Welcome, football fans, to the Razzball Air Yards Report. This is the place where we look at thrown footballs (both caught and NOT caught) to try and predict which receivers might have some positive and negative regression coming their way. Week 2 was another wild week in the air yards year, as you will see below.
If you want a refresher on what air yards are and how to best use them, here are my takeaways from 2022 air yards data. In this iteration of the air yards primer, we will look ahead to Week 2 of the fantasy football season and see who might be due for some positive or negative regression. I hope you will join me each and every Thursday during the regular season for our breakdown of the week that was in air yards.
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Week 2 Air Yards and Air Yards% Data
This list represents the top 64 wide receivers from most to least air yards. From Kendrick Bourne’s 184 air yards all the way down to Kalif Raymond’s 54. I color-coded this to make the referencing easier to identify. If a wide receiver was closer to the top of a category, the darker green the number would be. The bottom of the list is primarily orange into red.
Just an easy eye test from the colors on this chart gives us a significant number of takeaways from Week 2. We will dig into the five biggest things that jump out to me from this dataset.
Top 5 Takeaways From Week 2 Air Yards Data
Kendrick Bourne Supremacy
With 314 air yards in two weeks, Kendrick Bourne is second in the NFL in that statistic. He only has 10 total receptions in two games but is sixth in targets as he emerges as Mac Jones’ favorite target. Even with DeVante Parker returning in Week 2, Bourne managed to lead the entire NFL in air yards, racking up 24 more than his next closest competitor. Among players with at least five targets this year, Bourne’s 20.4 average depth of target (aDOT) ranks as the fourth-highest in the league.
Those are all superior numbers, and Bourne is excelling with this kind of usage, but is it sustainable? It might be, but it all could depend on game script. Somehow, the Patriots are tied for third in the NFL, with 68.5% of their plays calling for a pass. I don’t know if Bill Belichick thinks he still has Tom Brady under center, but that can’t have been the plan when the season started. The other thing working against Bourne is that New England actually has the fourth-lowest yards per pass attempt in the league this year (5.7 yards), so the deep throws to Bourne are more outlier than the norm.
Marvin Mims and Embracing Volatility
Based on the stat sheet fantasy production for Marvin Mims, you would assume he had a monstrously different day on Sunday than he had in Week 1. Mims finished Week 2 with 113 receiving yards and a touchdown after just nine yards with no scores in Week 1. But a closer look tells us that there were a lot of similarities — and that’s something we should embrace with Marvin Mims going forward.
Mims had two targets in both games. He played in just 27% of snaps in Week 1 and 24% in Week 2. But the biggest piece of the puzzle for Mims’ production can be found in two numbers. His aDOT in Week 1 was 1.5 yards. In Week 2, that number was 45.5 yards. Russell Wilson and the offensive staff decided to use Mims in the best way possible – as a field stretcher. Mims averaged almost 20 yards per reception in college last season (one of the top numbers in the country), and his speed up the field is exactly what this team was missing.
You’ll see a rainbow of colors up there by Mims’ name, and that might be the norm going forward. He might not get the highest target share, and he might not have the most receptions, but with that aDOT and his air yards share, his spike weeks will be absolutely explosive.
Sell High on Garrett Wilson (If You Can)
If there is a fantasy manager in your league who is only paying attention to a wide receiver’s yards and touchdowns, now is the time to sell that manager Garrett Wilson. Right now. I mean, stop reading and go make the trade offer and then come back here. Wilson has about the luckiest 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the league so far. We knew that there would be a jet-sized drop-off between Aaron Rodgers and Zach Wilson at quarterback, but just look at those receptions compared to the targets. All of the other metrics (air yards%, target share, air yards total) look good, but a long touchdown on a lucky slant cross in Week 2 is not sustainable for Wilson.
Zach Wilson is truly an abomination through almost two full starts. Wilson has the lowest completion percentage in the league (54%) AND the lowest expected completion percentage (58.5%) according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That means about 41% of Wilson’s throws are not deemed to be catchable. One of the fundamental rules of air yards must be all the air yards and targets in the world will do you no good if your quarterback can’t get you the ball in a catchable position.
A.J. Brown Backseat
After a dominant air yards week in Week 1, A.J. Brown drops like a stone to the bottom of the list in Week 2. In a Thursday night game that turned into a shootout against the Minnesota Vikings, Brown was visibly and demonstrably upset on the sidelines due to his lack of involvement in the passing game. He did see six targets (four fewer than Week 1) and did get the one wide receiver Red Zone look. But Brown’s 29 total yards were a result of an aDOT of just 9.7 after it was over 17 yards in Week 1.
Meanwhile, DeVonta Smith was top ten again with 123 air yards and saw more than 59% of Jalen Hurts’ air yards (third-highest in the league). There was a stat that went viral over the last week that showed DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown have the exact same number of PPR points per game since Week 2 last season, and it looks like that’s a pattern that could continue or even start to tilt in Smith’s way. Brown is going to have his boom games – he is too talented not to. But Smith has been more consistent over the first two games, and it’s now not a stone-cold fact that Brown will be the better receiver in fantasy this year.
Through two games, the numbers look smoothed out. Both have 44-45% of the air yards. Both have 29-30% of the target share, and both have an aDOT of just over 14. We need a few more weeks of data here before we definitively declare a WR1 in Philadelphia.
Nico Collins Has More Room to Grow
Besides Kendrick Bourne, the other surprising name at the top of the air yards charts after Week 2 is Nico Collins. Collins has become C.J. Stroud’s favorite target through two weeks, with nine and 11 targets in each of the team’s first two games. His 226 receiving yards are also top five in the NFL (only Jefferson, Nacua, Evans, and Hill have more), but there is one stat where Collins is significantly lacking.
His 40% of the Texans’ air yards this season ranks outside the top 12 at the position so far. But Collins has been able to scaffold his fantasy production with some excellent run-after-the-catch numbers. His 75 yards after the catch this year ranks ninth among all wide receivers as Stroud is consistently targeting Collins, where he can make big plays after coming down with the football. Collins’ aDOT of 13.5 yards so far is a good number, but it pales in comparison to guys like Tee Higgins (13.8), Tyreek Hill (14.7), DeVonta Smith (14.8), and Kendrick Bourne (15.6). As Stroud grows as a passer, there is a possibility that Collins can apply his elite YAC numbers to longer throws downfield, transforming him more into something like a DeVonta Smith clone.