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Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 17 (2023)

Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways: Week 17 (2023)

Welcome to the Week 17 edition of the Air Yards Analysis and Takeaways report. If you are reading this, you have likely made it to your league’s championship game. Hopefully, this column has been a help to you in some small way and I appreciate your patronage throughout the year. Now let’s bring home a championship!

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 15 to see if we can uncover any hidden gems. 

Fantasy Football Air Yards Analysis & Takeaways

Stats via

The Top 10 Quarterbacks

Name Team Att Air Yds aDOT
Nick Mullens MIN 36 527 14.64
Joe Flacco CLE 42 457 10.88
Derek Carr NO 40 378 9.45
Bryce Young CAR 35 372 10.63
Gardner Minshew IND 37 370 10
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 37 362 9.78
Russell Wilson DEN 37 329 8.89
Trevor Lawrence JAC 29 318 10.97
Jordan Love GB 28 286 10.21
Justin Fields CHI 27 282 10.44

Joe Flacco was sitting at home on a couch a month ago. Now, he’s turning back the clock and lighting up the fantasy football landscape. What a fitting story to cap off a crazy 2023 season. Flacco finished as the overall QB1 in fantasy scoring this past week after he threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns. Cleveland has let Flacco rip it, as the veteran has at least 42 pass attempts in all four of his games. Perhaps that has been a byproduct of the team’s lack of success on the ground in recent weeks. But fantasy managers sure appreciate the volume Flacco has provided, along with his willingness to chuck the ball downfield. Flacco’s 9.81 aDOT (average depth of target) is second to only Will Levis among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts this season.

The issue for fantasy managers in Week 17 is whether Flacco can be trusted against an elite New York Jets pass defense. Flacco has certainly proven worthy on his own, finishing 13th or higher in fantasy scoring in all four of his starts. However, I believe he will finish outside the top 12 this week. New York is third in the NFL in DVOA against the pass and boasts the best trio of cornerbacks in the league. That has assisted in them allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year. Cleveland may rely on the run a bit more than they have recently given the matchup. Not only do the Jets have an outstanding pass defense, but they figure to put up little resistance offensively. Vegas only projects the Jets to score 14 points in this game, which could lead to a relatively quiet day for Flacco.

Bryce Young had arguably the best game of his inconsistent 2023 rookie campaign in this past week’s game against the Green Bay Packers. The Panthers rookie obliterated his previous season highs in yards (312) and yards per attempt (8.7) as he nearly rallied Carolina to victory. He also threw for multiple touchdowns for just the second time this season. I think this performance does more for Young’s dynasty value than it does for his Week 17 outlook. Though the Jacksonville Jaguars have been more susceptible to the pass than the run, I want to see Young string a few solid performances together before trusting him in my fantasy lineup. Championship Week is not the time to get cute with your lineups. Keep Bryce Young on the pine in Week 17.

The Top 10 Wide Receivers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT Air % Tar %
Amari Cooper CLE 15 11 265 286 19.07 65.75% 34.88%
Justin Jefferson MIN 10 6 141 222 22.2 42.37% 29.41%
Tyreek Hill MIA 14 9 99 165 11.79 46.22% 41.18%
Puka Nacua LA 11 9 164 153 13.91 53.87% 34.38%
Rashid Shaheed NO 9 5 70 134 14.89 35.45% 22.50%
DJ Chark CAR 8 6 98 132 16.5 38.94% 25%
Gabriel Davis BUF 6 4 130 128 21.33 46.21% 28.57%
Chris Olave NO 13 9 123 123 9.46 32.54% 32.50%
Tyler Lockett SEA 11 8 81 115 10.45 49.57% 30.56%
Alec Pierce IND 7 3 30 114 16.29 32.02% 20%
Stefon Diggs BUF 8 5 29 114 14.25 41.16% 38.10%

Amari Cooper singlehandedly carried many fantasy teams to their championship final with a 46-point performance last week. That is the single-highest scoring game for any receiver this season and trails only De’Von Achane’s Week 3 performance in terms of fantasy scoring at any position in a single game this year. Cooper is the overall WR3 in fantasy since Joe Flacco took over as the team’s starter. The issue as it relates to Week 17 is the same issue that his quarterback must deal with. Cooper will face the Jets on Thursday night. Most teams have at least one weak link among their primary group of cornerbacks. That is not the case with the Jets. I think Cooper has earned enough trust to start him this week. However, I would temper expectations. Think of Cooper as more of a WR2/WR3 than WR1 for Week 17.

Just when most fantasy managers had lost hope, Gabe Davis posted a top-10 fantasy finish last week. To say Davis has been up and down this season would be a gross understatement. Davis has six weekly finishes inside the top 17 at his position. He also has six weekly finishes at 88th or worse among wideouts, including four scoreless outings. I do not expect the floor to be quite that low for Davis this week. But I do think this will be more of a “floor” game than a “ceiling” game for the Bills wide receiver. Much of Davis’ production is tied to Buffalo’s opponents and their reliance on man coverage. The New England Patriots play man at a top-10 rate. Between that and the likelihood of the Bills getting ahead early, I would caution fantasy managers about putting too much stock in last week’s results. 

The Top 10 Tight Ends

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT Air % Tar %
Cole Kmet CHI 5 4 107 104 20.8 40% 21.74%
Evan Engram JAC 15 10 95 102 6.8 25.12% 34.88%
George Kittle SF 10 7 126 101 10.1 36.73% 23.81%
Juwan Johnson NO 7 4 48 68 9.71 17.99% 17.50%
Kylen Granson IND 7 5 62 56 8 15.73% 20%
Tommy Tremble CAR 6 4 59 55 9.17 16.22% 18.75%
David Njoku CLE 9 6 44 53 5.89 12.18% 20.93%
Darren Waller NYG 5 2 32 53 10.6 22.94% 18.52%
Johnny Mundt MIN 3 1 23 52 17.33 9.92% 8.82%
Isaiah Likely BAL 4 3 56 51 12.75 26.98% 12.12%

It feels like Cole Kmet has had an underwhelming season at times. And yet Chicago’s top tight end enters Week 17 seventh at his position in total fantasy points. Kmet had his first career 100-yard game in last week’s victory against the Arizona Cardinals. The fourth-year pro has now finished inside the top 18 in fantasy points in seven of his last eight games, though last week’s effort was just his second double-digit output in that span. Kmet’s ceiling is a bit lower than some of the elite tight ends out there, but I would not be surprised if he has another solid game this week. The Atlanta Falcons allow the fourth-most receiving yards and sixth-most receptions to opposing tight ends this year. I think Cole Kmet is a borderline fantasy starter in 12-team leagues in Week 17.

Fantasy managers who were hoping for some vintage Darren Waller performances upon his return from a hamstring injury have been disappointed thus far. In two games since a six-week absence, Waller has finished as the TE21 and TE32. Waller has been targeted 11 times over two weeks, which is a positive. Inconsistent quarterback play has not helped, as Tommy DeVito and Tyrod Taylor have combined to complete just 54.5 percent of their passes in Waller’s two games back. The Giants face the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17. The Rams have been a good matchup for tight ends, as they rank 24th in DVOA against the position. However, I do not know if I trust New York’s signal-callers enough to rank Waller inside my top 12 this week. I think Waller is a fringe starter depending on your other options.

The Top Five Underperformers

Name Team Tar Rec Rec Yds Air Yds aDOT Air % Tar %
Curtis Samuel WAS 6 1 16 1 0.17 0.68% 18.75%
Terry McLaurin WAS 5 3 50 15 3 10.20% 15.63%
Jameson Williams DET 6 5 43 33 5.5 24.81% 15.38%
Trey Palmer TB 6 4 42 33 5.5 14.60% 17.14%
DeVonta Smith PHI 5 4 79 34 6.8 17.26% 13.89%

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. 

The combination of the Washington Commanders facing the vaunted secondary of the Jets and falling behind early and led to Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin topping this week’s list. The pair combined for just 16 air yards on 11 targets. And neither Washington wide receiver was able to do much with what they were given. McLaurin finished the week as the WR53, while Samuel was the WR84. Things do not get much easier as the Commanders face the 49ers in Week 17. San Francisco’s defense has been hard hit with injuries of late, but this will still be a tough task. Samuel has performed better than McLaurin over the past month. He also should avoid the coverage of top cornerback Charvarius Ward. I am not crazy about either one this week, but Samuel should have some PPR appeal in a game Washington figures to be trailing in.

I find Jameson Williams making this week’s underperformers list interesting because it is in stark contrast to how Detroit has used him in recent weeks. From Week 11 through Week 15, Williams had an aDOT of 19.33 on 15 targets. That number dropped down to 5.5 last week. It appears the Lions were more concerned with getting Williams touches than they were with having him stretch the field. Time will tell if that was a one-off based on the matchup with Minnesota as opposed to a shift in how they deploy Williams going forward. His Week 17 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys is less than ideal. However, he does lead the Lions with 1.82 YRR (yards per route run) against man coverage. Dallas runs man at the third-highest rate in the NFL. Jameson Williams is a boom-or-bust flex play for me this week.

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