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 6 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 6 Air Yards and Air Yards% Data
This list represents the top 65 wide receivers from most to least air yards. From Marquise Brown’s 183 air yards all the way down to Robert Woods’ 34. 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 6. We will dig into the five biggest things that jump out to me from this dataset.
Top 5 Takeaways From Week 6 Air Yards Data
Marquise Brown Textbook Play
If there was a textbook definition for the phrase “regression coming due to air yards,” this Hollywood Brown game would be it. Once again, he saw at least 10 targets, but Joshua Dobbs could not hit him on most of the throws on Sunday, resulting in just four catches for 34 yards. In addition to the 11 targets, Brown got three of the team’s six red zone opportunities as well. Better days are clearly ahead.
Brown is the only player to have at least 10 targets in four of the last five games (Keenan Allen had a bye and then a game with five targets), and now we get word that Kyler Murray has resumed practicing and could return within a few weeks. Primarily due to a lack of other solid options, Marquise Brown should remain one of the league’s premiere targets monsters this year, and the big games that trail those targets are coming.
Risk vs. Reward: Trey Palmer and Rashid Shaheed
Sometimes air yards giveth, and sometimes they taketh away. Take Trey Palmer and Rashid Shaheed, for example. They were both top ten in total air yards in Week 6, but neither had too much to show for it. Well, Shaheed had 85 yards and a score, but together they combined for four catches on 13 targets and almost 150 unrealized air yards. For guys who have the profile of a Shaheed or a Palmer, the risk is just that much higher than their air yards will turn into massive success. Why is that the case? Because the more you rely on more air yards packed into fewer targets, the less likely you are to catch many of those balls.
In 2023, Shaheed is third among all wide receivers with an 18.2 average distance on his targets. At 14.8 yards, Palmer ranks ninth. These guys are both burners who don’t have a problem getting to the ball (Palmer was 98th percentile in the 40-yard dash time at his combine, for example), but the issue is not with the receiver but with the quarterback. Both Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield are going to try and hit these guys downfield, but the simple physics of the situation states that these balls will be far less accurate. These two are certainly capable of weekly big plays but just don’t bet the house on it.
Drake London Ascension
Through the first three weeks of the 2023 season, Drake London was beginning to look like a wasted high-round draft pick. The Falcons weren’t throwing the ball, and even when they did, London had 16.5% of the targets and 19.5% of the air yards. He had just eight receptions and 111 air yards in three games. You can see above that 20 players had more than that number just in Week 6. But file it under “That’s why they play the whole season” because London has been a completely different player since.
In Weeks 4-6, London has a 25% target share, 34% of the air yards, and 327 total air yards in three games. He was one of just seven players to get at least 12 targets in Week 6. You can see in the chart that all of his Week 6 numbers are elite. But what’s helped them become elite is the quick change in the Falcons’ tendencies. On the year, Atlanta ranks 24th in pass play percentage at just 55%. But in the last three games, it has jumped to 59%. London is playing like a top-round draft pick again and is the focal point of a suddenly pass-happy offense.
No Need to Press the Puka Alarm
You have to scroll awhile before you see Puka Nacua’s name on this list. His 35 air yards were a season-low, as were his 26 receiving yards. But this is just a results-over-process game because he still had a third of the Rams’ targets and still dominated the potential opportunities. In this game, there were 17 passes thrown to wide receivers. Cooper Kupp got nine, Nacua got seven, and Tutu Atwell got one. If we expand to all tight ends and running backs as well, those two groups only amassed four targets.
Cooper Kupp was consistently able to find an opening down the field in this game against the Cardinals’ defense, and he exploited it with a much higher aDOT than we are used to. His 12-yard aDOT on Sunday was almost a full five yards more than the aDOT he saw in 2022 (7.18 yards). Puka Nacua is going to continue to be a main weapon in this offense, and I am even more in on him this week with the running back room torn to shreds. I think they rely heavily on Kupp and Nacua, and both have huge games.
Cut Your Broncos’ Losses
If you thought things were bad with the Nathaniel Hackett 2022 Broncos, you might want to divert your eyes when looking at this year’s version. Despite bumping up their passing rate this year (from 58% to 61%), their yards per completion has dropped by half a yard, passing yards per game is down by 11, and their quarterback sack percentage is seventh-highest in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, the Broncos are one of just a handful of teams with a negative expected points added (EPA) ratio on their pass attempts.
All the while, the team refuses to use rookie Marvin Mims for some reason and continues to trot out Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton despite trade rumors for Jeudy swirling every day. Russell Wilson threw for only 117 air yards on Sunday, and this team’s offense looks to be even more incompetent under Sean Payton this year. There are 46 wide receivers with at least 360 air yards through the first six weeks. You might have guessed it, but none of those wide receivers are Sutton, Jeudy, or Mims. It’s bad in Denver, and it’s going to get worse. I might make a speculative add with Marvin Mims in deep leagues in case Jeudy gets traded, but there is really no other part of this offense I want right now.