Another week, another installment in my series of Fantasy Six Pack Draft Kit articles; this time, let's get serious about Identifying 2022 Fantasy Football WR Sleepers Through Air Yards.
Air yards and their entire family of associated metrics have become rather trendy over the last few seasons. They can be especially helpful when evaluating players week-to-week when their Fantasy production might not necessarily be a direct result of their scoring opportunities.
To be very clear, air yards represent opportunity just as much as they might represent actual receiving yards.
Today, we'll endeavor a thorough retrospective of the 2021 seasons with an eye towards:
- Defining air yards and some related metrics so as to understand why/how they might help us identify WR sleepers
- Walk away with a few mid-to-late round WR names we're slightly more confident in based on their air-yard-related opportunities in 2021
Let's trace some jet streams.
Identifying 2022 Fantasy Football WR Sleepers Through Air Yards
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Air Yards
Simply enough, air yards are a measurement of how far the football has traveled through the air on its way to a receiver, regardless of whether or not the receiver catches the ball. That last bit is precisely what differentiates air yards from receiving yards, and what makes them a much more abstract currency that we've come to value.
So, for example, for all those of us who watched the pigskin sail over Darnell Mooney's head so in both 2020 and 2021 and count for naught towards our actual fantasy scores that week, air yards are, shall we say, validating. The yards of that incompleted pass get credited to Mooney, and suggest that the offense was manufacturing opportunities for him to score, even if those opportunities rarely crystallized.
And, as we know, opportunity in Fantasy Football is just another way to think about potential volume. And, as ever, volume remains our overlord as Fantasy managers.
Other Air-Yard-Related Stats
What's better than a statistic that's sparked an industry-wide fascination with an entire family of statistics? Especially when they all work in harmony together?
Here are a few of my other favorites when trying to construct a high-powered airfield on my fantasy roster:
aDOT: Average Depth of Target. You calculate this statistic by dividing a player's air yards by their total targets. When read correctly, it represents the average point value of a receiver's opportunities in his offense.
RACR: Consider this a metric evaluating a player's efficiency through the air. You calculate this by dividing a player's receiving yards by his air yards. This gives you an indication of how many receiving yards a player generates for every one air yard created for him by his quarterback.
Note: Obviously, it's not always the receiver's fault if he can't create receiving yards out of air yards. Sometimes it's the fault of the quarterback. Sometimes there's a flag. So the efficiency grade, here, isn't considering the receiver in a vacuum.
WOPR: My favorite. WOPR is a weighted average, represented in percentage points, of an individual receiver's share of both team targets and team air yards. Basically—what percentage of the air attack opportunities does this receiver account for in his offense?
Last year, Justin Jefferson's WOPR clocked in at an absolutely staggering 75.89%. He's worth that top-four draft price you'll have to pay to get him.
For reference, let's take a look at the top-ten wide receivers based on total air yards. We'll also list their aDOT/RACR/WOPR metrics.
- Justin Jefferson: 2,071 Total Air Yards; 12.4 aDOT; 0.78 RACR; 75.89% WOPR
- Stefon Diggs: 1,841 Total Air Yards; 11.23 aDOT; 0.67 RACR; 65.29% WOPR
- D.J. Moore: 1,727 Total Air Yards; 10.6 aDOT; 0.67 RACR; 71.76% WOPR
- Terry McLaurin: 1,717 Total Air Yards; 13.11 aDOT; 0.61 RACR; 66.84% WOPR
- Tyreek Hill: 1,647 Total Air Yards; 10.36 aDOT; 0.75 RACR; 61.81% WOPR
- Cooper Kupp: 1,641 Total Air Yards; 8.59 aDOT; 1.19 RACR; 71.84% WOPR
- DK Metcalf: 1,636 Total Air Yards; 12.68 aDOT; 0.59 RACR; 68.70% WOPR
- Marquise Brown: 1,631 Total Air Yards; 11.25 aDOT; 0.62 RACR; 61.11% WOPR
- Ja'Marr Chase: 1,617 Total Air Yards; 12.63 aDOT; 0.90 RACR; 60.97% WOPR
- Davante Adams: 1,609 Total Air Yards; 9.52 aDOT; 0.97 RACR; 73.38% WOPR
So, yeah. Now we can see why Justin Jefferson is, in some drafts, going second or third overall. We can also see why so many analysts consider D.J. Moore and Terry McLaurin QB-proof. Neither had studs sending them the rock last year, and they still put up incredibly air-related efficiency stats.
Obviously, things have changed for Davante Adams, Marquise Brown, and Davante Adams (new teams). McLaurin, D.J. Moore, and DK Metcalf both have new quarterbacks (if we can go so far as to call Geno Smith a quarterback).
These statistics won't directly translate to stud-level seasons this year. The point is that they should give you a sense of just how much opportunity a wide receiver can generate in an offense. And that level of granularity is valuable knowledge with which to arm yourself headed into your drafts this month.
Some Potential 2022 WR Breakouts/Sleepers Based on 2021 Air Yard Metrics
I went through the top-150 wide receivers based on their second-half 2021 air yard metrics to curate a shortlist of names I'm targeting for breakouts in my drafts.
Listed below are those metrics. I've bolded the stats which jumped out to me the most for each player.
- Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots: 448 Total Air Yards; 10.64 aDOT; 0.87 RACR; 49.53% WOPR
- Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills: 678 Total Air Yards; 14.74 aDOT; 0.61 RACR; 42.47 WOPR
- Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals: 676 Total Air Yards; 12.75 aDOT; 0.98 RACR; 57.94% WOPR
- Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens*: 374 Total Air Yards; 7.96 aDOT; 0.95 RACR; 33.47% WOPR
- Elijah Moore, New York Jets: 431 Total Air Yards; 11.65 aDOT; 0.71 RACR; 73.32% WOPR
*Bateman should also be valued higher than these numbers suggest because Hollywood Brown is gone, so there's an air-yard vacuum waiting to be filled.
I'm trying to get Tee Higgins everywhere I can. Look at how impressive that second-half air yard line is. The dude is simply a stud.
I fully realize he's being drafted too early to consider him a sleeper. But I had to note him here because I think he's every bit worth the price. And so are these other guys.
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