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 5 was another wild week in the 2023 air yards season, 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 6 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 5 Air Yards and Air Yards% Data
This list represents the top 64 wide receivers from most to least air yards. From George Pickens’ 196 air yards all the way down to Jaylen Waddle’s 31. 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 5. We will dig into the five biggest things that jump out to me from this dataset.
Top 5 Takeaways From Week 5 Air Yards Data
Christian Watson no Love for Jordan
The 177 air yards and whopping 73% air yards share for Christian Watson? Outstanding. The seven targets and 91 yards? Acceptable. But to be targeted that often with those many yards and only come down with three receptions speaks to the level of quarterback play and not to Watson’s ability (Watson has zero drops on the year). Jordan Love simply has not shown that he can get the deep ball delivered to his receivers this year.
On the season, Love ranks 27th out of 32 starting quarterbacks in deep ball accuracy rating, and he ranks 22nd overall in catchable pass rate. This speaks to an erratic thrower who is having trouble getting the ball in the hands of his receivers down the field. Right now, the Packers have all three of their primary receivers with an average depth of target (aDOT) of more than 10.6 yards. Luke Musgrave is helping, but he has a 15% target share. The Packers desperately need Aaron Jones back to keep linebackers and safeties honest because Love can not hit his receivers like Watson downfield, even when he peppers them with targets.
Cooper Kupp Next Level
Was that Cooper Kupp’s first game back from injury or one of his record-setting games from 2021 because it looks like he never left with 12 targets, eight catches, and 118 receiving yards. The big question with Kupp back was how would he and Puka Nacua eat into each other’s workload. Well, the answer is they will both be just fine, thank you very much. Both saw 10+ targets, both saw more than 120 air yards, both saw more than 32% target share, and both had an aDOT over 11 yards.
That last part is especially important for how we view Cooper Kupp for the rest of this season. If Kupp is going to get an aDOT of 10+ yards this year, and he can keep doing his other-worldly yards after the catch act (he had 52 on Sunday), this might be the best version of Kupp yet. For some context, Kupp’s aDOT was 7.2 yards in 2022 and was 8.6 in 2021. If Puka keeps the shorter stuff and Kupp gets downfield more (especially with Van Jefferson now gone), oooooh, buddy. Kupp be in for a monster the last three-fourths of the season.
Downshifting the Dolphins Duo
There are hopefully a lot of years left in Tua Tagovailoa’s career, but we might have just seen the strangest game of his entire career. Look at the targets, target share, and receiving yards for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in this game. Waddle was top ten in targets, but 64th in air yards? Hill got 52% of the air yards but only totaled 64 for the entire game? And ended up with 181 yards? How is any of this possible? For some reason, the game plan on Sunday was for the Dolphins to complete as many passes as possible at or behind the line of scrimmage and let his players work from there.
When you don’t pass much beyond the line of scrimmage, guess what you don’t get? A lot of air yards. Of Tua’s 22 completions, 11 of them were caught at or behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, in his entire career, his 4.2 intended air yards per pass attempt was the fourth-lowest of any game where Tua threw at least 20 passes. However, his 235 yards after the catch were the most of any of his games in the NFL. Mike McDaniel must have noticed some flaw in the New York Giants’ defense that allowed the Dolphins to exploit this all day on Sunday.
For the season, Tua’s aDOT is almost eight yards per attempt. On Sunday, it was barely at 4.1.
Dak Prescott Can’t Find the Touch
With CeeDee Lamb covered tightly all game, Dak Prescott tried getting the ball to his other receivers downfield, but with poor results. Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup combined for 210 air yards, but they caught just three of nine targets for 22 yards. Meanwhile. Lamb saw just five targets and 45 air yards to go along with a target share under 20%.
With just 282 air yards through five games, Lamb is outside the top 30 wide receivers and finds himself trailing players like Allan Lazard, Josh Reynolds, and Jonathan Mingo. It’s been a very disappointing start to the season in that regard, but what is worse is the 21% target share through five games. Players like Davante Adams and A.J. Brown, who were taken near Lamb in drafts, all have target shares north of 30% and are top-10 in air yards this year.
Adam Thielen Volume Play
Adam Thielen, with 86 air yards in Week 5, isn’t altogether a bad thing, but when you consider that he needed the second-most targets in the NFL to get there, things get a little shaky. Once Bryce Young came back from injury, the question was could he keep Thielen’s strong stretch going just like Andy Dalton did? It doesn’t appear that Thielen is going to get throws downfield with Bryce Young (Young is just not there yet), but if he gets this kind of volume, Thielen should be able to sacrifice quality for quantity.
Thielen’s aDOT on Sunday was just 6.6 yards, the fourth-highest on his own team and almost identical to Young’s aDOT on the day (6.2). If Young can latch onto Thielen – something he was not doing pre-injury – we might not need the big plays downfield if he is getting 10-14 targets each week. The other problem is Thielen only has one receiving touchdown because the Panthers love to stall in the red zone. On PPR sites, Thielen will be a good play down the stretch. If you’re TD-dependent, you might want to look elsewhere.