NFL Real / Not Real: Week 12

Welcome to another 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 12 performances one way or another:

Matt Barkley, Bears – The most interesting case of all this weekend was Matt Barkley whose performance could easily be spun both positively and negatively. When all said and done, Barkley had completed 28-54 passes (51.9-percent) for 316 yards and three TDs despite the fact his receivers dropped a whopping 10 passes. 10! On one hand, Barkley played incredibly well under difficult circumstances will at least five members of the team’s offensive staples (Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Miller, Kyle Long and Josh Sitton) out. On the other hand, this was about the best game he could possibly play and his receiving core is not changing anytime soon. In other words, these guys who dropped the passes are still going to be playing in the foreseeable future. Sure Barkley would have completed 70-percent of his passes if the team dropped zero passes but he also threw two picks and attempted 54 passes. On most weeks, it is unlikely Coach John Fox is comfortable throwing that much, although again, to be fair, Barkley and the Bears should have won that football game (if not for a late Joshua Bellamy drop). Since the situation around him just absolutely stinks, it is difficult to believe Barkley will continue to produce these sort of gaudy numbers. It should be noted both Brian Hoyer and Barkley have thrown for 300-plus in yards in the games they have started from start to finish whereas Jay Cutler has topped out at 252 yards. Having said that, the Bears are a mess and no one on the offense other than Howard can/should be trusted. Verdict: Not For Real

Jeremy Hill, Bengals – Jeremy Hill’s final stat line did not jump off the page but he was squaring off against the team that literally ranked first in rushing defense according to Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric. Even in a difficult matchup, Hill caught 6-6 targets for 61 yards. The six receptions (RECs) were a career-high while the 61 yards receiving were the most he had registered via the air since Week 4 of his rookie season in 2014. Clearly he is going to receive a bulk of the ground work now that Bernard is inactive but this is an incredibly encouraging sign that the team seems committed to targeting him as well. After a solid performance comparatively to his price tag against a great rushing defense, his price only rose to $4,300 on DraftKings (DK) in a matchup against another formidable foe: the Eagles. If last week proved anything, it is he is absolutely viable at a bargain cost in this new role. At this bargain price tag, and in this role moving forward, expectations should be high. There is no reason Hill cannot take his game to a whole new level in the upcoming weeks. Verdict: For Real

Kenneth Dixon, Ravens – According to Brad Evans on Twitter, Kenneth Dixon ranks second in tackles avoided per attempt so far this season and Dixon out-snapped Terrance West 31-23 against the Bengals. In total, he received 17 touches, a career-high, and totaled 80 yards from scrimmage. Quietly, this was the second time in three weeks the team’s fourth round selection in this year’s NFL Draft had managed to gain at least 80 total yards. Since he has scored exactly zero TDs this season, and only ended with only 12 fantasy points this week, not many are going to notice him leapfrogging West. This is an impactful development especially since the coaching staff has been talking him up for the entire season. It is only a matter of time before the breakout week comes and it feels to be getting closer and closer every time he takes the field. With the team committing to his workload more and more by the week, Dixon should firmly be on the fantasy radar at home against the Dolphins in Week 13. Verdict: For Real

Taylor Gabriel, Falcons – Quietly, Taylor Gabriel scored for the fourth consecutive game on Sunday. Actually, his two scores made it five scores in four games with three of them coming via the 35-yard or longer variety during that time span. In fact, all five of his TDs during the past five weeks have been from at least 15 yards out. It appears Gabriel has found himself a role on this offense as a true weapon. With a majority of the defensive attention focused on Julio Jones and the two-headed rushing attack on a weekly basis, Gabriel is moved around the formation and the team is starting to consistently call plays for him (five-plus touches in two of the last three games). Maybe the best part of Gabriel’s (fourth consecutive) bust out performance this week was the Falcons’ Twitter trolling the Browns for releasing him (although the tweet has since been deleted). Having been targeted exactly five times in each of his last three games, Gabriel is sort of like DeSean Jackson in the sense that he does not need extreme volume to succeed. Looking ahead to next week, his price remains at $4,000 despite all the recent success. For DFS purposes, it feels like it could be paying for him a week too late but there is obviously a role available to him on a weekly basis. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me and fool me five times…well…there is no saying for that one. Verdict: For Real

Jermaine Gresham, Cardinals – As if Carson Palmer needed another weapon in the passing game, Jermaine Gresham found the end zone for the second consecutive game. This time, however, he was targeted a season-high 10 times and it was the most targets he has seen in a game since Oct. 19, 2014 (Week 6) against the Colts. With Michael Floyd struggling this season, the team has had to look elsewhere for production with John Brown and J.J. Nelson both emerging at different parts of the season. Now it appears Gresham is emerging as the number two target of the moment. The problem is the distribution of targets in this offense; besides Fitzgerald, no other receiver has been targeted more than 13.1-percent of the time on this offense. This week it was Gresham, but if history tells us anything, no player other than David Johnson on the team has scored in back-to-back-to-back games this season. Sure Gresham is only four years removed from finishing as fantasy’s TE7 but this offense just does not offer consistent enough looks for any player not named Johnson or Fitzgerald for them to remain a factor for long (and four years is a long, long time in the NFL). The recent performance is certainly encouraging but it appears to be nothing more Fool’s Gold. Verdict: Not For Real