NFL Real/ Not Real: Week 10

Welcome to the tenth edition of the “Real or Not Real” article for the 2016 NFL season. In this piece, Ricky Sanders will examine whether the hype and/or recent production surrounding certain players warrants deeming them as “for real” or remaining skeptical and considering them “not for real.”

Here are Ricky’s thoughts surrounding players who opened some eyeballs with their Week 9 performances one way or another:

Mark Ingram, Saints – After Coach Sean Payton benched Mark Ingram last week for fumbling, Tim Hightower drew the start in Week 9. Hightower looked excellent early as he rushed for 32 yards and a TD on his first eight carries (4.0 yards per carry) and yet Coach Payton still held true to his word from earlier to his week (when he said Ingram would still play a “key” role) and went back to the Ingram well. Not only did Ingram score his third receiving TD of the year but he also broke free for an impressive 75 yard TD score. While Hightower held his own by producing 102 yards from scrimmage and a score, Ingram went absolutely nuts to the tune of 171 yards from scrimmage and two scores. The issue for Ingram is his benching has led to an opportunity for Hightower to re-emerge as a staple in the RB rotation thereby creating an even more annoying committee than before. Although this backfield proved to be incredibly fantasy friendly this week regardless of which one you rostered, darker days are ahead. Now the team has two mouths to feed instead of just one and Ingram was already having issues warding off TD vultures considering he ranked outside the top 25 in terms of red zone rush percentage (37.5-percent) at the position. Instead of going all-in on Ingram’s prospects of returning to a true RB1, realize this performance came against a defense that ranks 30th in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) statistic. This situation is going to remain messy moving forward but Ingram at least re-emerged as a player of value. Is he 100-percent for real? No, there is too much uncertainty still. Verdict: Not Totally For Real (but certainly an improvement)

T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars – The Jaguars backfield situation is somewhat similar to the Saints in terms of two players splitting the workload. What once was T.J. Yeldon’s backfield all to his lonesome now transformed into a situation where Chris Ivory was able to rush for a season-high 107 yards on Sunday. Meanwhile, Yeldon continued to work into the passing game as he lined up in both the backfield and at WR and hauled in five passes for 32 yards and a receiving TD. Even though Yeldon scored more fantasy points, he only touched the ball 12 times compared to Ivory’s 19 and it was the fourth consecutive game he failed to reach double-digit carries. His role has been reduced to that of a third down back although it should be noted he still played more snaps (43) than Ivory (34) as he has every week this season. Ivory clearly possesses the superior skill set needed to be a successful runner behind this mediocre offensive line (at best) because he possesses the ability to break tackles and make something out of nothing. For that reason, Yeldon will need an injury to revert back to the team’s bell cow. Otherwise, he will remain this role which has only propelled him above double-digit fantasy points once over his past four games (and it was this week due to the TD). While pass-catching backs can provide sneaky value, Yeldon’s price tag is still working its way down from when he was the starter. Until he approaches minimum cost, using him is going to be a TD-dependent, risky proposition. Verdict: Not For Real

Rishard Matthews, Titans – Rishard Matthews is an interesting case because he has only eclipsed 70 yards receiving once this season and yet he continues to remain fantasy relevant due to his propensity to consistently find the end zone. After his two scores against the Chargers in Week 9, Matthews has now scored five TDs in his last five games and has only failed to reach the end zone in one game during that span. Crazily, this was the first time since Week 6 that he topped 40 yards receiving so there definitely is a reason why Matthews has not become a household name just yet. Prior to his multi-TD explosion this week, Mathews had sneakily averaged the 14th most fantasy points per game of any WR over the past four weeks and the 10th most over the past two weeks. The strange part about this recent TD binge is Matthews has only received 14.3-percent of the team’s red zone targets and six overall including this past weekend. Against all odds, he has hauled in five of them or a whopping 83.3-percent catch rate down close. This can be spun in two ways: either both Marcus Mariota and Matthews are completely on the same page or this sort of outlier conversation rate cannot possibly continue. Considering Matthews’ red zone target rate is nearly identical to the likes of Tajae Sharpe, Dorial Green-Beckham and Will Fuller, who have caught a combined three TD passes this year, his TD binge is bound to end soon. With that being said Mariota clearly trusts him, so he has absolutely entered the tournament conversation from a weekly basis from here on out. Verdict: Not For Real (because the TD rate is unsustainable for his lack of volume)

Antonio Gates, Chargers – The reason to worry about rostering Antonio Gates this past week was due to an underlying unfavorable trend in his statistics. Heading into this week, Gates’ season-long receptions went for just 13 yards. Furthermore, he was averaging a career-worst 3.9 yards per target (YPT) which was nearly half his career-low which he set in 2012 (6.7 YPT). These troubling numbers either suggested the 36-year old veteran had lost a step or two in his elder age or the team just had not been calling playing for him downfield. In Week 9, Gates proved that it was the latter; he caught five passes for 75 yards and a TD and he averaged 15.0 yards per reception (which remember was longer than his previous long reception for the season). Apparently the absence of Hunter Henry combined with a limited Travis Benjamin combined with Gates another week removed from his early season hamstring injury was enough to propel him to success once again. His showing this week proved there is no reason to doubt him any longer as he still clearly has something left in the tank. Verdict: For Real

Vance McDonald, 49ers – Here is an amazing statistic: only 17 players have caught a reception of 65 yards or longer this season and Vance McDonald has caught two of them…both of which resulted in TDs. He basically rated as the anti-Gates heading into the week because he had caught 11 passes and two of them had gone for 20-plus yards prior to this week. Once again, 33-percent of his receptions resulted in a 20-plus yard gain this week which of course was the 65 yard TD. The switch to Colin Kaepernick has led to an uptick in targets for McDonald as he has now seen six passes thrown his way in consecutive games. Prior to the Kaepernick takeover, his previous season-high in targets was a measly three. Sure Kaepernick likes him more than Blaine Gabbert did but Brent Celek caught six passes for 76 yards this weekend as well. This is a full-on TE committee on an offense that experienced an outlier amount of yardage against arguably the league’s worst defense. McDonald can produce lightning in a bottle on any given week but this monster game was pretty obviously a result of the matchup. Verdict: Not For Real