2013's best deep passers

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(This article, like everything I write here and everything I do in my real life, is really only an excuse to talk about Russell Wilson.)

This will be a quick look at my favorite category of advanced stats out there: Advanced NFL Stats' "Air Yards". This is the study of what actually happens when a quarterback completes a forward pass. Is it a 1-yard swing pass to a running back that goes for 25, a 5-yard slant to a slot receiver that goes for 5, a 19-yard out to a Megatron? Think of it as the inverse of yards-after-catch. What is going on with the football before the catch? This stuff matters, and some of the stats we know and love like passer rating, completion percentage and yards-per-attempt are essentially blind to it. Let's take a look at some numbers.

Air Yards per Attempt

AirYPA is the average distance the football travels downfield before the targeted receiver catches it. A higher number means okay you guys aren't idiots, you know what a higher number means.

Top 5 this season (minimum 300 attempts):

1. Jay Cutler (4.5)
2. Russell Wilson (4.4)
3. Nick Foles (4.4)
4. Colin Kaepernick (4.3)
5. Carson Palmer (4.2)

Bottom 5 this season (minimum 300 attempts):

1. Chad Henne (2.7)
2. Alex Smith (2.9)
3. Jason Campbell (3.0)
4. Andrew Luck (3.2)
5. Joe Flacco (3.3)

Damn. The NFC West boasts some efficient, deep passers. The AFC is checkdown screen pass dink dunk city. Some of this has to do with playcalling and scheme, of course. Some of this has to do with a QB choosing a shorter pass that leaves more room for the WR to run, which is perfectly fine in its own right. But if the question is simply "who pushes the ball down field the best and the most?", you have some compelling candidates and anti-candidates above.

An out-of-nowhere bash on Andrew Luck

Another thing Advanced NFL Stats tracks for us is overall air yards. Obviously. Because how would they calculate the yards per atANYWAY, check out these two lines:

Andrew Luck: 570 attempts, 3.2 AirYPA, 1,808 air yards
Russell Wilson: 407 attempts, 4.4 AirYPA, 1,804 air yards

RUSSELL WILSON HAS FOUR FEWER AIR YARDS ON 163 FEWER ATTEMPTS. Think about that. Air yards is literally the distance that the QB moves the ball under his own power. Andrew Luck attempted 163 more passes than Russell Wilson, and only managed to throw the ball 4 yards further than Russell Wilson.

Okay, so this that wasn't actually that out-of-nowhere. The point of this section was to illustrate what a 1+ yard difference in AirYPA actually means over the course of season. It means Wilson can essentially match Luck's productivity through the air, while handing the ball off to a running back 163 additional times. It also means that the Seahawks' YAC situation is ripe for the picking. Turn some of these intermediate and deep targets into TDs (Harvin Harvin Harvin) and the offense explodes without having to do a single thing differently. When you look at in those terms, is Russell Wilson really being "asked to do less" than other guys we compare him to, or is he being asked to do much, much more?

That's it. That's all I really wanted to talk about.

Seriously. The article is over now. You can skip to the comments or close it or whatever. Check out the numbers for yourself over at the Air Yards section of Advanced NFL Stats. There is a lot more here to dig into, maybe in a future article. Peyton Manning's numbers are insane in this category. Dude had 2,796 air yards AND a 4.2 AirYPA. Crazy. Anyway, Happy Friday!

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