Real/ Not Real: NFL Week 4

Welcome to the fourth  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 3 performances one way or another:

Trevor Siemian, Broncos – In 2015, Peyton Manning graded as literally the worst starting quarterback (QB) in the NFL and both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders still eclipsed 1,100 yards receiving. Now, in 2016, the team is relying on seventh round rookie Trevor Siemian to lead the squad and he has now posted a 95.9 QB rating through three games (compared to Manning’ 67.9 rating last year). In other words, despite the gigantic gap in name recognition, Siemian at age 24 has played better than Manning did at age 39. With that being said, Week 3’s performance against a stingy Bengals defense was his first impactful game of the season as he had thrown just one TD in his first two games as a starter. However, that all changed as he threw a whopping four TDs on the road against a team that allowed the third fewest fantasy points to QBs just a season ago. Whether or not this was just an outlier game or a sign of things to come remains to be seen but here are the facts: C.J. Anderson is a true workhorse back and creates balance in the offense, Thomas and Sanders are a pair of talented receivers and Siemian has completed at least 65-percent of his passes in each start so far. The issue here is Paxton Lynch is waiting in the wings but then again the Broncos are 3-0. Siemien flopped last week in a matchup against a susceptible Colts passing defense and went off this week against Cincinnati. There are too many counterarguments in play at the moment to feel incredibly good about him moving forward but this certainly was an encouraging performance. With the team still focused on the run over the long haul, and the offensive line grading as mediocre at best, I still think there’s no reason to overreact him by deeming him a stud QB or anything of the sort. Until he shows more, continue to approach this situation with skepticism as he’s still a seventh round rookie with a franchise QB waiting to pounce at this first sign of his failure. Verdict: Not For Real

Christine Michael, Seahawks – A report surfaced on Monday suggesting Thomas Rawls is still set to miss “multiple games” so Christine Michael is locked and loaded as the start for the foreseeable future. After his 20 carry, 106 yard, two TD performance on Sunday that led to 28.10 DraftKings/FantasyDraft fantasy points, there seems to be little question that Michael is locked into the workhorse role. Michael looked “shot out of a cannon” (which is how his coach described him last week) on each and every carry and he displayed some of the quickest spin moves you’ll ever see. Only three offensive players on the Seahawks (Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson and Mark Glowinski (guard)) graded higher than Michael this week. This now marks three consecutive games of 46-plus snaps and 4.4-plus yards per carry (YPC) for Michael to begin the year. With the extended absence now expected for Rawls, Michael’s role has absolutely been solidified and the only question is how high can he ascend? He doesn’t factor into the passing game much (just 13 receptions in 25 career games) but he has caught seven passes in three games. Therefore, at the very worst, Michael should be considered a solid RB2 moving forward even in PPR formats. On a balanced offense, the defense cannot just focus on him, and he has displayed his talent can translate to production. Verdict: For Real

Darren Sproles, Eagles – According to Coach Doug Pederson, Ryan Mathews “tweaked” his ankle in Week 3 which led to Mathews only playing a total of nine snaps. Meanwhile, here is how the rest of the backfield split played out: Wendell Smallwood 24 snaps, Darren Sproles 24 snaps and Kenjon Barner 11 snaps. Finally though, Sproles posted his first monster line of 2016 as he took a 73 yard pass the house and finished with six receptions (RECs) for 128 yards, one TD and 27.70 fantasy points. In a limited role last year in which he caught 55 passes working mostly on third down, Sproles finished as RB28 in PPR. Now he’s working with Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich who transformed Danny Woodhead into RB4 in PPR scoring last year and seems committed to using his receiving backs even in the red zone. Last year, Sproles was targeted on 8.9-percent of the team’s red zone targets and that number has nearly doubled this season to 15.4-percent. This all comes on the heels of Sproles leading the backfield in snaps last week even when Mathews was healthy. Basically, Sproles is playing a much larger role this season, and his price tag continues to remain affordable. Due to him acting as Wentz’s security blanket when he’s in the game, he possesses an extremely safe floor for a running back (RB) who touches the ball 10 times or less on most weeks. If RB28 is his floor, his ceiling this year could be inside the top 15 at the position. Verdict: For Real

Terrelle Pryor Sr., Browns – This is something we have never seen before in the daily fantasy game: a player listed as wide receiver (WR) playing the QB position part-time. In total, Terrelle Pryor Sr. played 82 snaps on Sunday: 14 at QB, one at halfback, four at slot receiver and the rest as an outside receiver. 80-plus snaps is a pretty ridiculous total considering the aforementioned Sproles played just 24 total. Additionally, Pryor caught eight passes for 144 yards and notably burned Byron Maxwell to the point he made him look silly on multiple occasions. Pryor is the first player I’ve ever seen that is both the team’s number one WR and periodic starting QB as well. A unique combination of roles like this demands a special analysis because there literally is no precedent. Cody Kessler is a subpar starting QB so it remains to be seen whether he can consistently get Pryor the ball. Nevertheless, the counter-argument there would be Pryor would then step in and play more snaps at QB. If Kessler struggles, Pryor would play more QB. If Kessler succeeds, Pryor should be the main beneficiary. For that reason, Pryor’s floor moving forward is reliably stable and his ceiling should is that of a weekly WR1 due to the combination of roles. If there was one player to feel great about moving forward who didn’t have much buzz heading into the week, Pryor is clearly that guy. Verdict: For Real

Eric Decker, Jets – Look, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t going to throw six INTs every week and he may not even throw four-plus INTs in any remaining game this season. Still, Eric Decker failed to finish with either 70 yards or a TD for the first time since 2014. A troubling trend had already been developing with the emergence of Quincy Enunwa where he had only been targeted one less time than Decker through two games. Following the Jets’ Week 3 loss, Brandon Marshall has been targeted on 13.3-percent of his snaps compared to Enunwa’s 15.2-percent and Decker’s 10.0-percent. While Decker remains a legitimate red zone threat, a repeat of last year’s numbers is looking increasingly unlikely. Decker fared as a reliable WR2 last season but he’s shaping up to be more of a boom-or-bust WR3 in the way this year’s offense is structured (especially due to the signing of Austin Seferian-Jenkins which further muddies the situation). If expecting a repeat of 2015, you’re going to be disappointed. Verdict: Not For Real (in comparison to last season)

Cameron Brate, Buccaneers – Due to a DUI arrest, the Buccaneers released Austin Seferian-Jenkins prior to the team’s Week 3 tilt against the Rams. The next man up was second year tight end (TE) Cameron Brate from Harvard. Dating back to Aug. 18 (the preseason), reports were surfacing that it was “pretty clear” Brate was one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets. Amazingly, Brate went undrafted in the 2014 draft and this is actually his second stint with the Buccaneers (they cut him the first time). If Sunday were indicative of things to come, it appears he is now here to stay. Winston targeted him a whopping four times in the red zone on Sunday and he came down with two of them. Looking at Brate’s draft profile, there really is nothing special about the skill set, but Winston seems to love targeting the position as a whole in the red zone. Brate doesn’t strike me as a player with enough talent to emerge into a true TE1 or anything close but he is a big target when the team gets close to the goal line. For that reason, he should be considered a boom-or-bust TE2 moving forward especially because he has almost no competition at the position. Verdict: Meh (Unless you just want a player who could score on a given week)