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Fantasy Football Stat of the Day: The leaders in air yards

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(Leading up to the 2021 NFL season, FTN’s Tyler Loechner will dive into the fantasy football numbers to bring you his Fantasy Stat of the Day, five days a week.)

Air yards become one of the hottest terms in the fantasy football industry a few years ago, and for good reason. Sorting players by air yards does a good job of identifying the most-utilized receivers in the league. It also helps identify players who are poised to break out in coming weeks.

The statistic itself is simple. Air yards are the yards the ball travels in the air (from the line of scrimmage), regardless of whether the pass was completed. 

Today’s Stat of the Day will look at the top 20 WRs based on total air yards last season and see what the data tell us. And check out the free FTN air yards tool to play with the data yourself.

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Calvin Ridley was the air yards king in 2020, and now he has Atlanta all to himself

The chart below shows the 20 leading WRs based on air yards from the 2020 NFL season. 

Player Targets Air Yards
Calvin Ridley 143 1,918
Stefon Diggs 168 1,700
DK Metcalf 129 1,668
Tyreek Hill 134 1,624
D.J. Moore 118 1,577
Jerry Jeudy 113 1,541
Allen Robinson 151 1,453
Chase Claypool 109 1,438
Justin Jefferson 125 1,421
Marvin Jones 115 1,411
DeAndre Hopkins 160 1,381
Brandin Cooks 119 1,347
Darius Slayton 97 1,328
D.J. Chark 94 1,326
Robby Anderson 138 1,324
A.J. Green 104 1,310
Terry McLaurin 134 1,310
Davante Adams 149 1,309
Marquise Brown 99 1,292
Tyler Lockett 132 1,285

A few thoughts from this list:

  • All Hail King Ridley. Calvin Ridley dominated the league in air yards last season, finishing more than 200 air yards ahead of the next-closest WR and more than 500 yards ahead of most of the other WRs in the top 20. And that was with Julio Jones soaking up nearly 8 targets per game when he was healthy. Ridley does have rookie TE Kyle Pitts to contend with, but it would be a surprise to see any name other than Ridley atop this list by the end of the 2021 season.
  • Jerry Jeudy the Most Improved Player in 2021? I’ve railed on Jerry Jeudy in some recent Stat of the Day articles looking at QB rating when targeted. But Air Yards is an area where Jeudy shined. Of course, air yards don’t actually count for any fantasy points, but the point is that Jeudy has tremendous potential that is actually tangible, not just theoretical. Finding yourself in the company of Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson and Justin Jefferson in a statistical category is a good thing. If Jeudy clicks with Denver’s QB in 2021, he could become the most improved fantasy player of the season.
  • Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh WR1. Claypool racked up 1,438 air yards on 109 targets last season, eighth among WRs. He was also clear ahead of fellow Pittsburgh WRs Diontae Johnson (144 targets, 1,144 air yards) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (128 targets, 703 Air Yards). Each Pittsburgh WR has his role in the offense, but Claypool’s lends itself to the biggest fantasy days and most explosive plays. It won’t be a surprise to see him emerge as the WR1 in Steel City this year.
  • Air yards were a game of inches. The final 10 players on this list are separated by fewer than 100 air yards. I’m not 100% sure there’s a fantasy takeaway here other than “don’t worry so much about the exact order here.”

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