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Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 14 (2023)

Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 14 (2023)

Advanced stats can help fantasy managers determine potential breakout candidates in fantasy football. Two wide receivers can have similar stat lines in a given week. But they may have gotten there in different ways, and one may have more value going forward than another. 

In recent years, targets and target share have become an important part of how we value pass catchers. However, those metrics only tell part of the story. This is because not all targets have the same fantasy value. 

Air yards are an important metric because they can often indicate a player’s potential value. Downfield targets offer more big-play – and thus big-fantasy point – potential. Those players who are being targeted often and also down the field could be in store for more fantasy production down the road. 

Let us take a look at some of the top air yards performances from last week to see if we can uncover any hidden gems.

Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways

Stats via FTNFantasy.com

The Top-10 Quarterbacks

Name Team Att Air Yds aDOT
Joe Flacco CLE 44 543 12.34
Trevor Lawrence JAC 29 369 12.72
Jalen Hurts PHI 45 347 7.71
Russell Wilson DEN 26 335 12.88
Baker Mayfield TB 29 314 10.83
Bryce Young CAR 31 313 10.1
Gardner Minshew IND 42 311 7.4
Will Levis TEN 33 293 8.88
Matthew Stafford LA 37 292 7.89
C.J. Stroud HOU 27 286 10.59
Patrick Mahomes KC 33 286 8.67

In a season in which we have seen 50 different starting quarterbacks, it seems only fitting that a new weekly high in air yards was set last week by a player who was unemployed three weeks ago. Joe Flacco amassed 543 air yards in a 36-19 loss against the Rams in Los Angeles. While one’s natural reaction might be to assume that Flacco was slinging it all over the field due to a negative game script, that was not the case. The game was a one-score affair until the final two minutes. Flacco was trusted to attack the Rams downfield, and he was not shy about doing so. While Flacco did not make the most of his downfield attempts, he had a solid fantasy day. Flacco finished last week as the QB13, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

Flacco may be counted on by the Browns as their starter once again in Week 14. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has yet to clear the league’s concussion protocol, leaving his status in doubt. Cleveland faces the Jacksonville Jaguars this week. If Flacco gets the nod, he may not be able to replicate last week’s attacking style in this matchup. The Browns are more likely to have success on short throws against Jacksonville. On Monday night, Jake Browning picked apart the Jaguars underneath. Browning had just 166 air yards on 37 attempts but turned that into 354 passing yards. Cleveland is also one of several cities where weather may come into play. There are too many variables for me to consider Joe Flacco as a fantasy starter this week in single-QB leagues.

Russell Wilson fell short in his quest to lead the Broncos to a sixth consecutive victory last week. However, he had a solid performance from a fantasy perspective. Wilson was the overall QB11 for the week. It should be noted that Wilson scored more fantasy points as a rusher (10.4) than as a passer (8.4). Still, a 12.88 aDOT and 10 rushing attempts is an enticing combination for fantasy managers to consider. Wilson has not finished as a top-10 weekly fantasy scorer since Week 4. Still, Week 14 may be the week for Wilson to return to that level of production. Denver will face the Los Angeles Chargers, who rank 27th in defensive DVOA versus the pass. It remains to be seen if Sean Payton will truly let “Russ” cook, but Wilson has some upside this week. I have him as a low-end starter in 12-team leagues.

The Top-10 Wide Receivers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT
Elijah Moore CLE 12 4 83 255 21.25
Courtland Sutton DEN 7 2 77 216 30.86
Mike Evans TB 12 7 162 212 17.67
DeAndre Hopkins TEN 12 5 75 184 15.33
Zay Jones JAC 8 5 78 160 20
Calvin Ridley JAC 8 4 26 156 19.5
Nico Collins HOU 12 9 191 147 12.25
Chris Olave NO 8 5 119 146 18.25
DeVante Parker NE 9 4 64 142 15.78
Alec Pierce IND 6 3 100 136 22.67

Only six NFL receivers had at least 200 air yards in a single game before last week. Then, last week, three different wideouts pulled it off. The results were largely positive. Elijah Moore was the main beneficiary of the Flacco Experience, setting a new single-game high for the season with 255 air yards. I discussed Moore in this space a week ago and considered him a potential flex play. While I cannot pretend I anticipated how he got there, he more than held his own, ending the week as the WR27 in half-PPR leagues. Top wideout Amari Cooper is also in the league’s concussion protocol. Moore could be a target magnet if Cooper is out. Given his weekly volatility, I cannot trust Moore as more than a WR3. But he is startable, depending on your other options.

The other two wideouts who eclipsed the 200-air-yard mark last week were Courtland Sutton and Mike Evans. Both players have been among the most productive receivers in the NFL this year. They have also been outstanding values for fantasy managers compared to their preseason ADP. Evans was drafted as the 33rd wide receiver off the board, while Sutton went 42nd on average. Heading into Week 14, Evans checks in as the overall WR5, while Sutton is the WR21. Fantasy managers should continue to trust both Sutton and Evans going forward. Even in tough matchups, they have proven they can make difficult catches that most receivers simply cannot make. Evans is tied for the league lead with 13 contested catches, while Sutton has 11. Only Tyreek Hill (12) has more touchdown receptions than either Evans (10) or Sutton (nine) do this season.

Zay Jones and Calvin Ridley both made last week’s air yards leaderboard. In that game, the Jacksonville Jaguars suffered two injuries likely to affect both Jones and Ridley going forward. Christian Kirk, the team’s leading receiver, suffered a core muscle injury. Kirk is expected to have surgery and is likely out for at least the rest of the regular season. That may result in more targets for Jones, Ridley or both moving forward. The problem is that starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence is questionable to be under center when the Jaguars take on the Browns. Lawrence suffered a high-ankle sprain on Monday night. It seems like it would be asking a lot for him to return in a short week after suffering that type of injury. C.J. Beathard will probably start for the team in Cleveland this week.

The downgrade in quarterback play feels like it offsets any potential uptick in targets. There is not much to glean from Beathard’s play in relief of Lawrence on Monday night. Beathard threw 11 passes, targeting Jones and Ridley twice apiece. Based on the small sample size, tight end Evan Engram (four targets) or running back Travis Etienne (two targets) may benefit just as much as Jones and/or Ridley. I believe Ridley’s upside still puts him in the WR3 conversation. Jones is a bit tougher to project. He has only played in six games this year, and the results have been all over the place. Jones has finished inside the top 30 three times and outside the top 100 twice in those six games. I have him outside my top 40 this week, meaning I would likely keep him on the bench this week.

The Top-10 Tight Ends

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT
Tyler Conklin NYJ 9 3 35 118 13.11
Kyle Pitts ATL 8 4 51 106 13.25
Sam LaPorta DET 9 9 140 83 9.22
Chigoziem Okonkwo TEN 6 3 62 63 10.5
Travis Kelce KC 5 4 81 56 11.2
Kylen Granson IND 3 3 72 52 17.33
Trey McBride ARI 9 8 89 46 5.11
Donald Parham LAC 4 2 12 44 11
David Njoku CLE 6 2 17 42 7
Hunter Henry NE 4 2 15 37 9.25

Another week of Kyle Pitts finishing near the top of the tight end air yards leaderboard while a different Falcon tight end scores a touchdown. And it wasn’t even Jonnu Smith this time. No, it was MyCole Pruitt who scored the lone touchdown in Atlanta’s thrilling (he said sarcastically) 13-8 victory against the New York Jets. From the “Funny, Not Funny” Department:  In Pruitt’s two seasons in Atlanta, he now has five receiving touchdowns to Pitts’ three. That comes despite Pitts holding a 127-29 lead in targets during that timeframe. So, it is the same old story when it comes to Pitts. If you have him, you are probably starting him more often than not. The potential is too great. But expecting a high-ceiling game in the mode of a Travis Kelce, Sam LaPorta or T.J. Hockenson is just not realistic at this stage.

Unlike Pitts, Trey McBride is proving to have massive weekly upside for the Arizona Cardinals. He enters Week 14 as the overall TE10 for the year, which is crazy considering he was outside the top 25 in each of the first five weeks of the season. His current ranking may be as much a referendum on the position as it is anything else. Still, McBride has certainly performed like an elite fantasy tight end of late. In six games since Zach Ertz went down with an injury before his subsequent release, McBride has scored the fifth-most points per game among tight ends. And since Kyler Murray returned as the team’s QB1 in Week 10, McBride is fourth in points per game. Of course, Arizona is off this week, which is less than ideal for those competing for a fantasy playoff berth. Still, McBride should be a high-end option for the fantasy playoffs beginning next week.

The Top-Five Underperformers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT
Josh Downs IND 5 3 14 9 1.8
Rashee Rice KC 9 8 64 9 1
Cooper Kupp LA 8 6 39 25 3.13
Jahan Dotson WAS 5 2 23 26 5.2
Tyler Boyd CIN 7 5 37 30 4.29

For this section of the air yards report, I wanted to specifically highlight the wide receiver position. We know that generally, running back and tight end targets occur within close proximity of the line of scrimmage. I also wanted to filter this section to include only those wideouts who earned at least five targets. These are generally the type of players who you may be considering starting in your weekly matchups. Even those with a low aDOT could be worth starting in PPR formats if they get enough volume.

Rashee Rice continues to emerge as Kansas City’s best receiving threat who is not romantically linked to Taylor Swift. Since the team’s Week 10 bye, Rice is the overall WR17, posting two consecutive double-digit fantasy point outings. He has caught eight passes in each of those two games, and his Week 14 matchup appears to be another favorable one. Rice will face a Buffalo Bills defense that ranks 22nd in DVOA against the pass. They are also 21st in fantasy production against slot receivers. Rice has manned the slot on over half of his snaps. His 81% catch rate this season is third among all NFL receivers, and he ranks 11th in yards per route run. I would continue to roll Rice out as a fantasy starter in all formats. I believe he is a WR2 in PPR leagues and a WR3 in standard leagues.

While Rice has thrived since his team’s bye week, the same cannot be said of fellow rookie Josh Downs in Indianapolis. Since the team’s Week 11 bye, Downs has totaled just 9.7 fantasy points. I do not think this is a conscious effort by the club in any way, shape or form to minimize his production. It just seems his connection with Gardner Minshew is lacking compared to Minshew’s bond with Michael Pittman Jr.. Over the past two weeks, Downs has caught eight of 18 targets, while Pittman Jr. has secured 21 of 29. Downs is certainly talented enough to put it together in any given week. But I sort of feel the same way about him as I do about Kyle Pitts these days. They are players I am reluctantly starting as opposed to players I am expecting big weeks from.

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