NFL Real / Not Real: Week 13

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 13 performances one way or another:

Matthew Stafford, Lions – Amazingly, Matthew Stafford had not eclipsed 300 yards passing since Week 3 prior to his 341 yard, two TD outburst against the Saints on Sunday. This, mind you, is the same guy who broke the record for most passing yards through 100 games as a professional and yet somehow the Lions only rank 16th in the NFL in passing yards per game (248.7). Hell, they rank even worse in terms of passing attempts per game (21st) which certainly helps explain the down season. Of course the loss of Calvin Johnson in the offseason was huge but it was still difficult to imagine a drop-off of this magnitude. Still, on paper, Stafford is in a solid spot to succeed in terms of fantasy. The defense is decent but not great, the running game stinks and he possesses some solid targets including maybe the best receiving back in football (Theo Riddick). Sure this game was played in a dome against a below-average passing defense (25th in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA)) but the Lions impressively dominated the time of possession (36:52) despite a season average of 28:52 and only managing a measly 3.7 yards per carry (YPC). All of Stafford’s home games are played at home and this sort of performance used to be the norm for him. With all the weapons other than Marvin Jones healthy, Stafford showed the vintage version of himself was not dead but rather waiting to rear its head once again. On a team whose offensive game plan should mimic this sort of performance every week, Stafford can still prove to be a true QB1 down the stretch and help DFS owners big time. Verdict: For Real

Terrance West, Ravens – Just as it appeared Kenneth Dixon had catapulted Terrance West on the depth chart, West went ahead and out-snapped Dixon 39-22 in Week 13. When all said and done, West touched the ball 13 times, including a majority of the goal line work, en route to 68 yards from scrimmage, two TDs and 21.80 DraftKings (DK) fantasy points. Comparatively, Dixon touched the ball 10 times, averaged 9.3 YPC and gained 77 total yards. On the surface, this was an incredibly disappointing game for Dixon and an encouraging outing from West. Looking back at past data, however, Dixon’s snap percentage had been on the rise every week since Week 7 prior to this game. Essentially, this feels like a hot hand situation moving forward which makes it very difficult to roster either player. If looking for a cheap possibility for a TD on each week, West is still viable, but he is not morphing into a true RB1 or anything of the sort. After rushing for nearly 10.0 YPC this week, Dixon has earned around half the touches at minimum on most weeks, and the season sample (Dixon 4.5 YPC versus 4.0 for West) suggests most weeks could be even more. West found the end zone and scored a lot of fantasy points but he did not exactly widen the workload gap in the future. Therefore, this situation is tough to trust and West, the less talented of the two backs, will very likely will fade back into fantasy oblivion very soon. Verdict: Not For Real

Brandon LaFell, Bengals – In the absence of both A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, Andy Dalton has been forced to make due with a variety of mid-tier options as opposed to one above and beyond top option. Last week, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell both received exactly nine targets but Boyd converted his at a higher rate (six catches to LaFell’s three) and nearly doubled him in yardage (62-38). This week, the tables turned and Boyd only saw six targets compared to LaFell’s seven against the Eagles. Although the volume differential was nominal, LaFell’s targets led to five receptions (RECs), 95 yards and a TD while Boyd only managed 4-66. LaFell averaged a whopping 13.6 yards per target (YPT) this week after no receiver on the team topped 6.9 YPT last week which was certainly an encouraging sign. The fact his target share increased from 19.1-pecent last week to over 25-percent this week was also a positive sign. According to Bengals beat writer Jim Owczarski, Green has been diagnosed with a Grade 2 hamstring tear which is likely to keep him out for a few more weeks at the very least. Consequently, the duo of LaFell and Boyd is going to continue to battle it out for looks on a weekly basis and so far LaFell has out-produced and out-snapped Boyd. Looking ahead on the schedule, Boyd draws the more enticing matchup next week against a subpar Browns secondary because Joe Haden will match up against Brandon LaFell more often. I’d love to say LaFell emerged as the true top dog in the passing game this week but this is more of an option “1A and 1B” situation and the 1A option is going to continue to change based on matchup. Verdict: Not For Real

Malcolm Mitchell, Patriots – Only Chris Hogan played more snaps this week than Malcolm Mitchell amongst the Patriots WR core are Mitchell did not disappoint: he caught 8-10 targets for 82 yards and he topped 16 fantasy points for the third consecutive week. If you have not been paying attention closely then Mitchell’s production has been happening right under your nose. Rob Gronkowski has been ruled out for a remainder of the season and in his absence Martellus Bennett has only finished inside the top 30 at the TE position one week (and he finished TE2 that week). In other words, the Patriots have made up for his production mostly by targeting both backs and receivers instead. Here is a great mantra to subscribe to: if a receiver is playing a lot in an offense led by Tom Brady, they are likely going to be viable. Considering Mitchell has been targeted five, seven and 10 times in the last three games respectively, rostering an ascending player in the Patriots offense makes sense especially as long as his price remains cheap. The name may but be sexy but the setup is ideal for him to succeed. Verdict: For Real (if expectations are reasonable)

Ladarius Green, Steelers – The talent of Ladarius Green has long been enticing in terms of fantasy so the Steelers signing him certainly raised a ton of eyebrows. In the preseason, the team was quizzical with his injury situation and he ended up sitting up out until Week 10 with an ankle injury. Now, in back-to-back games, Green has put his talent on full display as he has gained 67 and 110 yards respectively in the last two games. Not coincidentally he has played a season-high in snaps the past two weeks with the 35 this week nearly equating to half the team’s offensive snaps. Jesse James was doing his best to hold down the fort at the position but he is simply a mediocre talent. Ben Roethlisberger has long relied on the TE in his offense as evident by the fact Heath Miller caught at least 42 passes in each of his final nine seasons. In fact, he caught 60-plus passes in three of his final four years and really a productive TE is all this offense had been missing in order to morph into an elite unit. Green and his 4.53 40-yard dash speed flashed the potential weaponry he can provide for his new QB after battling it out for playing time with Antonio Gates in San Diego. On an offense where he clearly reigns supreme and has a QB able to consistently get him the ball, there is no reason Green should not continue to factor into the TE1 conversation. Verdict: For Real