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Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 15 (2023)

Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 15 (2023)

Welcome to the Week 15 edition of the Air Yards Analysis and Takeaways report. If you are reading this, it likely means you made your fantasy football league’s playoffs. Congratulations on a successful season! But there is still work to be done, so let’s get to this week’s report. 

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 is an important metric because it can often be an indicator of 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 Week 14 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
Lamar Jackson BAL 43 546 12.7
Trevor Lawrence JAC 50 495 9.9
Bryce Young CAR 36 490 13.61
Desmond Ridder ATL 40 395 9.88
Matthew Stafford LA 41 385 9.39
Will Levis TEN 38 362 9.53
Josh Allen BUF 42 347 8.26
Joe Flacco CLE 45 334 7.42
Patrick Mahomes KC 43 285 6.63
Baker Mayfield TB 29 283 9.76

When Trevor Lawrence injured his ankle back in Week 13, it appeared as though he could miss multiple games. Instead, he was on the field six days later as the Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Cleveland Browns. Though Jacksonville lost and Lawrence threw three interceptions, his day was not a total bust from a fantasy standpoint. Lawrence finished 11th among quarterbacks in fantasy points last week. More importantly for his outlook going forward, he threw the ball 50 times and appeared to exit unscathed.

Things do not appear to get much easier for Lawrence in Week 15. He goes from facing the top team in defensive DVOA against the pass (Cleveland) to the second-best unit (Baltimore). I think Lawrence is a borderline fantasy starter in 12-team leagues this week, depending on your other options. He may need to air it out another 50 times to get there.  

Desmond Ridder threw for 395 air yards in Atlanta’s loss to Tampa Bay last week. In the process, he set new career-highs in fantasy points (26.4) and passing yards (347). This performance was very matchup and game-script-specific and is not one I expect Ridder to repeat in Week 15. Atlanta will face the Carolina Panthers this week. Carolina boasts the worst run defense in the NFL. Nobody needs to convince Arthur Smith to run the football, and he should be like a pig in slop on Sunday. In the two games before last week, Ridder threw the ball just 48 times compared to 75 Falcons rushing attempts. Expect a similar split this weekend. Ridder’s biggest fantasy asset is his legs, but that is the one area Carolina has excelled. The Panthers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to run for just 11 yards the entire season. 

Matthew Stafford has quietly lit it up down the stretch of the fantasy football regular season. He has posted three consecutive top-eight fantasy weeks, accounting for at least 23 fantasy points in each outing. Fantasy managers could be in for more of the same from Stafford in Week 15. The Rams will face the Washington Commanders. A late-season bye does not figure to cure what ails Washington. They are a pass-funnel defense, ranking eighth against the run in DVOA but dead last versus the pass. Washington also generates the lowest pressure rate among all 32 NFL teams. The biggest threat to Stafford’s Week 15 fantasy outlook could be the Rams getting ahead early. Los Angeles is just 20th in pass rate over expected. But Stafford should ball out as long as this game remains competitive. I have the veteran signal-caller ranked as a mid-range QB1 this week. 

The Top 10 Wide Receivers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT Air % Tar %
Zay Jones JAC 14 5 29 225 16.07 46.97% 28.57%
Odell Beckham Jr. BAL 10 4 97 218 21.8 41.44% 25%
Drake London ATL 11 10 172 179 16.27 45.43% 28.21%
Amari Cooper CLE 14 7 77 172 12.29 51.04% 32.56%
DeAndre Hopkins TEN 12 7 124 171 14.25 51.35% 33.33%
Calvin Ridley JAC 13 4 53 166 12.77 34.66% 26.53%
Demarcus Robinson LA 10 3 46 163 16.3 45.03% 26.32%
Garrett Wilson NYJ 14 9 108 162 11.57 68.94% 40%
Jonathan Mingo CAR 9 2 22 159 17.67 36.64% 28.13%
A.J. Brown PHI 13 9 94 143 11 48.81% 46.43%

I discussed Zay Jones last week, and he won this week’s coveted “What Could Have Been” Award. Jones was targeted 14 times last week, accumulating 225 air yards. Yet could only muster 29 receiving yards in Jacksonville’s loss. Lawrence peppered Jones, Calvin Ridley and tight end Evan Engram with plenty of targets. That should continue going forward, but Jones is the least trustworthy among those three pass catchers weekly.

With all 32 NFL teams in action, I find it difficult to trust Jones as a fantasy starter this week. Having said that, only four wide receivers have earned more than Jones’ 22 targets over the past two weeks. If you are swinging for the fences, I don’t mind starting Zay Jones as a Flex in Week 15. Just keep in mind the matchup itself is not ideal. 

Jonathan Mingo nearly matched Jones step for step last week. Mingo was targeted nine times to the tune of 159 air yards. But the second-round rookie could only haul in two passes for 22 scoreless yards. Mingo has been the primary victim of Carolina’s struggles in the passing game. Over the past five weeks, Mingo has been among the top 16 NFL receivers in both targets (38) and air yards (440). Yet he ranks just 46th in receiving yards and 55th in total fantasy points in that span. Rookie quarterback Bryce Young looks even worse now than he did before the team fired head coach Frank Reich, which seems hard to believe. Even though Mingo plays in an environment where target share and game script can be favorable, he cannot be trusted in fantasy circles. 

The Top 10 Tight Ends

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT Air % Tar %
Travis Kelce KC 10 6 83 119 11.9 44.24% 25.64%
T.J. Hockenson MIN 8 5 53 97 12.13 38.65% 24.24%
Kyle Pitts ATL 6 3 57 80 13.33 20.30% 15.38%
Stephen Sullivan CAR 4 0 0 75 18.75 17.28% 12.50%
Evan Engram JAC 12 11 95 67 5.58 13.99% 24.49%
George Kittle SF 5 3 76 61 12.2 24.21% 18.52%
Pat Freiermuth PIT 7 3 18 60 8.57 21.58% 20%
Sam LaPorta DET 6 2 23 58 9.67 23.97% 17.65%
Cade Otton TB 5 2 16 56 11.2 19.79% 17.24%
David Njoku CLE 8 6 91 55 6.88 16.32% 18.60%

While Lawrence aired it out to Jones (16.07 aDOT) and Ridley (12.77) this past week, Engram remained his trusted target underneath. He had a 5.58 aDOT last week, which was a shade higher than his season-long mark. Either way, it worked swimmingly for both him and his fantasy managers. Engram secured 11 of 12 targets for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Touchdowns can be hit or miss in any given week. Few know that more than Engram, who failed to score in his first 11 games this season. But while touchdown regression has been kind to Engram of late, it is the volume that fantasy managers should be able to hang their hats on moving forward. 

Engram is tied for second among tight ends with 103 targets this season. Because of his low aDOT, Engram has caught a large majority of those passes. Among 29 tight ends with at least 35 targets this year, Engram ranks second in catch rate at 81.6 percent. And with Christian Kirk out for the rest of the season, Engram should continue to be heavily involved. There aren’t a handful of tight ends I would rather have than Engram for the rest of the season, especially in PPR formats. He does not have the best Week 15 matchup against Patrick Queen and the Baltimore Ravens. But I am still starting Evan Engram in all formats until further notice. 

Not to be outdone, David Njoku bounced back from a rate dud with two touchdown passes in that same game last week. Njoku has been one of the most consistent fantasy performers at any position in recent weeks. Over the past eight weeks, he has had seven weekly top-12 finishes, highlighted by last week’s TE2 performance. His run has been doubly impressive considering the number of changes Cleveland has made under center in that time. Njoku should have a matchup he can take advantage of in Week 15. The Chicago Bears have allowed the fourth-most receptions to opposing tight ends this season. They have also surrendered six touchdowns to the position. Only the Saints and Rams have allowed more. Njoku is a low to mid-range TE1 in 10 and 12-team leagues for me this week. 

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The Top Five Underperformers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT Air % Tar %
Jakobi Meyers LV 6 5 25 4 0.67 3.23% 20.69%
Jayden Reed GB 10 8 27 8 0.8 3.62% 26.32%
Nelson Agholor BAL 5 5 32 9 1.8 1.71% 12.50%
Hunter Renfrow LV 5 3 46 12 2.4 9.68% 17.24%
George Pickens PIT 6 5 19 32 5.33 11.51% 17.14%

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. 

Making this list does not have to be a harbinger of future doom, but it might be in the case of Jakobi Meyers. He finished outside the top 50 in fantasy points again this past week as the Raiders were shut out by Minnesota. Meyers is probably the one person associated with the team who misses the good old days of Jimmy Garoppolo. His production has fallen off a cliff since Aidan O’Connell took over quarterback duties. In the five games he played with Handsome Jimmy, Meyers finished as a top-36 fantasy wideout four times, including three of five inside the top 15. In his other seven games, he has two top-36 finishes and has finished outside of the top 50 four times. I am trying to find a way to bench Meyers this week in a league where my other options are hardly surefire starters. 

If you want an example of a player excelling despite being on this list, look no further than Jayden Reed of the Green Bay Packers. The talented rookie caught eight of 10 passes, albeit for only 27 yards. His production was further buoyed by four carries, one of which he took to the house from 16 yards out. Reed benefited somewhat from both Christian Watson and Aaron Jones missing Monday night’s contest. But make no mistake – Reed’s overall WR8 weekly finish was hardly a fluke. This was Reed’s fourth top-25 fantasy finish in the last five weeks. Even if Watson and Jones suit up on Sunday, Reed can be a viable fantasy starter as a safety valve against Tampa’s beleaguered secondary. And if either or both players are out, Reed could sneak up to WR2 territory. 

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