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Guest Post: Marginal YAC, 2015 in Review

Adam Steele is back to discuss Marginal YAC, this time in the context of the 2015 season. You can view all of Adam’s posts here.


Marginal Air Yards: 2015 Year In Review

Today I will be updating my Marginal Air Yards metric for the now completed 2015 season. New readers who aren’t familiar with Marginal Air Yards can get up to speed by reading my three part intro-series and 2014’s year in review.

There were 44 quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes in 2015, and they are ranked by mAir below: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Marginal YAC, 2014 in Review

Adam Steele is back to discuss Marginal YAC, this time in the context of the 2014 season. You can view all of Adam’s posts here.



Manning is more of a downfield thrower than you think

Manning is more of a downfield thrower than you think

Back in September, I posted a three part series introducing Marginal Air Yards and Marginal YAC. Today, I’m going to update the numbers for 2014 and analyze some interesting tidbits from the just completed season.1

League-wide passing efficiency reached an all-time high in 2014 with a collective 6.13 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average. However, this past season was also the most conservative passing season in NFL history; 2014 saw the highest completion rate ever (62.6%), the lowest interception rate ever (2.5%), and also the lowest air yards per completion rate ever (5.91 Air/C). Passing yards were comprised of 51.4% yards through the air and 48.6% yards after the catch, the most YAC-oriented season in history.2 This trend shows no sign of reversing itself, so expect more of the same in 2015.

Here are the 2014 Marginal Air Yards (mAir) and Marginal YAC (mYAC) for quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. The 2014 leader in Marginal Air Yards is…Peyton Manning? Yes, the noodle-armed, duck-throwing, over-the-hill Peyton Manning averaged 4.54 Air Yards per pass Attempt; given that the average passer on this list averaged 3.70 Air Yards per pass Attempt, this means Manning averaged 0.84 Air Yards per Attempt over average. Over the course of his 597 attempts, this means Manning gets credited with 500 marginal Air Yards, the most of any quarterback in the NFL. [click to continue…]

  1. A big thanks to Chad Langager at sportingcharts.com for helping me compile this data. []
  2. Even though YAC data only goes back to 1992, I feel safe in using the phrase “all-time” with regard to YAC dependency. The offensive schemes of yesteryear emphasized downfield passing, which generated far less YAC than the short passing games of today. []
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Adam Steele is back for his third guest post in his Marginal YAC series.


In my two previous two posts, I introduced Marginal YAC and Marginal Air Yards. Today, I’m posting the career mYAC and mAir for the 96 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts from 1992-2013. There’s a lot of data here, so I’ll let the readers do most of the commentary.

Here is a table of career Marginal YAC. The “Per 300” column is the rate of mYAC per 300 completions, or roughly equivalent to one full season. And on a “per season” basis, no quarterback benefited more from YAC than Steve Young, who also had four top-40 seasons. [click to continue…]

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Average Air Yards per Reception, 2013 and 2014

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…]

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In early September, Adam Steele, a longtime reader and commenter known by the username “Red” introduced us to his concept of Marginal Yards after the Catch. Today is Part II to that post. Adam lives in Superior, Colorado and enjoys digging beneath quarterback narratives to discover the truth; hey, who can blame him?


Introducing Marginal Air Yards

There are three components of Y/A: Completion %, Air Yards/Completion, and YAC/Completion. In my last post I looked at YAC, so today, let’s look at the other two components. By multiplying completion percentage and air yards per completion, we get air yards per attempt, which we can then modify to create Marginal Air Yards (mAir):

mAir = (Air Yards/Attempt – LgAvg Air Yards/Attempt)*Attempts

Here are the yearly Air Yard rates since 1992, with the table sorted by Air Yards per Attempt:: [click to continue…]

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Just above these words, it says “posted by Chase.” And it was literally posted by Chase, but the words below the line belong to Adam Steele, a longtime reader and commenter known by the username “Red”. And I thank him for it. Adam lives in Superior, Colorado and enjoys digging beneath quarterback narratives to discover the truth; hey, who can blame him? One other house-keeping note: I normally provide guest posters with a chance to review my edits prior to posting. But due to time constraints (hey, projecting every quarterback in the NFL wasn’t going to write itself!), I wasn’t able to engage in the usual back and forth discussion with Adam that I’ve done with other guest posters. As a result, I’m apologizing in advance if Adam thinks my edits have changed the intent of his words. But in any event, sit back and get ready to read a very fun post on yards after the catch. When I envisioned guest submissions coming along, stuff like this is exactly what I had in mind.



Introducing Marginal YAC

A quarterback throws a two yard dump off pass to his running back, who proceeds to juke a couple defenders and run 78 yards into the endzone. Naturally, the quarterback deserves credit for an 80 yard pass. Wait, what? Sounds illogical, but that’s the way the NFL has been keeping records since 1932, when it first began recording individual player yardage totals. The inclusion of YAC — yards after the catch — in a quarterback’s passing yards total can really distort efficiency stats, which in turn may distort the way he is perceived.

In response, I created a metric called Marginal YAC (mYAC), which measures how much YAC a quarterback has benefited from compared to an average passer. Its calculation is very straightforward:

mYAC = (YAC/completion – LgAvg YAC/completion) * Completions

I have quarterback YAC data going back to 1992 for every quarterback season with at least 100 pass attempts.1 That gives us a healthy sample of 965 seasons to analyze, and includes the full careers of every contemporary quarterback. But first, let’s get a sense of what’s average here. The table below shows the league-wide YAC rates since 1992: [click to continue…]

  1. This data comes courtesy of sportingcharts.com. It’s obviously unofficial, but there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable biases from one team to another. Some unofficial stats, such as passes defensed or quarterback pressures, can vary wildly depending on the scorekeeper, but Sporting Charts’ YAC stats seem pretty fair, from what I can tell. Here is a link to the 2013 data. Chase note: I have not had the chance to compare these numbers to what is on NFLGSIS, but that’s a good idea. []
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Year QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yards TD TD% Int Int% Y/A Y/C PRate ESPN QBR Sk Yds NY/A ANY/A Sk%
2004 1-6-0 95 197 48.2 1043 6 3.0 9 4.6 5.3 11.0 55.4 13 83 4.57 3.21 6.2
2005 11-5-0 294 557 52.8 3762 24 4.3 17 3.1 6.8 12.8 75.9 28 184 6.12 5.63 4.8
2006 8-8-0 301 522 57.7 3244 24 4.6 18 3.4 6.2 10.8 77.0 25 186 5.59 4.99 4.6
2007 10-6-0 297 529 56.1 3336 23 4.3 20 3.8 6.3 11.2 73.9 27 217 5.61 4.82 4.9
2008* 12-4-0 289 479 60.3 3238 21 4.4 10 2.1 6.8 11.2 86.4 62.56 27 174 6.06 6.00 5.3
2009 8-8-0 317 509 62.3 4021 27 5.3 14 2.8 7.9 12.7 93.1 69.75 30 216 7.06 6.89 5.6
2010 10-6-0 339 539 62.9 4002 31 5.8 25 4.6 7.4 11.8 85.3 65.88 16 117 7.00 6.09 2.9
2011* 9-7-0 359 589 61.0 4933 29 4.9 16 2.7 8.4 13.7 92.9 59.39 28 199 7.67 7.45 4.5
2012* 9-7-0 321 536 59.9 3948 26 4.9 15 2.8 7.4 12.3 87.2 67.39 19 136 6.87 6.59 3.4
Career 78-57-0 2612 4457 58.6 31527 211 4.7 144 3.2 7.1 12.1 82.7 213 1512 6.43 5.94 4.6

In 2011, Eli Manning threw for 4,933 yards and won the Super Bowl. Last year, he threw for 3948 yards and missed the playoffs. It’s tempting to think that something was “wrong” with Manning last year. Another narrative would be that 2011 was a career year far out of line with anything else he’s done, which would make 2012 was the real Manning. I’m not sure I buy either of those explanations.

Let’s start by comparing Manning’s numbers in 2011 and 2012. Yes, his passing yards dropped, but that’s a meaningless metric on its own. He threw 53 fewer passes in 2012, a partial explanation for why his yards declined. And while his yards per attempt did drop from 8.4 to 7.4, about 20% of that dip was mitigated by the fact that he took fewer sacks (his Net Yards per Attempt dropped from 7.7 to 6.9). In addition to improving his sack rate, Manning’s touchdown and interception rates were virtually identical, which means his decline was limited to pass attempts and yards per attempt.

We can break down the numbers on why his yards per attempt declined thanks to some additional data courtesy of NFLGSIS. In 2011, Manning averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. That was a result of three things: a 61.0% completion rate, 5.82 yards after the catch (per completion), and 7.92 Air Yards per Completed Pass. In 2012, Manning averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, with a 59.9% completion rate, 4.33 average YAC, and 7.97 Air Yards per Completed Pass.

The tiny drop in completion percentage is more than offset by the better sack rate, and if Manning was throwing incomplete passes instead of taking sacks, that’s a good thing. As for what happens when he completed a pass, his entire decline was in the form of yards after the catch. In 2011, he ranked 3rd in Air Yards per Completed Pass and 6th in YAC per completion; in 2012, he ranked 2nd in AY/CP and 30th in YAC per completion.

Now there’s some evidence to indicate YAC might be more on the quarterback than Air Yards. Other studies, and what I think is popular opinion, is that YAC is more about the receiver than the quarterback. But let’s further investigate why the Giants dipped in YAC. The table below shows a more precise breakdown. For both 2011 (in blue) and 2012 (in red), you can see the number of Receptions, Air Yards per Reception, YAC per reception, and Yards per Reception. The rows show each of the Giants top three receivers, top tight end, and top running back, along with the other players at wide receiver, tight end, and running back.
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In 2008, Larry Fitzgerald had a fantastic regular season capped off by a historically great postseason; in the Super Bowl, he set the record for receiving yards in a season, including playoff games, with 1,977 yards. Of course, 2008 was decades ago in today’s era of what have you done for me lately. The table below shows Fitzgerald’s stats over the past four seasons. The final two columns show the total number of receiving yards generated by all Cardinals players and Fitzgerald’s share of that number.

YearRecYdsYPRTDARI Rec YdsPerc
200997109211.313420026%
201090113712.66326434.8%
201180141117.68395435.7%
20127179811.24338323.6%

2009 was the last season of the Kurt Warner/Anquan Boldin Cardinals. The 97 receptions and 13 touchdowns look great, although hitting those marks and not gaining 1,100 receiving yards is very unusual. Fitzgerald was only responsible for 26% of the Cardinals receiving yards that season, although one could give him a pass since he was competing with another star receiver for targets.

Can Fitzgerald rebound in 2013?

Can Fitzgerald rebound in 2013?

In 2010, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, and Richard Bartel were the Cardinals quarterbacks: as a group, they averaged 5.8 yards per attempt on 561 passes. Arizona’s passing attack was bad, but without Boldin, Fitzgerald gained 34.8% of the team’s receiving yards. Steve Breaston chipped in with 718 receiving yards yards while a 22-year-old Andre Roberts was third with 307 yards. In other words, Fitzgerald performed pretty much how you would expect a superstar receiver to perform on a team with a bad quarterback and a mediocre supporting cast: his raw numbers were still very good (but not great) because he ate such a huge chunk of the pie. After the 2010 season, I even wondered if he could break any of Jerry Rice’s records (spoiler: he can’t).

In 2011, Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Bartel combined for 3,954 yards on 550 passes, a 7.2 yards per attempt average (Kolb was at 7.7 Y/A). That qualifies as a pretty respectable passing game and Fitzgerald appeared to have a monster year, gaining 35.7% of the Cardinals’ receiving yards (Early Doucet was second with 689 yards and Roberts was third with 586 yards). It’s always hard splicing out cause and effect, but my takeaway is that with a more competent passing game, Fitzgerald continued to get the lion’s share of the team’s production but unlike in 2010, this led to great and not just good numbers.
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Luck winds up to throw deep

Luck winds up to throw deep.

Consider the following example. The Colts gain possession at the 20-yard line. Andrew Luck is in shotgun and throws a strike to Reggie Wayne, who catches it at the 30, runs 15 yards, and gets tackled at the 45-yard line. Luck gets credited with 25 passing yards and Wayne records 25 receiving yards. Wayne is also credited with 15 yards after the catch, a statistic that you’ll occasionally see discussed or cited.

But you rarely see Luck’s completion split into (a) 10 yards through the air, and (b) 15 yards after the catch by his receiver. Brian Burke calls those 10 yards “Air Yards” and I think that is a pretty useful moniker. The question is, what do you do with Air Yards? Luck led the NFL in Air Yards per completed pass last year (8.0), but that doesn’t make the statistic an indicator of quality. Tim Tebow’s 2011 performance produced the highest single-season Air Yards per completion average since 2006 (8.9), while Jake Delhomme (2008) and Derek Anderson (2010) each have led the league in that metric, too. Air Yards per completed pass is a very useful way to describe a player’s style, but you can’t use it alone to determine a player’s quality.

One question I have: Are Air Yards more repeatable for a quarterback than the yards he gains via his receivers’ YAC? It’s important to keep that question separate from this one: Is a quarterback who has a high number of air yards and a low YAC better than a quarterback in the opposite situation? Today, I plan to focus on the first question, but let’s take a second to address the second one.

According to ESPN’s research, yards after the catch is more about what the receiver does than the quarterback. As a result, a completion that is in the air for 40 yards is better for a quarterback’s ESPN QBR than a pass that is in the air for 5 yards on which the receiver runs for 35 yards after the catch. That makes sense, I suppose, and I suspect that’s probably true more often than not. The easiest counterargument is to point to Joe Montana, and say that what made Montana great was his pinpoint accuracy that enabled players like Jerry Rice to rack up big YAC numbers.I’m going to put off any further analysis of how much of YAC should be attributed to the quarterback and how much to the receiver, because it’s pretty complicated. One thing that is a bit easier to analyze is how “sticky” Air Yards are from year to year.
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Have you taken a look at a passing leaderboard lately? Here’s the PFR passing leaderboard sorted by ANY/A; as always, all columns are sortable.

RkQBTmGCmpAttCmp%YdsTDTD%IntInt%Y/AAY/AY/CSkYdsNY/AANY/ASk%
1Peyton ManningDEN615422767.81808146.241.888.411.710637.47.84.2
2Josh FreemanTAM610418755.61538115.952.78.28.214.89657.57.54.6
3Eli ManningNYG716926563.82109124.572.687.712.55407.77.41.9
4Robert Griffin IIIWAS713318970.4160173.731.68.58.512151067.37.47.4
5Drew BreesNOR616627360.82097186.672.67.77.812.612867.17.24.2
6Ben RoethlisbergerPIT6155235661765114.731.37.57.911.413726.87.25.2
7Tom BradyNWE718628565.32104124.231.17.47.811.314966.77.14.7
8Aaron RodgersGNB718326269.81979197.341.57.68.310.8261426.47.19
9Matt SchaubHOU714022263.11650104.541.87.47.511.88596.973.5
10Jake LockerTEN46710663.278143.821.97.47.311.731676.92.8
11Matt RyanATL616023667.81756145.962.57.47.511131076.66.75.2
12Carson PalmerOAK614824161.4173272.941.77.2711.712936.56.34.7
13Alex SmithSFO712719066.8142794.752.67.57.311.2181006.46.28.7
14Joe FlaccoBAL715025259.5183793.662.47.36.912.2181106.46.16.7
15Andy DaltonCIN715624364.21831135.3104.17.56.811.7171026.75.96.5
16Cam NewtonCAR610117358.4138752.963.58713.7151026.85.98
17Tony RomoDAL615022167.9163683.694.17.46.310.99596.95.83.9
18Ryan FitzpatrickBUF7133218611435156.994.16.66.110.88446.25.73.5
19Christian PonderMIN71522276714929462.66.66.29.816685.95.56.6
20Sam BradfordSTL713121959.8159273.262.77.36.712.2211316.15.58.8
21Ryan TannehillMIA611819859.6145442637.36.412.3121096.45.55.7
22Matthew StaffordDET616426462.1175451.962.36.6610.7128665.44.3
23Michael VickPHI613623158.9163283.583.57.16.21217906.25.46.9
24Andrew LuckIND613425053.6167472.872.86.7612.516995.95.36
25Mark SanchezNYJ711621853.2145394.173.26.7612.514775.95.36
26Jay CutlerCHI610618756.7135984.373.77.36.412.81912165.39.2
27Russell WilsonSEA710417559.4123084.67476.111.8149765.27.4
28Brandon WeedenCLE715427256.6178393.3103.76.65.611.611696.15.13.9
29Philip RiversSDG613920966.51492104.894.37.16.210.7181186.15.17.9
30Kevin KolbARI610918359.6116984.431.66.46.510.7271594.84.912.9
31Matt HasselbeckTEN59615661.593153.242.665.59.710745.24.76
32Blaine GabbertJAX68815855.790663.831.95.75.610.3151054.64.58.7
33Matt CasselKAN510317658.5115052.895.16.54.811.213745.74.16.9

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