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Air Yards Analysis - Using the Statistic to Find Value at WR


Air yards: a simple term in itself but for fantasy football what is the significance? In essence, air yards is a cumulative total of a player's depth of target. It only includes yards traveled from the time the QB releases it up to the moment the ball is either dropped or caught by the receiver. As a statistic, it does not differentiate between catches or drops and it does not include anything that happens after the receiver has the ball in his hands. It is to some extent a measure of the quarterback and scheme-dependent part of a receiver's production. For example, Julio Jones had a league-leading 1,655 receiving yards last year. He also led the league in air yards with 2,420. On the other hand, you have Jarvis Landy, who ranked 19th in receiving yards (958), but finished the year seventh in air yards (1,729). What air yards tell you is the opportunity each receiver had in a given season had he caught 100% of the balls thrown his way.

Air yards can also be a little misleading as they can be heavily influenced by the number of targets a receiver sees in a given year. Therefore, a better use of air yards is to consider it on a per-target basis, known as average depth of target or aDOT. aDOT allows us to see on average where a receiver was targeted on the field. Air yards is useful for looking at past performance, but aDOT is useful for projecting forward. Take Robert Foster for example. Foster was not targeted regularly in the Bills offense until Week 7 and then he was injured in Week 13. Therefore, his air yards will be low relative to others, but his aDOT of 22.9 led the league. If we now think that suddenly Foster is going to see 100 targets in 2019, we can project that he will have roughly 2,290 air yards. Combine that with his catch percentage and you get a rough indication of his base numbers for receiving yards (1,284).

So by using air yards and aDOT, let's take a look at some wide receivers who could be sleeper options in 2019 fantasy football drafts.

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Robby Anderson, New York Jets (ADP: 73.8)

2018 was a tough but ultimately encouraging year for the New York Jets. Any time you have a rookie quarterback taking a number of snaps, there will be teething problems, but the development of Anderson and Sam Darnold leaves a lot to be enthusiastic about. Across his 14 games, Anderson ranked 14th in air yards and had the 12th highest aDOT among receivers with more than 15 receptions. The downside was that Anderson managed to pull in just 54% of his targets. However, in his second year with Darnold there will hopefully be a better connection and he can turn an aDOT of 15.7 yards into a 1,000-plus receiving yard season. As the current 32nd receiver off the board, he only needs to repeat his numbers from last season to return his draft day value. Anything above those numbers would be a positive return on investment for your fantasy team.

 

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (ADP: 107.9)

Sutton was the third receiving weapon in Denver for the majority of the season but took a starring role after Demaryius Thomas was traded and Emmanuel Sanders got injured. The mix of roles meant that Sutton only saw 84 targets in 2018. However, he had the 21st-most air yards, 19th highest aDOT and a catch rate of just 49%. This season he will get the chance as part of the first team throughout camp and develop a rapport with new starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco has had success in the past turning receivers into a deep threat and Sutton could be that weapon for him on the Broncos in 2019.

 

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 121.9)

Jackson ranked 16th in air yards n 2018, despite playing in a somewhat dysfunctional Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. Now he moves to a Philadelphia Eagles team who are desperate for a deep threat receiver to open up their offense. The great thing about Jackson is that he is a receiver whose skill set means that he can produce fantasy returns without a huge number of targets. While Carson Wentz may not have the gunslinger attitude of Ryan Fitzpatrick, he is the most accurate that Jackson has played within the last few years. If Jackson can take his incredible aDOT of 18.9 yards, which ranked third in the league last year, and return a catch rate close to 60% than last years 53% then he has the potential to be a top-30 receiving option for fantasy owners.

 

John Brown, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 125.7)

I spoke above about how the Bills receiver Robert Foster had the highest aDOT in the league with 22.9 yards. Well, the Bills also had the receiver with the fifth-highest aDOT in the league in Kelvin Benjamin, who returned an aDOT of 17.2 yards. Their production highlights the potential impact that John Brown may be able to have as the number one receiver in Buffalo in 2019. In 2018, Brown himself also ranked highly in the aDOT rankings, finishing 10th with an aDOT of 16.1 yards. He now goes from a quarterback with a somewhat fading arm to a quarterback with one of the best arms in the entire league.

The biggest downside with Brown is that he had only ever caught more than 55% of his targets once in his five-year career, and playing with Josh Allen as his quarterback is unlikely to improve that number. However, the combination of Brown's ability to get deep and Allen's ability to unload the ball deep down the field means that if it clicks Brown could be a major difference maker in 2019.

 

Ted Ginn, New Orleans Saints (ADP: N/A)

Ginn is a receiver who has seemingly always done a lot with little targets. Ginn's impressive speed allows him to get deep and consistently register an average yards per reception of around 13-15 yards. Last season, Ginn registered an impressive joint 7th rated aDOT of 16.6 yards. Ginn is coming off a season in which he played in just five games, and his age means that that could be the start of a worrying trend. However, when Ginn is on the field he is receiving targets from one of the best in Drew Brees and can return a superb outcome in any week for a limited cost.

 

Equanimeous St. Brown, Green Bay Packers (ADP: N/A)

To finish off this list I am circling back to a rookie wide receiver. St. Brown managed to return an impressive 18th-ranked aDOT of 14.1 yards on his limited targets (36). In 2019, St. Brown will be starting the year as the third receiving option for the Packers.  Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Davante Adams both ranked outside of the top 40 in aDOT so St. Brown is likely to be the main deep threat in the offense. With Aaron Rodgers under center St. Brown could be set to break out in 2019.

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