- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Would you really play Pierre Thomas over LaDainian Tomlinson in a flex spot for all the marbles? How about Sammy Morris over Andre Johnson, Cedric Benson over Terrell Owens, Kevin Walter over LenDale White? Wasn't it Johnnie Cochran who once said, "If the rankings fit, then you must sit." Well, he was working for the defense, after all.
Look, I know there are some of you out there who are going to play the players you drafted in the first few rounds in this critical week no matter what. Who knows, maybe they'll come through for you. I still think fantasy football is a game of matchups, trends, intuition and, of course, luck, and just because I drafted Reggie Wayne in the second round hardly means he's going to be active for me this week. He might, but at the same time, I've got Michael Turner everywhere, but if he was playing like Tim Hightower, I would sit him. It's all relative.
The point is after you choose your starters at running back and wide receiver, you're not dealing with afterthought choices, and anything that happened on draft day, or in a trade or even in Week 15, is irrelevant. When I choose my regular and flex rankings, I'm not thinking about how silly it must look to have ranked a guy like Pierre Thomas, who remains available in 22 percent of ESPN leagues, higher than LT, the No. 1 overall pick in probably 90 percent of leagues. If I lose because I made this so-called against-the-grain selection, so be it. I think it's the right one.
Of course, I still think Tomlinson is a very good play, better than what you'll see from my fellow rankers this week, and that's OK, too. I'm willing to be convinced I don't really believe something, so prove to me Roddy White is a far better play than Ronnie Brown! I might change my mind. It happens all the time. But the reason I'm using Brown over White has nothing to do with how I acquired these players, and next to nothing to do with where they rank for total points this season. I look at trends, both for the defense and the prosecution -- um, I mean for the positive and negative -- but ultimately it's about points. That's what this column has been about for me.
The scenarios I choose to write about below have never been forced. I've got my rankings at running back, wide receiver and tight end, and keeping relative order in mind per position, I start to mix in the receivers to the running backs, then I add the tight ends, and come up with a top 100. Then, when I'm done, I see someone like T.O. didn't fare so well, and I smile. It makes for an obvious paragraph to discuss!
So let's check out Week 16, getting this column posted before Thursday's game, and keeping in mind there are going to be things that change later in the week, especially with numerous hurting running backs like Brandon Jacobs and Frank Gore. Happy Holidays everyone!
Maurice Morris versus Bernard Berrian: I ranked both of these players quite a bit better than the other rankers, and discussing them in this spot allows me to say why. Ultimately, one of them has to be ranked better, and I think it is Seattle's Morris. The Jets were good at stopping the run much of the season, but are they anymore? Peyton Hillis was the first to gash them on the ground, and then Marshawn Lynch had no trouble in Week 14. If only he had gotten the carries on that drive with two minutes left to play, as opposed to Mr. J.P. Turnover (J.P. Losman) rolling out. Can you explain that to me? Anyway, Morris gained 86 yards against the Rams, and I think the Seahawks will aim to establish him again. There's little threat of Julius Jones stealing touches, so Morris knows he's down to a few weeks of being a lead ball-carrier. Probably won't happen again. Berrian is underrated, too. Sure, he's not a kid, neither is Morris. Berrian caught only one pass in Week 14, but it went for a 41-yard touchdown, and he added another one on a return. I'm not so scared of the Tarvaris Jackson factor, though I'll take the under on him throwing two touchdown passes. One of them goes to Berrian, but I think Morris scores as well and gets more yards.
Isaac Bruce versus Warrick Dunn: Speaking of, ahem, older folks, we've got them right here. Bruce seems reborn since Shaun Hill took over the quarterback duties from the erratic J.T. O'Sullivan, having averaged in the neighborhood of seven receptions and 80 yards over four games. I'm not one who expects fantastic performances when veteran players who feel they were jilted go back to the place they called home for a decade, but we should note Bruce is playing in St. Louis this week. He played there forever. The Rams are not good at all, and I expect Bruce to at least threaten for 100 yards, maybe even add a touchdown. It's not because he wants to prove a point to his old team, really, but because the Rams are just so bad, it happens automatically. Dunn is not done, after all. I just think Bruce actually has a better shot to score, which of course is saying a lot. Dunn has been ceding carries to Cadillac Williams recently, but I gave him the decent ranking because he was very involved in the passing game against the Falcons in Week 14. Dunn gets his yards, and there are times in a playoff matchup I'd be satisfied knowing a seven-point outing is coming. In this matchup, I take Bruce's potential to score.
Cedric Benson versus Antonio Gates: Wow, this is a weird one, isn't it? Benson took about a month off for productivity, which I know is shocking to all of us, but the past fortnight he has run for 130 yards. Baby steps, people. Benson isn't the worst play against the Browns, even if you've built up much hate for the guy over the years. I don't think the Browns are all that susceptible to the run, as Brian Westbrook wasn't really needed to run, and when he did he was average, but I could see Benson getting a nice seven or eight fantasy points. The real point here is that Gates is no longer Gates. The last time he scored was Week 10, and until Week 15 against the Chiefs he wasn't even catching enough passes to be worth using at tight end. Gates caught a total of eight passes from Weeks 11 through 14. I wouldn't have sat the guy when compared to the peers at his position, but it's tough to argue playing him over a starting running back with a decent matchup. Plus, there's this little nugget that the Buccaneers -- who Gates faces -- have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Tomlinson has a big game (remember, the Bucs got skewered on the ground by the Panthers), and here Benson wins this battle.
Jamal Lewis versus Terrell Owens: Again, this isn't really about how much I like Cleveland's Lewis, a starter who still hasn't topped the 100-yard mark this season. Lewis isn't getting close to 100, either. The past two weeks he was meaningless against the Titans and Eagles, and the last time Lewis scored was Week 10. I expect a hearty six points from him this week. I expect less from one of the most overrated players in fantasy for this fine season, everyone's pal T.O. The straw that supposedly stirs the Cowboys' drink has been average most of this season, garnering attention mainly by creating a clubhouse circus. On the field, Owens has managed to break into double digits for fantasy scoring six times, and the fact he's ranked ninth for the season in fantasy points is certainly a tad misleading, since more than one-fifth of his season total came in one game! Look, he's playable, even in a seemingly awful matchup against the feared Ravens, but I activated San Francisco's Bruce over him in one league, and yes, if I had Jamal Lewis anywhere, I'd flex him over Owens. The Ravens are good. Seems like another one of those games -- the ninth, if you're counting -- that Owens is not going to reach as many as 40 receiving yards.
Santana Moss versus Kevin Faulk: I'm well aware Moss was shut out when the Redskins beat the Eagles in Week 5 -- I watched the entire game. In two of the prior three weeks, Moss had blown up for 164 and 145 yards, and then against the Eagles he was a no-show. Like Terrell Owens, a disproportionate amount of what Moss has accomplished this season came in two games. His Week 15 touchdown in Cincinnati marked the first time he had scored since Week 8. Alas, he is the top receiving option for Jason Campbell, and I doubt he's held to nary a reception again. Expect 70 or so yards, at least. I don't think Faulk can do that, and even if the Patriots' leader in season fantasy points for running backs finds his way into the end zone, he might not have the yards to go with it. I'll hedge against him scoring, because unless your name is Reggie Bush (when healthy), we can't assume a backup running back will catch a touchdown pass.
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.