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NextGen Stats: Fantasy Football WR/TE Breakdowns and Takeaways

Deebo Samuel - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

We've consumed our first "double-digit week" set of games. That means we've entered the final part of the season and, in fact, the fantasy football playoffs are closer than you may realize. There are just three more weeks to go until we hit Week 14 and celebrate our presence in the run for the chip, or lament the chances we lost along the way by falling short of making it to the final bracket. Now more than ever, no blunders are allowed. You have to know your weapons, have a strategy in place, and trust the leaders on the actual football field to also be the leaders of your fantasy football teams.

To gain the biggest edge in your fantasy football league, it's necessary to understand how to apply the advanced statistics being used in sports nowadays. Back in the day, it was all about wins and losses, passing yards, and touchdowns scored. It's not that those stats are now worthless, they just don't offer enough information to savvy analysts. While football is still in its infancy compared to baseball in terms of analytics, the evolution the sport has seen lately in those terms is notable.

Each week, I'll be tackling NFL's Next Gen Stats, bringing you data from the previous week's games with notable takeaways you should consider when assessing fantasy players for the upcoming week. In case you're new to the series, or Next Gen Stats altogether, I recommend you read our NGS-primer. Now, let's get to the data!

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Week 10 - TE/WR Air Yards Don't Lie - NextGenStats

If you remember the introductory post to the series, you already know Air Yards tell us the vertical yards on a pass attempt from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball was caught by the receiver (or the catch failed to be completed). I will be using mainly two metrics here: Average Targeted Air Yards (TAY) and %Share of Team's Air Yards (TAY%)TAY tells us how many air yards a receiver is thrown per target. TAY% measures the percentage of air yards a receiver was thrown at over the sum of his team's total air yards.

With four weeks in the books, we can (at least moderately) say that we have enough data to assess what and what not is going on at the wide receiver and tight end positions. This doesn't mean air yard values are already stabilized, not close to it, but it is highly probable that what we see in Weeks 1-4 stays mostly the same at least in the short-to-mid-term future, with high chances of staying on similar levels for the full season.

Today, I'll present each of the stats from the NFL's advanced metrics site, its correlation with receiver fantasy points, and a list of leaders and trailers in each category along with some notes and takeaways on both the players' and the metrics' impact on fantasy football as a whole.

So let's dive in. Note: The cutoff is set at 25 targets for both WR and TE.

 

Cushion / Separation

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season): negative-6% / 2%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Most players with high SEP values are tight ends. That comes down to them not being covered as tightly as other, more skillful receivers. Also, tight ends are often used as security blankets, so they're thrown passes only when they're quite open.

Most tight ends also find it hard to really separate from defenders because of their frames and how their bodies are built. Let's say they're not speedsters.

This week's SEP leaderboard comes loaded with tight ends. As many as seven of the top eight figures belong to players at the position, although it is also true that the highest mark is split between a tight end (Irv Smith Jr.) and a wide receiver (Greg Dortch) with 4.5 yards each.

Getting a bit further down the leaderboard, the TE cohort completely outweighs the WR one with 11 TEs vs. just four WRs in the top-15.

Having so many tight ends ranked s high in SEP yields an average of 3.4 SEP for all tight ends compared to a lower average of 2.9 SEP for qualified wideouts through Week 10.

As is usually the case with these leaderboards, small samples tend to be linked to outlier figures. That's why the highest SEP (4.5) belongs to players with only 33 and 29 targets over the season. Looking at heavily-targeted players, though, Tyler Conklin is down to 4.1 SEP on 50 targets, and applying a 60-target minimum that mark goes down to 3.6 SEP (Deebo Samuel).

Looking at the CUSH leaderboard we find the opposite phenomenon: most WRs have larger figures than their tight end counterparts. Only one TE (Kyle Pitts, 7.3) has a top-15 CUSH figure through Week 10.

Even then, CUSH figures are not that separated as a whole between both cohorts of players: tight ends have an average CUSH of 6.0 yards compared to the wide receivers' average of 6.3. Defenders at the LOS treat both types of players virtually the same.

DeVonta Smith and Chris Olave are the only two WRs with a CUSH above 7.0 yards currently averaging more than 8.3 FPPG this season.

The difference in outcomes at the other end is staggering, though, with the bottom-three CUSH players averaging 7.6 (DeVante Parker), 11.3 (David Njoku), and 20.2 (Ja'Marr Chase).

DeVante Parker also trails everybody else in SEP and his combined CUSH+SEP of 4.9 ranks dead last. The second-lowest combined figure belongs to A.J. Green, already two full yards over Parker at 6.9. No other wide pass catcher is below 7.2 yards.

Greg Dortch is the only player keeping up a CUSH+SEP figure above 11.3 yards through Week 10. Five more players are above 11 yards to date, with TE Kylen Granson setting the cut at 11.0 exact yards himself.

Only six players of 34 with a CUSH+SEP above 10.0 yards are averaging more than 13 PPR points per game. 14 players in that 34-man group are averaging fewer than 8.0 FPPG.

Here is the fantasy report for the SEP and CUSH leaderboards after Week 10:

  • Averages for fantasy WR/TE with 15+ FPPG: 6.1 CUSH, 3.1 SEP
  • Averages for fantasy WR/TE with <10 FPPG: 6.2 CUSH, 3.1 SEP

In a few words: don't rely on CUSH or SEP. Those are a couple of descriptivenot predictive stats and often come in all shapes and sizes without much predictability to them.

 

Targeted Air Yards / % Share of Team's Air Yards

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season): 6% / 62%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Opportunity trumps everything in fantasy football, and it can be seen in the highly related link between the percentage of yards a team/QB throws toward a player and the fantasy points he scores.

Darnell Money didn't quite lead the TAY% leaderboard in the past but he was always near the top, clearly underperforming with a low single-digit FPPG average. Now that he's fallen out of the top-12, it's DJ Moore with the highest TAY% league-wide and the worst FPPG average among those in that group (10.9 PPR per game).

Moore's fantasy average is really low compared to those other top-12-TAY% players: 10.9 FPPG compared to 18.1 from the other 11 men, with seven of them averaging at least 16.9 FPPG.

Five players with a top-12 TAY% are scoring more than 20 PPR per game and two more virtually 17 FPPG each. Only one player besides Moore is averaging fewer than 13 FPPG (DK Metcalf).

As many as 30 pass catchers have TAY% of 27% or higher. They are averaging 14.6 PPR points per game and only six of them have averaged single-digit FPPG to date: Mooney, Kyle Pitts, Chase Claypool, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Marvin Jones Jr., and Mack Hollins.

Kyle Pitts (31.6%), Mark Andrews (30.9%), Travis Kelce (25.2%), and Zach Ertz (21.8%) sit with a TAY% above 20 percent. In fact, 14 of the 22 lowest TAY% figures belong to tight ends (all of them at or below 10.8%).

The only player averaging more than 20 FPPG with a TAY% below 25% is DeAndre Hopkins (16.2%), although that makes sense considering he's seen just 46 targets over the season after missing time to start the year.

Amon-Ra St. Brown and Deebo Samuel are the only other two players averaging 13+ FPPG with TAY% figures below 20%. No player below a 10-percentage TAY% is averaging 10 FPPG with Isaiah McKenzie the closest to that figure at 9.2 PPR per game.

Tyler Higbee's ridiculously short aDOT of 3.1 yards is still leading (trailing?) the way in the NFL with it nearly a full yard separated from the second-shortest figure (Greg Dortch, 4.0 yards). The second-lowest figure among players with at least 50 targets belongs to Dallas Goedert, already up at 4.9 TAY.

Only six players have aDOT figures below 5.0 yards through Week 10. Only two of those (Higbee and Goedert) have seen 50+ targets.

Seven of the lowest-nine aDOT figures belong to tight ends. Deebo Samuel and Greg Dortch are the only wide receivers in that nine-man group with Samuel's figure already past 5.0 yards down the field.

Amon-Ra St. Brown is the only player targeted shorter than 7.0 yards on average keeping up an FPPG average above 14 PPR. Only seven players are averaging a <7.0 aDOT while averaging double-digit FPPG.

At the other end of the spectrum, Only three players are above 15 yards of aDOT to date, all of them wide receivers: Gabe Davis, DeVante Parker, and Corey Davis (all three between 16.9 and 16.2 yards). Only Gabe Davis is averaging double-digit FPPG.

Chris Olave is the only player above 12.7 aDOT while having 75+ targets over the season. Travis Kelce is the only tight end with 75+ targets, but his aDOT pales in comparison at just 7.6 yards.

All qualified WRs (89) are averaging 10.4 TAY yards compared to the TEs cohort (30) averaging 7.2 TAY yards.

  • Averages for fantasy WR/TE with 15+ FPPG: 9.8 aDOT, 32.7% TAY%
  • Averages for fantasy WR/TE with <10 FPPG: 9.4 aDOT, 15.3% TAY%

 

Receptions / Targets / Catch% / Touchdowns

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season): 82% / 80% / 32% / 74%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Obviously, receptions trump targets in terms of fantasy-point production (in PPR formats, that is) because, well, they hand out actual fantasy points. That's why all but three players in the top-25 fantasy leaderboard (FPPG) through Week 10 have caught at least 40 passes.

The only exceptions are DeAndre Hopkins (36), Mike Williams (37), and Allen Lazard (33).

There are seven pass catchers averaging 20+ FPPG through Week 10. All of them except DeAndre Hopkins and Ja'Marr Chase (both have missed time suspended or injured) have a top-10 number of targets so far this season.

The race for the most targets over the full 2022 season is going to be quite tight: two players have already reached trip-digit targets (Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson), two more fell one short (Stefon Diggs and Davante Adams), and Cooper Kupp is sitting at 98 (Kupp will miss more than a few weeks after going down injured last Sunday, though).

Although not at an incredible distance, Hill might be starting to open a gap in the receptions leaderboard. Hill has 81 already and the second-most (75) belong to now-injured Kupp. Diggs is third already down nine to Hill with 72.

The most impressive stat about the counting stats from the leaders is that they have kept incredibly high-efficiency metrics on top of everything. Kupp and Hill have caught 76%+ of their targets and Diggs boasts a 72%+ catch rate himself.

On the other hand, Davante Adams and CeeDee Lamb have wasted a lot of the looks they've gotten with catch rates of 57% and 60%, respectively, for "just" 57 and 53 receptions on the season.

That said, Adams leads all wide receivers in the NFL in touchdowns with eight through Week 10. Only one other player has that many in TE Travis Kelce. Diggs and Christian Kirk (yes, he was worth the dough) are tied for third with seven TD each.

Will Dissly owns the highest catch rate among qualified players at 92.9% followed by Greg Dortch's 86.2%. No other player is above 83%, while seven of the top-10 marks belong to tight ends.

Robert Tonyan and Dallas Goedert can be considered the best pass-catching players out there given their slightly higher volume of targets with 47 and 53 through Week 10, respectively, compared to 28 and 29 by Dissly and Dortch.

 

"Total" Yards (Air Yds + YAC) / "Air" Yards / YAC%

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season): 87% / 78% / negative-2%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Nothing surprising here, as receiving yardage is factored into the calculation of fantasy points without much hard math involved. Leaders in yardage average the most fantasy points, with the touchdowns and receptions just being a weekly bonus to their tallies.

We can already say that Tyreek Hill is definitely not missing Patrick Mahomes, is he? Hill is running away with the yardage crown, already 88 yards above second-place Jefferson and having 121 more Air Yards than the Vikings wideout.

Hill's volume obviously helps him lead the aYDS leaderboard, but the actual-best player at it from a per-reception perspective is Gabe Davis (17.3 aYDS/R) and it's not even close. Only DeVante Parker comes close (15.1) with no other player above 15 AirYDS per reception.

That doesn't mean Davis trails the league in YAC%, though. Elijah Moore (16.7%) and Chris Olave (16.9%) are the only two players with figures below 17%, having just 34 and 111 YAC over the season compared to 169 and 547 through the air, respectively.

Olave, Courtland Sutton, and Peoples-Jones are the only players with 500+ yards, and 80% of those come through the air instead of after the catch. Dallas Goedert sits at the other end with 68% of his total yards earned after the catch (no other player is above 55% while having 500+ total yards).

 

Yards After Catch / Expected YAC / YAC Above Expectation

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season): 8% / 8% / 18%

Leaders and Trailers: 

Leaderboard Notes:

Between Week 7 (last time we checked the numbers) and Week 10, Kupp has been joined by nine other players getting to at least 300+ YAC through the first 10 weeks of play. Raising the bar to a 400-YAC minimum, only Kupp and Jefferson cleared it through Week 10.

None of Kupp of Jefferson lead the way on a per-reception basis, though, with King Deebo still reigning on that front thanks to a ridiculous 9.4 YAC/R average. Three players are close between them while chasing Samuel averaging YAC/R between 8.7 and 8.6 yards.

Randall Cobb, Jauan Jennings, and Tyler Higbee are the only players averaging more than 6.0 YAC/R who have still to score a touchdown this season. At the other end, A.J. Brown and Jaylen Waddle lead everybody with that 6.0+ mark having both scored six TDs already.

The model has Dallas Goedert xYAC/R at 6.8 yards, by far the largest figure among qualified players. Only five other pass catchers are averaging "expected" YAC at 6.0+ yards. In reality, as many as 24 players are averaging at least 6.0 YAC/R through Week 10.

A.J. Green has the lowest xYAC/R at 1.8 yards. Not happy enough with that putrid figure, Green is underperforming those low expectations averaging an actual 1.2 YAC/R this season. Only one other player (Diontae Johnson) is underperforming his xYAC/R figure while having a mark below 2.7 such yards.

Three players battling for the highest overperformance through Week 10, all at +3.5 yards or more, but only one (Deebo Samuel, 60) has seen more than 28 targets.

Four players with 50+ targets are overperforming to more than 2.0 YAC/R so far. T.J. Hockenson (+2.7) is the only tight end in that group. Tyler Lockett and Brandin Cooks are the only two players underperforming the expectations by more than one yard among those in that 50-target+ group.

Richie James is the worst underperformed in the NFL (minus-1.6) but that might still positively regress in his favor as he's only seen 26 targets.

As always, you can look at this from two different angles: over/underperformance in YAC related to FPPG, and the other way around.

  • Players averaging 15+ FPPG are overperforming their xYAC/R by an average of 0.8 yards
  • Players averaging <10 FPPG are overperforming their figures by just 0.3 yards.

From the other perspective.

  • Players with YACAE figures above 1.0 yards are averaging 11.7 FPPG
  • Players with YACAE figures below 0.0 yards are averaging 9.5 FPPG.

That's it for today. Until we meet again next week, I hope you can crush your waiver wire, set up the best possible lineup, and get ready for another weekend full of fireworks!



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