NFL Real/Not Real: Week 15

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 15 performances one way or another:

Tom Savage, Texans – After signing a $72 million contract with $37 in fully guaranteed salary this offseason, it only took Brock Osweiler 14 weeks to get benched for Tom Savage. Against a Jaguars defense that ranks middle of the pack against the pass according to Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric, Savage completed 23-36 passes (63.9-percent) for 268 yards and no TDs. To be fair, he was playing without the team’s most reliable target as of late (C.J. Fiedorowicz) and he still managed to compile a QB rating of 85.4 compared to Osweiler’s 26.1 in 11 attempts. The team has already named him the starter for Week 16 but this offense is simply a dumpster fire beyond Lamar Miller and the TEs (Ryan Griffin caught eight balls for 85 yards in Fiedorowicz’s absence). Although it was encouraging Savage was called upon to sling it 35-plus times, the outcome still resulted in a performance outside the top 20 at the QB position this week. While he will no doubt be cheap once again next week and the Texans offensive line has been playing well (three players graded inside the top 20 at their respective position per Pro Football Focus), Savage is unproven and the weapons around him will do him on favors. Verdict: Not For Real

Derrick Henry, Titans – The surprise member near the top of the fantasy RB leaderboard this week was none other than Derrick Henry who finished as RB12. His Week 15 performance was only the third time this season he has topped double-digit fantasy points although it was the second time in three weeks. In fact, Henry only played 14 snaps in Week 12 (when he found the end zone) and 18 snaps last week when he gained 47 total yards on 13 touches. Incredibly, Henry only touched the ball eight times this week en route to 17.80 fantasy points because two of his touches led to TDs. The sporadic goal line work was not a new development considering Henry had earned the exact same percentage of his respective team’s red zone carries as both Ryan Mathews and LeGarrette Blount over the last month (33.3-percent). The team deploys Henry similarly to the way the Bills use Mike Gillislee which deems him one of the most value complementary backs in football. Even though Gillislee/Henry and even Tevin Coleman only touch the football a limited amount of times per game, they are given shots when it matters: in the red zone. With the potential to score each and every game, there is value to rostering these types on players in tournaments because they can do as much damage on one play as other RBs can only hope to do over the course of an entire game. Verdict: For Real (in a complementary role)

Ty Montgomery, Packers – If there were any doubt that the Packers had been telling the truth all week about Ty Montgomery’s heavy workload despite his sickle cell ailment, those doubts were eliminated midway through the first quarter. When all said and done, Montgomery rushed 16 times for 162 yards (10.1 yards per carry (YPC)) and two TDs and touched the ball 18 total times. For those unfamiliar with the sickle cell trait, the effects of it lead to abnormal blood cells closing off blood vessels, causing recurring, painful episodes called “sickle cell crises” that can require hospitalization. A few years back, Ryan Clark had an episode so severe after playing in Denver that he needed emergency surgery to have both his gall bladder and spleen removed. Now I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be on TV but this seemed like a disease that required extra caution at the very least in the freezing temperature (-12 degrees) of Chicago because cold weather can enhance the effects of an episode. The disease has an adverse effect on different players and obviously Montgomery was able to play through the extenuating circumstances and successfully finished as WR2 on the weekend slate. If Montgomery can play through this temperature, there is no reason to worry about him in the future especially considering the team has committed to him as the bell cow. Even though he is a WR playing RB, he is doing it pretty damn well and warrants consideration every damn week. His combination of rushing ability and fantastic receiving ability makes him an intriguing fantasy option every single week. Verdict: For Real

Deonte Thompson/Cameron Meredith, Bears – The return of Alshon Jeffery was apparently the exact spark the Bears passing game needed as three of the Bears receivers finished in the top seven of fantasy scoring. Cameron Meredith’s explosion was less shocking than Thompson’s considering Meredith had topped 65 yards receiving in each of the last two games playing alongside Matt Barkley including a 19.20 fantasy point performance last week. First of all, this game needs to be put in context as the Packers rank 18th in passing DVOA, but to be fair, Damarious Randall returned from injury last week and both Quinten Rollins and Ladarius Gunter have both played reasonably well. The questions that need answering are how many receivers can a Barkley-led offense sustain on a weekly basis and how much does Eddie Royal’s injury change the receiving landscape on the team? If this week were any indication, multiple receivers can have a role especially with receiving talent devoid Daniel Brown at TE. Meredith led the bears with a 30.2-percent target share this week with Deonte Thompson a distance second (23.3-percent) and Alshon Jeffery in third (20.9-percent). With a measly 63-percent catch rate, Thompson seems the least likely to sustain his production even with the Bears needing their receivers to carry the passing offense. Meredith, with a 68-percent reception rate, is going to be needed to complement Jeffery for the offense to remain consistent. We will have to see in coming weeks how these guys fare against more difficult opponents but all of these guys belong on the fantasy radar. With a 14.3 yard average depth of target (aDOT), Thompson will have sporadic value if/when he beats his man deep while Meredith should prove to be the more steady option. Verdict: Cameron Meredith is For Real, Deonte Thompson Not For Real (but addition of Alshon Jeffery does not hurt)

Charles Clay, Bills – Heading into the Week 15 tilt against the Browns, Charles Clay had scored exactly zero TDs this season after scoring six over the course of the last two seasons combined (one of them with the Bills). At 6’3”, 239 lbs, Clay feels like he should be a consistent red zone target but Tyrod Taylor has attempted the fourth fewest red zone passes amongst QBs who have been active for at least 10 games and attempted a minimum of 150 passes. He leads all QBs in terms of rushing TDs and LeSean McCoy ranks fourth in rushing TDs amongst RBs behind only LeGarrette Blount, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. Additionally, Taylor has completed the third fewest passes amongst starters (min. 14 games played) so it is difficult to rely upon secondary options in his passing game. Despite finishing as TE1 this week, this was the first time all year Clay topped five receptions, the time first time he had received seven-plus targets since Nov. 20 and (again) this was his first TD of the year. Instead of declaring him back in the fantasy spotlight, realize he just took advantage of a terrible defense. There is nothing to see here. Verdict: Not For Real