almost had two long touchdowns in the matchup against the Chiefs but had one called back for a penalty and one that should have been caught in the end zone. Without those, he ended up with three targets and no catches. The receiving hierarchy is coming into view for Kansas City and its Kelce, Smith-Schuster and Hardman ahead of him through six weeks. I’m not actively looking to have MVS on any rosters right now.
Isaiah McKenzie (29 air yards, 9 receiving yards) – McKenzie looked abjectly bad in the win over the Chiefs, and there are rumblings that maybe he should not have been cleared from concussion protocol. He missed passes, was lazy on routes and looked like he was lost. His five targets only resulted in nine yards while Khalil Shakir lurks behind him.