Yards Per Attempt Vs. Air Yards: A Study

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When it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, yards per attempt (YPA) is one of the more commonly accepted stats that one can use. That does not tell the full story, however, as the quarterback can generally be helped out a lot by the play design or by his receivers gaining valuable yards after the catch. So, in order to get a general view of which quarterbacks are performing at the highest level, you have to dig deeper. Another stat that is very encompassing of a quarterbacks value is the air yards gained per attempt (AYPA), which is the number of yards the ball traveled before it was caught. We decided to compare the two against each other in order to gauge the league’s quarterbacks and put them into three categories. Those that are making their teams better, those that were making their teams worse, those that and those that are “par for the course” meaning they are doing as one would expect given the circumstances. For the sample size, we used every quarterback who played in at least ten games in 2020.

Head and Shoulders Above Everyone Else

Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers.

We immediately had to make a fifth category for Watson and Rodgers. Despite being sacked 49 times, Watson turned in the highest YPA and AYPA. Rodgers is on here as the only outlier on this list. He does not have a ton of air yards but is second overall in yards per attempt. This would usually point to the offense doing most of the work on screens and dump-offs, making Rodgers a “par for the course” but in Rodgers’ case, his air yards per attempt is lower than you would expect only because he is so much better than any QB in the league pre-snap and he has one of the quickest releases all-time for any QB.

Making Their Team Better

Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones, and Joe Burrow.

All of these players were getting the ball downfield at a rate that should have accounted for more YPA based on their AYPA. Jones and Burrow stick out in a big way, as they were both top-15 in AYPA but both bottom eight in YPA.

Making Their Team Worse

Nick Mullens, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Jared Goff, Sam Darnold, and Ben Roethlisberger.

All of these players were holding their teams back by not getting the ball downfield. Their YPA was higher than expected based on tier AYPA, suggesting that the play design or skill position players have more to do with the team’s overall passing yards than the quarterback’s play does. The biggest standout from this group was definitely Jared Goff. Despite being in the top-20 of YPA, he was third to last in AYPA.

“Par for the Course”

Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Kyler Murray, Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, Justin Herbert, Carson Wentz, Drew Lock, Tua Tagovailoa, and Andy Dalton.

All of these players produced numbers that would be expected of any quarterback given his team’s offensive skill position group and scheme. The biggest standouts here are Herbert and Mahomes. You would expect both of them to be in the category of making their team better, but the numbers from 2020 show that they were just as good as the talent around them.

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Navy Veteran and current head of the football department at