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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Dan Falkenheim

Week 13 Air Yards Breakdown: Christian Watson Makes an Impact

In our weekly Air Yards Breakdown, we’ll take a look at who led the NFL in this category and also go one step further. Air yards can be further split into unrealized air yards or “prayer yards.” Prayer yards are just what they sound like⁠—air yards on passes that are deemed uncatchable. In other words, targets that the receiver doesn’t have a prayer of catching. Prayer yards lead to a player’s boom-bust potential.

Sources for all data can be found at the end of the article.

Week 12 Summary

Christian Watson Feasts on Thanksgiving

Lon Horwedel/USA TODAY Sports

The Lions treated Watson to his favorite coverage on the holiday: Cover 1 and man coverage. Watson burned Lions corner Cameron Sutton deep down the middle of the field for a 53-yard gain on the first play of the game, and he later won against man coverage on a slot fade for his third touchdown on the season. Watson’s 140 air yards were his highest since Week 5, and it comes as the Packers have trended up.

Since Week 9, quarterback Jordan Love ranks third in EPA per play (0.241) and eighth in completion percentage above expectation (3.4%). Defenses may play more two-high looks against the Packers in the future but, after this week’s game against the Chiefs, Watson will face favorable matchups against the Giants, Bucs, Panthers and Vikings to close the fantasy season. The Packers young receiving corps, including rookies Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks, will have an opportunity to finish the year strong.

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Gabe Davis Bounces Back
When the fantasy community at large ranked him as a low-end WR4, Davis turned in one of his best performances of the season. The fourth-year wideout finished with a season-high 185 air yards and totaled six catches, 105 receiving yards and a score. Davis found success against zone coverage, and his final statline could’ve looked even better if not for a miscommunication on a potential game-sealing touchdown.

To date, Davis has as many games with less than four PPR points as he does games with more than 20 PPR points. He’s one of fantasy football’s purest dice rolls on a weekly basis.

Calvin Ridley Flourishes in Consecutive Weeks
Ridley dropped a 30-yard potential touchdown grab and was held without a catch in the first half against the Texans, but it didn’t matter. He diced Houston corner Derek Stingley Jr. in man coverage for his first reception early in the third quarter, and then proceeded to reel off chunk gains off in-breaking routes. The latter is important as his diet of difficult targets near the sidelines decreases. Ridley ended his day with 89 air yards⁠—22nd most among wide receivers⁠—and 21.9 PPR points, finishing as a WR1 in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season.

Week 13 Lookahead (and Beyond)

Pat Freiermuth Returns to Mid-Tier TE1 Conversation
In his first game back as a full-time tight end since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 4, Freiermuth had a career-high nine receptions and 120 receiving yards in a 16-10 win over the Bengals. His 105 air yards led all tight ends in Week 12 and marked the second time Freiermuth eclipsed 100 air yards in a game in his career.

Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Network

What changed? Without Matt Canada calling plays, Pittsburgh dialed up more play action and targeted the middle of the field on 30.3% of its throws (up from 14.5%). That was part of the gameplan: The Steelers wanted to attack Cincinnati’s two-high safety looks. Freiermuth will face a Cardinals defense which ranks 30th in dropback EPA allowed (0.154) and 32nd in dropback success rate allowed (50.8%).

Can Rashee Rice Emerge as a Dependable Fantasy Option?
For the first time this season, Rice ran a route on more than two-thirds of the Chiefs’ dropbacks. He responded in kind with eight catches, 107 yards and a touchdown, finishing as the overall WR3 on 24.7 PPR points. Rice only had 43 air yards⁠—69th among all pass catchers in Week 12⁠—as Kansas City took advantage of his yards-after-catch ability on screens and crossers. The SMU rookie isn't fully developed as a route runner, but Rice’s performance against the Raiders represents a solid first step toward finding consistent usage. To date, no Kansas City wide receiver has consolidated opportunity behind Travis Kelce. Rice has a chance to do just that.

Giants Rookie Wideout Jalin Hyatt Is Slowly Coming Along
As the Giants sputter without quarterback Daniel Jones, Hyatt may be a bright spot heading into 2024. The Tennessee rookie was wide open on a 29-yard over route, shook off Patriots corner J.C. Jackson on a 12-yard gain and toasted Jackson on a massive 41-yard gain in the third quarter. Hyatt has had a route participation rate of at least 60% in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season, coming as Isaiah Hodgins has been phased out of the offense and while Darius Slayton has dealt with a neck injury. There may not be a true ceiling as long as Tommy DeVito plays quarterback, but Hyatt could emerge as a boom-bust WR4 if he earns a full-time role after the bye.

Quick Prayer Yards Notes

  • Vikings wideout Jordan Addison nearly came down with a 47-yard deep shot and also dropped a 16-yard pass with catch-and-run potential. Addison has lived up to his NFL draft capital, but his fantasy margins might get slimmer with Justin Jefferson’s return and a potential change at quarterback
  • DK Metcalf missed a 35-yard catch by one foot, had no chance on a 45-yard bomb that drifted out of bounds and 49ers corner Charvarius Ward knocked away a would-be 38-yard touchdown. Metcalf has averaged 10 targets a game over the last three weeks, though.
  • Howell missed Terry McLaurin on a 30-yard one-on-one opportunity and Cowboys corner Stephon Gilmore also broke up another 33-yard shot in man coverage. McLaurin is still looking for his first 100-yard game of the season.

Data Sources

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