- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Sometimes when you're choosing a flex option, you're just hoping lightning strikes and this will be the week a certain someone scores a touchdown. Really, it could be that simple. For some teams, your first three draft picks were running backs and you're lucky enough to dump a productive Thomas Jones or Chris Johnson in that spot each week.
For most of us who aren't in shallow leagues or haven't been blessed with perfect health, a decision has to be made, and you're just looking for a home run. When I'm doing this, the matchup is normally paramount in making the right choice. The thing is, there is no right choice. Someone like DeSean Jackson has scored -- officially, at least -- one time through the air this season, so who feels lucky that in a tough matchup he'll double that total? It's why I don't rank the rookie wide receiver very high; he's scored once, and I don't think he'll do it again this the week against the Giants. Maybe against the Bengals, I'll feel differently.
Then again, when we look for shootout games, it's no lock a surprising someone will step up. I've been surprisingly confident that Tyler Thigpen will push Philip Rivers into a Chiefs-Chargers shootout this weekend -- even if it's 27-7 and Thigpen makes the comeback and falls 30-27 -- and we'll see both quarterbacks have good days. Does that mean you play a Chiefs wide receiver you haven't heard of or that Darren Sproles finds a way into a flex spot? It could be, as I'll mention below.
Then again, I'm told the Broncos and Browns put up 64 exciting points on Thursday night -- at least, that's what it says in the box score and on "SportsCenter" -- but did any Hail Mary choices come through there? Each team had a running back whom I classified as a No. 2 option score and deliver double digits, but no backups did anything. Cleveland's tight end went off, but the wide receivers were statistically absent. Thanks, Braylon Edwards. Denver was more balanced, but still, Eddie Royal is a bit past flex status in good matchups; he's a strong No. 2 wide receiver. So even in shootouts, as this was, your Selvin Young flex might not step up. I'll still take that chance over going with Correll Buckhalter in a low-scoring NFC East battle.
OK, enough of that. On to this week's thoughts. As always, I make my flex rankings, then look at situations that might surprise some -- wait, this receiver is ranked one spot ahead of that running back?!? -- and then discuss. Broncos and Browns have been removed, so let's go to the rest of Week 10!
Steve Slaton versus Laveranues Coles: We don't often cover two players in this space who scored so well in the flex rankings, and for many of you, these players might be starters. Then again, thinking about where you drafted these guys in August, maybe you're not assuming they are weekly options. The undrafted Slaton has clearly fulfilled the Texans' expectations. In our midseason mock draft this week, I made the rookie my second-round selection. (By the way, I saw Slaton play in a game at a suburban Philadelphia high school.) I'm not particularly worried about Slaton this week against the big, bad Ravens. He rummaged for 116 yards and a score on the bigger, badder Titans in Week 3, and because he can catch the ball so well -- 32 targets, 30 receptions -- he managed a double-digit day against the Vikings in Week 9. Slaton might be your third or fourth running back, thus a flex option for some, and to me is a better choice than Coles. This says something, because the Jets play the Rams this week, and one should expect Brett Favre to give plenty of attention to both Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Coles actually tops our projections for this week. I like both Jets receivers, but the point here is you shouldn't be afraid of using Slaton.
Donald Driver versus Ryan Grant: We head to the land of cheese to check out a wide receiver who comes off easily his best game of the season, and a running back who is still looking for a best game. Their common opponent is the division rival Minnesota Vikings, a team that can stop any running game, as we all know, but that remains impotent against the pass. Batter up, Aaron Rodgers! Grant continues to be a popular start in fantasy based on his 2007 numbers, as his owners apparently expect a breakout game soon. In fact, I couldn't believe Grant, like Slaton, was a second-round pick in our mock draft this week. To me, it appears Grant is having a season much like Thomas Jones did last year; sure, he's getting the yards and should top 1,000 for the season, but he's scored one touchdown. That's it. Driver has scored three, and the Packers should have far more success moving the ball through the air than on the ground this week. What's amazing to me here is that in a normal week against a team that is a bit more balanced in allowing yards on the ground and through the air, Grant is going to be compared in flex value not to Driver, but Greg Jennings, a top receiving option. I just don't see it.
Le'Ron McClain versus Kevin Curtis/Plaxico Burress: Yeah, this seems like a strange one, but if you're like me and you don't expect a ton of points in the Sunday night Eagles-Giants tilt -- think something like 13-10 with a late field goal winning it -- then why not go with the bruising fullback type who appears back in good graces? I'm not going to try to figure out what the Ravens are doing with their main running back. Is Willis McGahee healthy enough to actually carry the ball this week, or is he still on "emergency" status? Ray Rice could handle the proceedings, I'm convinced, but I doubt he starts over a healthy McGahee. Regardless, we're not discussing those guys here. McClain remains a pretty good choice to get a goal-line carry or five each week, which is why he rates so high. Maybe he was simply on "emergency" status in Weeks 6 and 7 when so many of his excited owners gave up on him. He scored in Week 9 and got 14 carries. McClain is back as a strong flex. Curtis is healthy now and Burress appears to be, as well, but I don't like the matchup for either one. I don't think either wide receiver approaches 100 yards, either. So the chance of McClain scoring and getting 40 or 50 yards outweighs the top wide receivers for these NFC teams. I don't understand Burress' poor season, but as with Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson, Burress' quarterback just doesn't look his way as was the case in 2007. Really, Burress has been more of a pain to the Giants than to their opponents.
Hines Ward versus Derrick Ward: Sticking with the Giants, reserve running back Derrick Ward has more fantasy points than Burress. Amazing, isn't it? In this battle of Wards, I'm still taking the wide receiver. New York's Ward isn't a safe touchdown maker, not like Baltimore's McClain is, and I also don't see why Pittsburgh's Ward can't have a decent day against the Colts. Sure, the Colts are stingy against the pass, but I think Ben Roethlisberger will play, and Ward is the type who can overcome tougher matchups. The Giants' Ward has been a bit all-or-nothing this season, scoring only once and racking up his double-digit games against the two Ohio teams and the depleted Cowboys. The Eagles aren't from Ohio and aren't depleted.
Mark Bradley versus Fred Jackson: I keep hearing so much about how the Bills' Jackson is destroying the value for Marshawn Lynch. Really? Jackson has scored once all season, and the most carries he's received in a game is 10. Maybe that's more than most backup running backs, but then again, if Lynch were getting 25 per game, he'd probably be hurt by now. Jackson isn't nearly the factor most people think, and he's not a great flex play, ever, as long as Lynch is healthy. So it is that we'd consider ranking ahead of him a Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver who didn't play until three weeks ago, but does have double-digit games against the Jets and Buccaneers since then. I think Tyler Thigpen will have a nice day against the weak pass defense of the San Diego Chargers this week, making Dwayne Bowe a better-than-normal play and a sleeper like Bradley worth considering. So, this week, consider Bradley, and if Lynch underachieves, blame him and not poor, harmless Fred Jackson, who might get you four or five fantasy points at best.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
6hBy Ian O'Connor