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Air Yards Analysis (2021 Fantasy Football)

Sep 16, 2021
Terry McLaurin

Air yards are the total yards the QB threw the ball in the air toward the wide receiver. Why is this important? It helps us differentiate targets, weighing targets deeper downfield heavier than shorter throws. Since yards are a fantasy football stat, having players who need only to catch the ball to accumulate the most yards is a tried and true strategy.

Everyone is trying to gain an edge on their league. Therefore, it is advantageous to know which players are garnering the opportunities to have monster weeks before they put it all together. Every week, we will give you the top receivers (not just WR, but TE too) according to air yards for every NFL team. Additionally, we will provide an evaluation of those numbers and what fantasy football actions are warranted.

Statistics courtesy of PFF Premium Stats page.

Arizona Cardinals

Evaluation: Christian Kirk played 96% of his snaps out of the slot. If this trend continues, he could blossom into the productive fantasy WR everyone believed him to be as a second-round pick. Up next is Minnesota, a secondary that Kyler Murray (QB-ARI) can exploit. Kirk is worth an add this week.

Atlanta Falcons

Evaluation: Kyle Pitts' numbers weren't there in his NFL debut, but there are positive signs to takeaway. In 37 pass play snaps, Pitts ran 29 routes out of the slot or outside position. The Falcons look to be utilizing him more as WR than a traditional TE. If you can buy low, do it.

Baltimore Ravens

Evaluation: Monday night was an encouraging performance for Marquise Brown. He reeled in all six of his targets, showing more consistency than he's displayed thus far in his career. The receiving tree is very narrow in Baltimore, so Brown could end up with high weekly target totals going forward.

Buffalo Bills

Evaluation: If Emmanuel Sanders lines up opposite Stefon Diggs for 93% of the snaps as he did in Week 1, he will be a nice late-round value. The Bills run plenty of spread sets, so while Sanders isn't guaranteed the volume every week, he might turn into a fine bye week filler.

Carolina Panthers

Evaluation: Of note, TE Dan Arnold and rookie WR Terrace Marshall Jr. split passing down reps in the slot, Arnold with 16 and Marshall with 19. The latter has plenty more upside, but it appears the Panthers still see him as the fourth option behind Moore, Anderson, and McCaffery -- temper expectations accordingly.

Cincinnati Bengals

Evaluation: Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Burrow (QB-CIN) are reunited, and it felt so good. Chase impressed in his debut, showing his talents by piling up 7.4 yards after the catch on his five receptions. The big loser here appears to be Tyler Boyd, as Higgins and Chase will draw far more throws than the slot WR.

Chicago Bears

Evaluation: Matching up with the Rams in Week 1 is a brutal way to start the season for a receiving group. We can mostly disregard the performances, but noteworthy was Marquise Goodwin's contribution. He only played on 17 passing snaps but vastly outperformed Damiere Byrd, with whom he is competing for rotating targets outside.

Cleveland Browns

Evaluation: No Odell Beckham Jr. (WR-CLE) meant that Anthony Schwartz had an opportunity, and he made the most of it. However, when OBJ returns to the fold, you can expect Schwartz to fade back into oblivion. Also, Jarvis Landry did a stellar job in his usual underneath role, adding 52 yards after the catch in this contest.

Dallas Cowboys

Evaluation: We have grown accustomed to performances like this from Amari Cooper, but the problem (for fantasy players) has been consistency. Michael Gallup's (WR-DAL) injury paves the way for other pass-catchers to get in the fold. Perhaps Cedric Wilson is the name to monitor going forward.

Denver Broncos

Evaluation: Jerry Jeudy's injury is a rough blow for fantasy managers. He appeared to be in a prime breakout position heading into 2021. Now, the Broncos should slide K.J. Hamler into a more prominent role in the offense. Noah Fant could also see more time the slot with Jeudy on the shelf.

Detroit Lions

Evaluation: The Lions are going to be a nightmare for fantasy players all year. Outside of T.J. Hockenson, it is hard to see which pass-catcher will excel weekly. Wait and see is the approach for Detroit WRs after Week 1.

Green Bay Packers

Evaluation: If you liked Marquez Valdes-Scantling before, you were thrilled to see his involvement to start 2021. However, this offense looked disjointed. Davante Adams and Aaron Jones will get the most important targets in the future, so be careful how much faith you show in MVS.

Houston Texans

Evaluation: If healthy, Bradin Cooks is going to help many teams win their fantasy leagues this season. He's the number 1 by a mile in Houston. Ten different Texans saw targets last week, but Pharaoh Brown had the second most (5) behind Cooks. He, Nico Collins, and Danny Amendola (WR-HOU) will be in line for a significant upgrade in opportunity if Cooks misses time.

Indianapolis Colts

Evaluation: The leading target getters for Indy were their two RBs, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. This probably says more about the lack of WR talent than anything. Colts receivers will be inconsistent performers moving forward unless Carson Wentz (QB-IND) establishes a connection with one of them. It is best to avoid the rotation for now.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Evaluation: Jacksonville will be behind a lot in 2021, meaning Chark, Jones, Shenault, and others will have plenty of chances to perform for fantasy teams. None of them were outrageously productive in Week 1, but all had enough targets to warrant weekly lineup consideration. Start your Jags.

Kansas City Chiefs

Evaluation: Ho-hum. Tyreek Hill is a machine. Travis Kelce, even in a "bad week," can help your fantasy team. And no one else is going to have steady production in the receiving corps. We know the story in Kansas City by now.

Las Vegas Raiders

Evaluation: Happy Birthday, Darren Waller! The Raiders TE put on a show on MNF, proving his touts correct. He is the pass-catcher to roster in Las Vegas. Derek Carr (QB-LV) did take some shots downfield to Ruggs and Edwards, with the latter being more suited for that role. However, outside of their star TE, there isn't another option to count on in your lineups just yet.

Los Angeles Chargers

Evaluation: Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi told us that Mike Williams would fill the Michael Thomas (WR-NO) role in this scheme. We should have listened. Williams was set loose on the WFT, given every chance to showcase his immense talents. It may be too late to acquire him in your league, but worthy of a trade offer.

Los Angeles Rams

Evaluation: Kupp and Woods will be Top 12 WR options weekly with Matthew Stafford (QB-LAR) at the helm. The curious case will be which wideout will garner the 3rd look or deep threat for the Rams. Van Jefferson Van Jefferson was on the field for 23 pass plays compared to DeSean Jackson's 10, the two players most suited for the role. Jefferson is a nice deep-league add this week.

Miami Dolphins

Evaluation: We know when DeVante Parker plays, he performs. He's healthy now, so he should warrant FLEX consideration in your league. WR Will Fuller (WR-MIA) served his one-game suspension in this matchup with the Patriots, so we will circle back around to the Dolphins usage after Week 2 when they have a full complement of wideouts.

Minnesota Vikings

Evaluation: K.J. Osborn was targeted heavily, but can Kirk Cousins (QB-MIN) support three fantasy-worthy WRs? That remains to be seen, especially with the Vikings' propensity to run the football. There will be a lot of start/sit questions around Osborn in Week 2. For me, he's a sit for now.

New England Patriots

Evaluation: The Patriots have a QB who can get their WRs involved. That is the takeaway from Week 1. Agholor and Meyers were steady producers last season in the offense, and each could thrive paired with Mac Jones (QB-NE).

New Orleans Saints

Evaluation: Jaire Alexander has blacked out his side of the coverage seemingly every week he has played, and Week 1 was no different. Marquez Callaway was lined up the most on passing plays (22) than any pass-catcher for New Orleans. He is a prime Week 1 bust to Week 2 boom candidate.

New York Giants

Evaluation: Everyone is drooling over Sterling Shepard's performance, and with good reason, but it was reassuring to see Kenny Golladay's role as the playmaker for the Giants too. New York isn't a good team, so in a pinch, Darius Slayton could be viable as a FLEX option due to the game script. Although, Daniel Jones (QB-NYG) fumbled in a prominent spot again. It's unlikely, but a move at QB could be an overnight downgrade for the entire group.

New York Jets

Evaluation: If you watched the preseason games, you had an idea that Corey Davis would be Zach Wilson's (QB-NYJ) top target. But Elijah Moore got plenty of run (36 of 39 pass play snaps) without much production to show. Keep an eye on the youngster as the weeks wear on; he could become a regular starter for your fantasy team.

Philadelphia Eagles

Evaluation: The Alabama connection was on display in Atlanta this week. Jalen Hurts (QB-PHI) looked his college teammate's way a bunch in Week 1. Smith could end up with WR1 target volume and be a real fantasy asset if they continue to build on their natural rapport.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Evaluation: The Steelers' wideouts split the difference in air yards this week, but besides Diontae Johnson's TD, there wasn't much fantasy production. Pittsburgh will throw it plenty to keep all three WRs relevant. You won't want to have your PIT wide receiver on the bench when it is their week to light up the scoreboard.

Seattle Seahawks

Evaluation: Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, or pray for a TD. That's the Seattle passing game fantasy outlook.

San Francisco 49ers

Evaluation: Brandon Aiyuk's (WR-SF) situation is one to monitor. If the wideout isn't going to run with 1's, then Deebo Samuel will break fantasy football in 2021. Samuel garnered 12 targets in Week 1 and is built to withstand the workload. He is a must-start going forward.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evaluation: Tom Brady (QB-TB) has still got it. Nothing much has changed for Tampa Bay. All three WRs are in your lineup each week, and Gronk too. This is a complete team that will run up the score whenever they can. Start the Bucs pass-catchers.

Tennessee Titans

Evaluation: Chester Rogers slid into the slot role in Week 1 and did well for everyone's fantasy bench or waiver wire. However, this passing game goes through A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, temper expectations for anyone else in the Titans' pass attack.

Washington Football Team

Evaluation: The Washington QB position is cursed. Once again, they lose their starter to injury and turn to an unproven backup in Taylor Heinicke (QB-WAS). Sadly, this downgrades Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas, the only two pass-catching threats worthy of your fantasy roster. It is only a matter of time before the McLaurin start/sit questions come flying.

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