In 2013, Kenny Stills saw his average reception come 13.9 yards past the line of scrimmage, the farthest amount of yards in the air per catch of any receiver in the NFL. He’s the deep threat in the Saints offense, and he’s being utilized in a similar way this year, with his average catch from Drew Brees coming 12.8 yards downfield. When it comes to the top deep threats in the NFL, Stills and Arizona’s Michael Floyd stand out. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians loves the vertical passing game, and Floyd has been the perfect weapon: he averaged a healthy 11.7 air yards per catch in 2013, but that number has spiked to 16.5 in 2014!
But not every player’s role is so static. In 2013, the Bengals used A.J. Green (average reception 10.5 yards in the air) and Marvin Jones (9.6) as deep threats, while Tyler Eifert (5.6), Mohamed Sanu (4.3), and Jermaine Gresham (4.2) were used on short/intermediate routes. But Jones will miss all of 2014 due to a foot injury, while Green has been limited to just 43% of the Bengals offensive snaps to date (and he was playing injured for a percentage of those plays, too). As a result, Sanu’s air yards per catch has jumped from 4.3 to 8.4, and his yards per reception has increased from 9.7 to 15.2.
Similarly, Emmanuel Sanders has seen his role change in 2014, as a result of switching teams. Last year, in Pittsburgh, Todd Haley’s offense called for lots of short routes for his wide receivers, but even among the wide receiver group, Sanders (6.3) had the shortest air yards per catch. Eric Decker, meanwhile, had his average reception come 10.8 yards downfield while playing with Peyton Manning. This year, Sanders — taking over Decker’s role — has averaged 10.3 yards in the air per catch.
The graph below shows wide receiver air yards in 2014 (on the X-axis) and 2013 (on the Y-axis): [click to continue…]