Meet The Metric – Unrealized Air Yards

by Neil Dutton, March 8, 2021

We hear you, Louis:

There are so many wonderful stats and metrics people can use to enhance their understanding and enjoyment of the game. Yet some people “in the know” continue to point to one small part of a box score to “prove” how much they know. Why they do this, and why people still listen, is beyond me.

Luckily, we of The Underworld provide viewers and readers with a virtual cavalcade of advanced stats and metrics, all geared towards helping you get to know the players you should be picking up and those you should be avoiding in fantasy circles. Unrealized Air Yards is one such metric.

What is it?

Air Yards represent the total throw depth, and Completed Air Yards represent total passing yards minus yards after the catch. The higher the percentage of completed Air Yards to total yards, the less a quarterback is being helped by his receivers gaining yards after the catch. For wide receivers and tight ends, Air Yards represents total Target Distance from the line of scrimmage to the catch point, and Completed Air Yards represents total receiving yards minus Yards After the Catch. The predictive power of Air Yards was first discussed by Josh Hermsmeyer in his introduction to the predictive qualities of Air Yards on RotoViz.com and his AirYards.com property.

fantasy-football-dynasty-league-rankings

Unrealized Air Yards represent the total depths of uncaught passes. Receptions never made, balls never squeezed, fantasy points never amassed. An Unrealized Air Yard is the ultimate “what might have been” in the modern NFL passing game.

Calvin Ridley vs. Jerry Jeudy

Not all Unrealized Air Yards are created equal. In 2020, Calvin Ridley led all qualified wide receivers with 968 Unrealized Air Yards. He finished No. 1 with 2,063 total Air Yards, while also leading the way with 1,095 Completed Air Yards. He averaged 73 Completed Air Yards per game which, and this may shock you, led the position.

The player with the second-most Unrealized Air Yards (965) was Denver Broncos rookie wideout Jerry Jeudy. He logged 1,536 (No. 6) Air Yards thanks in no small part to his steady diet of 25 (No. 7) Deep Targets. Yet he finished No. 31 with a mere 571 Completed Air Yards

Jerry Jeudy 2020 Opportunity and Productivity Metrics

Why the huge disparity between these two players? Putting it mildly, quarterbacks matter. With Matt Ryan as his quarterback, Ridley enjoyed a 6.5 (No. 18) Target Quality Rating, with a 7.38 (No. 38) Target Accuracy Rating to which he pinned an 84.1-percent (No. 66) True Catch Rate. Jeudy, with Drew Lock sending him the ball, earned a 4.2 (No. 102) Target Quality Rating. Not to mention a 6.06 Target Accuracy Rating, which was “good” for the No. 107 rank. His 62.8-percent (No. 105) Catchable Target Rate combined with a 7.1-percent (No. 20) Drop Rate helped him finish with a 73.2-percent True Catch Rate. There were 102 wide receivers that posted a better mark.

Bouncing Back

A player posting a high share of Unrealized Air Yards is not necessarily a player to immediately shy away from. A target is, after all, earned by that player being good at catching the ball. If all players targeted were tethered to accurate quarterbacks, that would be fantastic. But fantasy football is a volume-driven game within a game. As long as players draw looks down the field, the predictive nature of Air Yards would suggest that they will start catching the ball and posting statistics that can help you in fantasy football.

That is why Jerry Jeudy is a bounceback candidate in 2021, especially if the Broncos can upgrade their quarterback. Calvin Ridley finished as the WR4 in Fantasy Points per Game in 2020 with a quarterback who was not among the elite in terms of accuracy. With someone other than Drew Lock under center for the Broncos, Jeudy could be a force to be reckoned with in 2021. His current ADP over at the FFPC is WR42. I think I’d like some of that.