Air Yards are the Gordon Ramsey of fantasy receiving stats. They tell us exactly what was right and clearly what was wrong with how a receiver performed in a given week. Often, it’s not easy to hear. But you as a fantasy manager need to pay attention to the under-the-hood numbers from your receivers instead of just blindly trusting the box score results, you donkey.
Each week, this column will dissect air yards for actionable info in the weeks to come. For Week 1, we will do a quick analysis of the list of 75 wide receivers who finished the week with at least 30 air yards.
Market Share of Air Yards: Top 5 in Week 1
Week 1’s top five in terms of their team’s share of air yards is an extremely interesting mix of obvious veterans and up-and-coming pass-catchers.
Tyreek Hill (231 air yards, 72.4%) – I mean, he’s the Freak. Almost three-quarters of his team’s air yards. He will top this list many weeks this season and will likely break the record for most air yards in a season.
Deebo Samuel (100 air yards, 60.2%) – After this game in Week 1 and the revelations about Brandon Aiyuk, Samuel is clearly the alpha wide receiver in San Francisco. They likely won’t have monster passing volume, but Samuel will be a yards after the catch (YAC) monster.
DeVonta Smith (56 air yards, 52.3%) – A curiously small total number, but this should put to rest any concerns as to whether or not he is the #1 wide receiver on his team. Jalen Hurts’ yards per attempt was only 7.5 on Sunday, but the Eagles can make him throw short all they want if the result is as impressive as it was against Atlanta.
Tyler Lockett (108 air yards, 51.9%) – Lockett’s teammate DK Metcalf also saw 37% of the air yards on Sunday, and this will oscillate all season as to who has more each week. But they are both elite and should be treated as such.
Ja’Marr Chase (114 air yards, 51.8%) – Well that certainly flips the script from the preseason: that he is unreliable, has issues with drops, and needs some adjusting to the NFL game. Apparently, Joe Burrow thinks Chase can see the NFL ball well enough to target him seven times at a very healthy 16.3 aDOT.
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.
Mike Evans (46 air yards, 12.1%) – It’s a tough scene when you are sharing the field with Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, and Evans was clearly fourth in line for targets in the game against the Cowboys. His aDOT (7.7) was essentially the same as Godwin (7.9), but I would expect that number to rise as Evans demands more air yards in weeks to come.
Gabriel Davis (66 air yards, 14%) – The whole Bills offense was out of sync on Sunday with Josh Allen completing 58% of his passes at 5.29 yards per attempt. But even so, the Bills had two players in top six in air yards: Emmanuel Sanders and Stefon Diggs. Many people (including yours truly) pegged Davis as a sleeper on this high-powered offense this year, but he is going to need more attention to warrant that label. A touchdown on his two targets saved his day.
Davante Adams (51 air yards, 15.4%) – This was a throw-it-out-the-window game for the Packers, so we can withhold real judgment until later weeks. It was a bit concerning, however, that his seven targets were accompanied with an uncharacteristically low 7.3 aDOT. Last year he was at 8.6, but I’m not worried about this offense. Yet.
Positive Regression Candidates
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (156 air yards, 17 receiving yards) – I don’t think I have ever seen a discrepancy quite like this before. On just seven targets, MVS accumulates 156 air yards with an astounding aDOT of 22.3. He then somehow catches 43% of his targets but for just 17 yards? Granted, the Packers were playing catch-up all game, but if seven targets are in the cards each week for MVS, we may have a league winner on our hands.
CeeDee Lamb (159 air yards, 104 receiving yards) – If not for a couple of drops and miscues early in the game against the Buccaneers, this would have been a hang-it-in-the-Louvre performance from the second year Hard Knocks darling. He ended with 104 yards and a score but caught only seven of his 15 targets. His targets were second on the week, his air yards were third, and his market share of team air yards was top-12. Lamb is going to be a top-five receiver by the season’s end.
Negative Regression Candidates
Marquise Brown (48 air yards, 69 receiving yards) – Brown finished the week with a strong 16.4 fantasy points, but that was because he caught all six of his targets and luck-boxed into a receiving touchdown on a broken play where Lamar Jackson scrambled all over the field. The six targets are nice, but his 20.7% of air yards ranked 54th among all wide receivers.
Van Jefferson (87 air yards, 80 receiving yards) – Jefferson is one of your aDOT leaders in the clubhouse after Week 1. His 29-yard average depth of target ranked third in Week 1, which is why he was able to turn just three targets into two catches for 80 yards, a score, and 15 fantasy points. His 11% target share, however, ranked 70th among wide receivers and I just don’t see how he gets enough volume on this team to be a weekly starter in your lineups.
This will be the weekly place where we check how Cooper Kupp is breaking the air yards model.
As expected, Cooper Kupp had the second-largest positive difference between his air yards (71) and receiving yards (108). Kupp has made his name as a YAC expert and he drew 10 targets from Matthew Stafford in this one, good for those 108 yards and a score.
It won’t be a surprise if Kupp is a top-ten receiver in this revamped offense.
Notable Players Under 30 Air Yards
Russell Gage (12 air yards) – Yikes. While this was certainly not the start we wanted from the Falcons, Gage can’t be a reliable flex play with just two targets and 12 air yards. My Bestball teams are watching this closely!
Laviska Shenault (28 air yards) – We know that Marvin Jones and DJ Chark will be the downfield threats on the Jacksonville offense, but Shenault was bottom-10 in aDOT this week at 3.1 yards. The nine targets should give us comfort, but we hope he can do more than a scoreless 50 yards with them next game.
Rondale Moore (24 air yards) – This number doesn’t concern me in the slightest. This is clearly how the Arizona Cardinals want to use Moore, as evidenced by his five targets with aDOT of just 4.8. But while More finished 85th among wide receivers in air yards, he finished 34th in receiving yards. They are going to get Moore the ball in space and let him operate.