What are Air Yards?
Air yards are exactly what they sound like. They account for all of the yards that the football travels while in the air from the line of scrimmage to the intended receiver on a forward pass. Air yards can be split further into two categories: completed air yards and incomplete air yards.
Completed air yards are pretty easy to calculate. If you add up the receiving yards for a completion and subtract the receiver’s yards after catch (YAC), you’ll be left with the air yards. In other words, the completed air yards metric tells you how many yards a given pass traveled before the receiver took over as a ball-carrier.
However, air yards can also apply to an incomplete pass. There’s no YAC to consider since the receiver didn’t catch the ball, but the total yards that the ball traveled in the air still count as air yards. These incomplete air yards are counted for both the intended target and the QB when calculating their total air yards for any particular game.
If you add up all the air yards during a single game, that can tell a different story than the actual box score numbers. If a receiver was the intended target on a lot of deep throws that fell incomplete, he could have a ton of air yards despite an otherwise pedestrian stat line. The usage of air yards can sometimes tell a more complete story than the box score, such as a player being just one or two catches away from a big game through no fault of his own.
Air yards can also be expressed as a percentage in the same way targets are. For example, if a receiver had 100 air yards from a QB with 200 passing air yards, the receiver would have a 50% air yards market share. If the receiver had 100 air yards from a QB with 400 passing air yards, the receiver would have a 25% air yards market share.
Ultimately, a high air yards market share (Air%) would suggest that a receiver was a focal point of his team’s downfield passing attack. When combined with a strong target market share, such a receiver would then stand out as an excellent target for fantasy purposes.
What is aDOT?
Once you’re comfortable with air yards, you can dive into some other advanced metrics that can be predictive for both fantasy football as well as for sports betting.
Average depth of target (aDOT) is a measure of how far downfield a player is typically targeted. If a player averages 15 air yards on his targets, then his aDOT would be 15 yards. The closer to the line of scrimmage a player catches the ball, the average his lower aDOT.
Players with low aDOTs are typically thought of as possession receivers, while players with high aDOTs are greater threats for big plays. A higher aDOT could lead to more week-to-week volatility, but it could also lead to massive week-winning performances.
For a more in-depth breakdown on aDOT, check out Fantasy Life’s aDOT article.
What is RACR?
Another advanced metric is receiver air conversion ratio (RACR), which is a measure of how effective a player is at converting his air yards into actual receiving production. RACR is calculated by taking a player’s total receiving yards and dividing it by his total air yards.
According to the metric’s creator, Josh Hermsmeyer, RACR looks to measure how many receiving yards a player creates for every air yard thrown at him. Players who are effective at catching passes and racking up YAC generally fare better in this metric than those who struggle in either area.
A good RACR will vary depending on a player’s role, but a good high-volume receiver should aim to have around 1.0 RACR. To put it in perspective, here are the RACR scores for the top-three leaders in receiving yards from 2022:
- Justin Jefferson: 1,819 receiving yards and 1,852 air yards – 0.98 RACR
- Tyreek Hill: 1,710 receiving yards and 2,107 air yards – 0.81 RACR
- Davante Adams: 1,516 receiving yards and 2,129 air yards – 0.71 RACR
Ultimately, Jefferson was more effective at turning his yards into production than Hill, who was in turn superior in that department to Adams.
What is WOPR?
While RACR measures efficiency, a third metric called weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) measures volume. WOPR is calculated by combining a player’s air yards share and target share. The full formula is as follows:
WOPR = 1.5 * Target Share + 0.7 * Air Yards Share
A player who excels in WOPR is typically not only seeing a healthy number of targets but is also seeing high air yards. A receiver who commands the majority of his team’s target share on a run-heavy offense generally scores a high WOPR.
D.J. Moore led the league in WOPR last season but finished as just the WR24 in PPR scoring, which suggests that volume is still king in fantasy football. However, while the players who command the highest target shares tend to produce, aDOT, RACR, and WOPR are still important metrics to understand and consider.
How To Use Air Yards For Fantasy Football and Sports Betting
Air yards and Air% are metrics that can help fantasy GMs identify potential buy-low or sell-high candidates at WR or TE. In addition to fantasy football, air yards metrics can help identify bets to make in the player prop market for sports betting.
Air yards are a good measure of a player’s upside, but remember that receiving lines can be volatile from week-to-week depending on whether those air yards end up complete or incomplete.
A receiver may not be able to catch some targets for various reasons. Maybe the QB’s pass was off-target, maybe the weather conditions were tough, or maybe the receiver was facing an elite cornerback. Ultimately though, air yards are generally a fairly predictive metric when projecting for a player’s receiving production.
A player who continually records a lot of air yards but has yet to produce could be a prime buy-low target. In fantasy leagues, you may want to consider adding or trading for this type of player. In sports betting, you could consider betting on the over for such a player’s receiving yardage total or even his TD-scoring prop for the next game.
The reverse is also applicable. A player coming off a strong receiving performance who doesn’t have the underlying metrics to support continued success could be an excellent sell-high candidate. In fantasy leagues, you may want to consider trading this type of player away to a less-educated leaguemate. In sports betting, you could consider betting on the under for such a player’s receiving yardage totals for the following game.