Antonio Gates or Antonio Bryant: Who do you want?
Fantasy owners need to put more time into their decision-making when it comes to flex options. I see a lot of user feedback, mostly through e-mail on stuff we've written or said or whatever. There are always "major" decisions about Derek Anderson versus Marc Bulger, or something to that effect, dealing with unappealing quarterback options. People tend to study a great deal when it comes to running backs, as well, and don't even ask about defenses. I really can't speak to the weather in London, England, or just plain New England from week to week, but when it comes to picking defenses, it's not a 30-minute process for me.
When it comes to choosing a flex, however, that should take a bit of time, unless you know exactly who you're going to play and there's little room for debate. I have a team in which I drafted three very good receivers for fantasy -- well, two really good ones, and I still play Terrell Owens -- and to be honest, I never debate about the flex option. Maybe after this week I will finally sit T.O. down and throw someone like Maurice Morris in there, but I know the minute I do that the wide receiver will take three short slants from Brad Johnson and end up with 190 yards and two scores. I just know it.
On most of my other teams, and yours I imagine, there are decisions to be made, and they are no less worthy of attention than your quarterback or No. 2 running back dilemma. The points count the same, you know! When it comes to defenses and kickers, honestly, I generally stick with what I've got, and applaud that our fantasy-football forefathers didn't include them in the flex spot. They don't belong there anyway. I have a league with no kickers, and quite enjoy that, too. Guess that's a column for another day.
The points your flex position can generate can be rather lucrative, especially if you have a great deal of depth at running back or wide receiver, so don't make the mistake of simply throwing Ricky Williams in there every week and hoping for the best. Put some thought into the decision. Fantasy matchups are won by a point or two far more often than one would think, and using your flex spot wisely -- signing that free agent, moving your backup quarterback in trade for a perfect flex or just doing the proper homework for each week -- can be a major factor in a fantasy campaign.
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. Let's go to Week 8!Fred Taylor versus Plaxico Burress: Yep, I made a controversial call here, I suppose, but even after I saw where my rankings ended up, I didn't opt to change. Burress, like many talented wide receivers, should not be judged on previous numbers. He is surely capable of scoring a touchdown per week, if Eli Manning can comply, but at this juncture he is not doing all that much. While he has scored three touchdowns in basically five games, the other numbers haven't caught up. The past two weeks, against hardly fearsome defenses in Cleveland and San Francisco, he has seven receptions for 82 yards. Again, he's extremely talented, and like Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson or Torry Holt or 10 other guys, maybe it's not his fault. Maybe it's bad luck, or bad quarterback play, or bad karma. I continue to rank Burress nicely, and I'm sure he'd love to put up numbers heading back to former haunting grounds Pittsburgh, but let's remember how good that defense is. Jacksonville's Taylor gets the nod from me, despite doing maddeningly little the past month, because I expect the Jaguars to have their way on the ground against the Ohio teams the next fortnight. Taylor suffered a concussion in Week 6, so obviously he left the game early and provided few numbers of consequence. In reality, Taylor has one good game all season, when he and Maurice Jones-Drew embarrassed the Colts on the ground. I say Taylor scores this weekend and gets into double-digit fantasy points, and Burress does not.
Top 100 flex options for Week 8
Steve Slaton still looks like the best option in the Houston Texans' backfield, despite the return of Ahman Green. Slaton will be the primary back against a weak Cincy defense. (Ranks thru Friday morning)
Antonio Bryant versus Antonio Gates: It's a battle of the Antonios! In one corner, we have a talented yet well-traveled wide receiver who didn't start the season as a particularly appealing option, and in the other it's just, oh, the No. 1 tight end in fantasy. Gates hasn't been awesome this season, but he remains one of those tight ends you never think about sitting. Jason Witten, Chris Cooley and Tony Gonzalez are in that group as well, despite whatever is going on around them. Gates should be part of a high-scoring affair in rainy London, but I still choose Bryant. He comes off a 115-yard effort with a touchdown, and I don't think people realize that the Cowboys' problems don't end with Tony Romo and his pinkie. The Dallas secondary is a mess. Even if the Buccaneers get the services of Joey Galloway and/or Ike Hilliard back, I wouldn't downgrade Bryant. Jeff Garcia is throwing for more than 200 yards and at least one score, and Bryant will play a key role. I'm not scared to use tight ends at the flex position, but in this case a surprise wide receiver trumps him.
Cedric Benson versus Lance Moore: Sometimes I even surprise myself. In the case of Benson, I think the name he brings to the table is clouding a potentially strong opportunity for fantasy owners. Sure, we're all still mad at him because we wasted a second-round draft pick on him at least once. He was a bust with the Bears. He might be a bust with the Bengals, too. But this week, knowing he's getting all the carries, and seeing that there's still no sign of Carson Palmer on the horizon and the Texans' defense is just waiting to be attacked, I actually think Benson is a worthy flex option, close to No. 2 running back viability. On Thursday's Fantasy Focus football podcast with Matthew Berry, I found myself defending Benson. I didn't like it. Then Berry took the debate a step further and really defended Benson, saying he would take the over on 100 rushing yards. I'm not going there, but I do see 70 and a score, which makes double digits and trumps my expected output for the Saints' Moore. I went out on a major limb predicting improved numbers for Marques Colston this week, but the truth is the Chargers' pass defense is so brutal there's little need for Drew Brees to rely heavily on a possession receiver. Devery Henderson owners, take note! I like Moore to get his six or seven catches, but not a touchdown, so Benson gets my -- yikes -- vote.
Kolby Smith versus Leon Washington: Well, on one hand we've got a "starting" running back in Smith, who is relatively safe for carries with Larry Johnson inactive yet again, and on the other it's a clear reserve running back who gets to tee off on one of the worst run defenses we've seen in this league in years. Nice work, Herm Edwards. Weren't you a defensive player? Anyway, I kinda like both these running backs more than others seem to, but I'm not embarrassed to take a chance. Smith did little in Week 7, but who is going to look good against the Tennessee Titans, anyway? What did we expect? I'll tell you what I did like: Smith got plenty more touches than presumed third-down back Jamaal Charles. I expect a bigger split this week, and Smith to get into the 75-yard range, which makes him certainly flex-worthy. Let's remember, there are no guarantees that Larry Johnson suits up again anytime soon. The Chiefs can lose without him, thank you very much. On the Jets' side, everyone and their mailman loves Thomas Jones this week, but will there be enough leftovers for Washington? Maybe he gets 10 carries, especially if the score is out of hand by the third quarter, and Jones is winded from running up and down the field. The Chiefs allowed goal-line back LenDale White to weeble-wobble his way to an 80-yard score, so I expect the Jets' Jones to be tired. Plus, Washington could return a kick for a score. I say each of these running backs is a threat for double digits, but give Smith the nod based on volume of touches.
Anquan Boldin versus Tim Hightower: I do think the electric Boldin will play this week, but not as much as normal. It was a wicked head injury, and while there's a chance Kurt Warner looks his way 10 times, I would think the emergence of Steve Breaston would keep the Cardinals somewhat cautious. Still, you might be wondering why Boldin didn't rate much better in my ranks. I'm cautious, and don't think Warner will throw for 300 yards on the Panthers, as well. But the point here is that I'll take the Arizona wide receiver, even in part-time work, over the rookie running back. Edgerrin James finally came out of his audible shell this week to rip the situation in Arizona, and I can't blame him. A season ago James was one carry off the NFL lead. He handled the extreme workload quite well. All of a sudden now he's too old to get 20 carries per game? I don't buy it. James should be angry. Plus, I don't think Hightower is Darren McFadden, you know? Hightower is getting touchdowns because he's getting those chances, but when he does get the ball in the middle of the field, he's not doing much with it. He's averaging 3 yards per carry, and don't tell me all his touches come inside the 10-yard line. They don't. The fact that James keeps getting a sporadic goal-line chance proves it. I think James' whining will be a good thing in fantasy, if you own him. Not if you own Hightower. Veterans seem to win these mythical battles. Yes, James rarely touched the ball the past few weeks, but I see the pattern ending Sunday.
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.
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