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Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 16 (2023)

Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 16 (2023)

Welcome to the Week 16 edition of the Air Yards Analysis and Takeaways report. We are now in the semifinals of the fantasy football playoffs – just two weeks to go until you can claim the ultimate glory!

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 differently, 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
Justin Fields CHI 40 432 10.8
Trevor Lawrence JAC 43 431 10.02
Will Levis TEN 26 391 15.04
Joe Flacco CLE 44 382 8.68
Jake Browning CIN 42 377 8.98
Brock Purdy SF 25 330 13.2
Jalen Hurts PHI 31 295 9.52
Aidan O’Connell LV 34 291 8.56
Jared Goff DET 34 290 8.53
Case Keenum HOU 36 276 7.67

Well, this is quite a list. If you had presented this group to me before the season, I would have assumed something had gone catastrophically wrong. And I suppose, on some level, it has. Injuries have taken quite a toll on the quarterback position this year. Only 15 quarterbacks have played in all 14 games this season, and even fewer have made it through all 14 games unscathed. This list does not even include Baker Mayfield, Gardner Minshew, Nick Mullens or Easton Stick, all of whom had more fantasy points than Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen last week.

Justin Fields topped the Air Yards leaderboard last week, yet finished 26th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. That’s… not great. Fields completed just 47.5% of his passes and threw for a measly 4.2 yards per attempt. This performance may not have done much for those who want the Bears to build around Fields long-term. And yet, Fields will still be a highly-regarded fantasy quarterback in Week 16 when Chicago faces the lowly Arizona Cardinals. Arizona has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season. And now that Kyler Murray is back, this game could offer sneaky shootout potential, raising the ceiling for Fields. Given his upside as a dual threat, the favorable matchup and the landscape of the position in general, I cannot imagine many scenarios in which you would bench Justin Fields this week.

Will Levis has made this list in three consecutive weeks and six of eight overall since becoming the starter for Tennessee. Still, the fantasy results have not been kind. After throwing four touchdowns in his NFL debut in Week 8, he has thrown just seven in seven games since. None of those seven games have resulted in a top-12 weekly fantasy finish for Levis. With Levis now dealing with a sprained ankle, it is hard to imagine that changing anytime soon. The matchup is decent enough against a Seattle Seahawks team that ranks 26th in defensive DVOA against the pass. However, Tennessee’s passing game is not efficient or voluminous enough to sustain much in the way of fantasy production for quarterbacks. Levis can be safely ignored for fantasy purposes in Week 16.

Jake Browning has started four games for the Cincinnati Bengals after replacing the injured Joe Burrow. After posting a weekly finish of QB18 in Week 12, Browning has rattled off three straight top-eight finishes. Interestingly enough, last week was the first game in which Browning even finished in the top 20 in air yards. His highest weekly aDOT in those three starts was 5.08. Last week, that number was 8.98.

While that could be considered a sign of Browning earning more trust from the coaching staff, I am a bit skeptical. Cincinnati trailed for most of the game, including a 14-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. Browning was forced to air it out more. To his credit, he performed admirably. I just would not expect a repeat of his 42 pass attempts in Week 16. Because of that, I would keep him on my fantasy bench this week.

The Top-10 Wide Receivers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT RACR Air % Tar %
Terry McLaurin WAS 12 6 141 238 19.83 0.59 67.61% 35.29%
DeAndre Hopkins TEN 9 2 21 200 22.22 0.1 51.15% 34.62%
Tee Higgins CIN 8 4 61 165 20.63 0.37 49.40% 20%
Calvin Ridley JAC 12 5 39 164 13.67 0.24 37.36% 28.57%
George Pickens PIT 7 3 47 147 21 0.32 56.32% 26.92%
Zay Jones JAC 8 5 59 144 18 0.41 32.80% 19.05%
DJ Moore CHI 8 4 52 131 16.38 0.4 38.76% 22.86%
A.J. Brown PHI 10 5 56 130 13 0.43 44.07% 33.33%
Amari Cooper CLE 8 4 109 129 16.13 0.84 34.49% 18.18%
Justin Jefferson MIN 10 7 84 128 12.8 0.66 52.03% 31.25%

One of the strange anomalies of the 2023 fantasy season is that Sam Howell was second in the NFL in passing yards and fourth in fantasy points through Week 13. Yet, no Washington wide receiver was a top-36 fantasy performer at that point in the year. That finally changed after the big performance from Terry McLaurin last week. McLaurin led all wide receivers in air yards and finished third in both receiving yards and fantasy points. He now enters Week 16 as the overall WR31. McLaurin is a tricky receiver to project this week. Washington faces the New York Jets, the toughest team in the league against wide receivers. But they did allow Jaylen Waddle to score a season-high 24.2 fantasy points last week. I consider McLaurin to be a borderline flex play, depending on your other options.

George Pickens has faded down the stretch of the 2023 fantasy season. Pickens averaged 12.3 points per game on the way to being the overall WR23 through his first seven games. Over his last seven, he has averaged just 5.9 points per game, checking in at WR52 during that span. Quarterback play is partly to blame, but Pickens has not done himself any favors lately, either. He has recently expressed frustration with his role in the offense and went viral last week for refusing to block on a would-be Jaylen Warren touchdown run. One has to wonder if Pickens will see his normal complement of targets this week. Even if he does, his propensity to make big plays has been almost nonexistent recently. I would not feel comfortable starting Pickens this week if you have more consistent players on your roster.

The Top-10 Tight Ends

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT RACR Air % Tar %
David Njoku CLE 14 10 104 72 5.14 1.44 19.25% 31.82%
George Kittle SF 4 2 54 65 16.25 0.83 21.81% 16.67%
Hunter Henry NE 9 7 66 63 7 1.05 48.84% 29.03%
Trey McBride ARI 11 10 102 60 5.45 1.7 25% 28.95%
Dalton Schultz HOU 5 4 58 59 11.8 0.98 22.18% 14.71%
T.J. Hockenson MIN 7 6 63 49 7 1.29 19.92% 21.88%
Lucas Krull DEN 3 1 18 46 15.33 0.39 19.83% 9.38%
Sam LaPorta DET 6 5 56 45 7.5 1.24 15.96% 18.75%
Dallas Goedert PHI 9 4 30 43 4.78 0.7 14.58% 30%
Robert Tonyan CHI 1 0 0 41 41 0 12.13% 2.86%
Isaiah Likely BAL 6 5 70 41 6.83 1.71 20.40% 26.09%

I discussed David Njoku in this space last week, and he posted his second-straight overall TE2 weekly finish. He went off for 104 yards and a touchdown and has been one of the great stories of the 2023 season. Njoku has finished inside the top 12 in eight of the last nine weeks and enters Week 16 tied with Evan Engram for fifth among all tight ends in fantasy scoring. He will now face a Houston Texans team that has allowed the second-most receptions to tight ends this season. I cannot imagine many scenarios in which you would bench Njoku with the matchup and the roll that he is on. I would continue to treat him as a mid-range TE1 who has proven more than capable of hanging with the elite performers at the position in any given week.

When Mark Andrews went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 11, many wondered if Isaiah Likely could step up and fill that role. So far, so good for Likely and fantasy managers who were able to capitalize. Likely is the overall TE6 since Week 12, which is even more impressive considering Baltimore had a Week 13 bye. Likely has finished as the weekly TE4 in both games since then, racking up five catches and a touchdown in each game. Week 16 will present a tall task for the young upstart. The San Francisco 49ers are notoriously tough on tight ends in the passing game. They have only allowed five touchdowns by tight ends since the beginning of last season. I don’t mind starting Likely this week, but temper expectations, at least in comparison to his recent production.

The Top-Five Underperformers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT RACR Air % Tar %
Tyler Boyd CIN 5 2 53 13 2.6 4.08 3.89% 12.50%
Puka Nacua LA 8 5 50 23 2.88 2.17 13.45% 25%
DeVante Parker NE 5 5 44 28 5.6 1.57 21.71% 16.13%
Stefon Diggs BUF 5 4 48 31 6.2 1.55 27.93% 38.46%
Rashee Rice KC 9 9 91 31 3.44 2.94 15.98% 25.71%

I wanted to highlight the wide receiver position specifically for this section of the air yards report. We know that running back and tight end targets generally 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.

Several quality wide receivers have made this section of the Air Yards Report this season. That has perhaps never been more evident than this week, as Stefon Diggs, Puka Nacua and Rashee Rice all make the “Underperformers” list. To be fair, Diggs and Nacua did underperform from a fantasy perspective compared to their year-to-date numbers. Diggs finished last week as WR46, while Nacua settled in at WR39. However, it is hard to place much blame on the receivers themselves, as both teams coasted to victory. That is especially true for Diggs, who was targeted just five times. Both receivers have tailed off a bit after scorching starts to the season but still enter Week 16 as top-10 receivers in season-long fantasy scoring. They should be started in all formats.

The same goes for Rice, who has trended in the opposite direction over the past month. Rice has posted three top-12 weekly finishes in his last four outings. Given the issues that Chiefs receivers have had with drops, fumbles and even lining up correctly, Rice should get all the work he can handle down the stretch. Unlike previous years, fantasy managers do not have to worry about Kansas City resting starters late in the season. The Chiefs have yet to even clinch their division as we head to Week 16. Kansas City hosts the Las Vegas Raiders this week. Vegas has been solid in limiting production to wideouts this year, but Rice ripped them up for a season-high 107 yards five weeks ago. Rice is a must-start, especially in leagues that reward receptions.

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