January 10, 2018
Back in 2016, during Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz's rookie season, one of the more asinine criticisms of Wentz's play was that he was unwilling to take shots down the field. "Air yards" (or the average distance the ball traveled in the air on its way to the intended receiver) became a well-known term among the Eagles' most hardcore followers, and something of an inside joke against Wentz's harshest critics.
Wentz's "air yards" were in the bottom third of starting NFL quarterbacks his rookie season, which was understandable, considering he was throwing to the worst set of receivers in the NFL, none of whom had any ability to make plays down the field at the time. Still, for anyone who actually watched him play, it was abundantly clear that he was willing to let it rip, when appropriate.
In 2017, with a few key additions to his receiving corps, Wentz was the most "aggressive" quarterback in the NFL, according to the NFL's NextGen stats, who keep several statistics that show a quarterback's willingness to make difficult throws.
Explanation: "Aggressiveness tracks the amount of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage, where there is a defender within 1 yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. AGG is shown as a percentage of attempts into tight windows over all passing attempts."
In this metric, Wentz had the highest aggressiveness percentage in the NFL, at 25.7 percent. In other words, he tried to fit passes into receivers that had one yard or less of separation on more than a quarter of his pass attempts.
Explanation: "Average Completed Air Yards shows the average Air Yards a passer throws on completions."
Wentz averaged 7.9 Air Yards on his completions in 2017, which was second only to Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, who averaged 8.3.
Explanation: "Average Intended Air Yards shows the average Air Yards a passer throws on all attempts."
Wentz averaged 10.2 Air Yards on all of his pass attempts in 2017, whether complete or incomplete. That was good for fourth in the NFL.
Explanation: "Air Yards to the Sticks shows the amount of Air Yards ahead or behind the first down marker on all attempts for a passer. The metric indicates if the passer is attempting his passes past the 1st down marker, or if he is relying on his skill position players to make yards after catch."
I kinda like this metric. Here Wentz ranked fourth in the NFL, with an average distance to the sticks of +1.1 yards, meaning that on average, he threw 1.1 yards past the sticks. As you might imagine, this is not an area where Sam Bradford ranks very highly. In 2016, he was dead last in this metric, at -1.7.
If you haven't heard Wentz critics ding him for his lack of "Air Yards" recently, well, the above is why. They've since moved to some other dumb thing.
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