I'm not currently a member of any leagues in which a tight end can fit into a flex spot. However, I do have a league in which tight ends and wide receivers share active roster spots. In that league, we have to play two running backs and two wide receiver/tight ends. I admit that on draft day I didn't really consider Tony Gonzalez or Chris Cooley when it was time to scrape for my third and fourth wide receiver. I just didn't. Maybe I should have.
While it seemed to me that the tight end position as a whole has been disappointing this season, it's really not markedly different from past seasons. There are a few options -- Gonzalez and Antonio Gates -- that have numbers that look pretty good even for a wide receiver, but then it's like flipping a coin. Cooley, Kellen Winslow and Bo Scaife look a lot better when you've got a tight end position to dump them in. When you're comparing them to Derrick Mason and Devin Hester because you can't find any other decent flex options, it's not such a great feeling.
All that said, this is the week in which you'll find more tight ends in the top 100 flex list to the right than at any time all season. Why is that? The bye weeks are over, so it would actually stand to reason that this would be the most unlikely time to see more tight ends there, since all wide receivers, healthy ones at least, are playing. I can't really explain it, I guess, but with all the wide receivers playing, it's like they all look the same, and they're having a down year as well. How does one differentiate Nate Washington from Rashied Davis? Isn't it just easier to expect Tony Scheffler to get more targets and leave it at that?
That must be it. I also said on one of the TV spots this week that I wasn't sure if Jason Witten of the Cowboys would play or not, but I'd probably leave him active in one of my leagues regardless. In that league, we get a capped number of transactions per season, and while I think someone like Matt Spaeth is a decent sleeper, the fact is most weeks we're lucky if five tight ends break into double digits in fantasy points. In Week 9, there were three, including Brent Celek and Derek Fine. Then this past week, eight players did it, but more were names we expect. Maybe I'm just following up that momentum by expecting it again.
Don't be afraid to use a tight end in the flex spot, if it's warranted. The goal remains the same: to accrue as many points as possible, no matter how it's done. Here are some random decisions on close rankings that caught my eye. On to the rest of Week 11!
Deuce McAllister versus T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Earlier this week while recording an ESPNEWS segment, colleague Keith Lipscomb noted how our projections really loved McAllister this week. He was right, and when he scoffed at them I couldn't disagree. McAllister hasn't done a whole lot this season, breaking into double digits in fantasy points only twice, and even with Reggie Bush sidelined, his touches remained a bit low. Basically, Drew Brees has been doing all the heavy lifting, and McAllister has been a disappointment. Still, a matchup with the Chiefs is intriguing enough to get McAllister a decent ranking, especially now that Bush has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Compare that to Houshmandzadeh, who has been useful in point-per-reception leagues with Ryan Fitzpatrick slingin' it instead of Carson Palmer, but still not very good. Houshmandzadeh leads the Bengals in fantasy points quite easily, but he hasn't topped five fantasy points since Week 5. He'll go up against a strong Eagles secondary this week, and I don't expect the game to be close. Maybe Houshmandzadeh is "due" this week to score, and it wouldn't surprise me and probably came into account when I gave him a better-than-most rank, but I still take the running back.
Steve Breaston versus Willie Parker/Mewelde Moore: Think Breaston has ever met Brandon Stokley? You remember Stokley. He's on the Broncos now, and was somewhat relevant a season ago, but his big season came in 2004 with Peyton Manning and the record-breaking Colts. Stokley was the best No. 3 wide receiver around, a top-10 play at his position overall, and kind of broke new ground in fantasy football. It was OK to play someone each week who was his own team's No. 3 option. Now look at Breaston. Kurt Warner is having an MVP campaign, and even with Anquan Boldin healthy and thriving next to Larry Fitzgerald, there are plenty of footballs for Breaston to catch. I think he's underrated, actually, and ranked him in my top 20 for his position, ahead of Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress, among many others. Surely I have to flex him ahead of a running back tandem in Pittsburgh that could go in a number of directions, not all of them good for us. Parker says he'll play. A few days ago we didn't know what to think, with reports that his season might be over. Even if he does play, what does that mean? Can he stay healthy? Will the Steelers give him 20 touches? What if they can't run again, like last week, and Ben Roethlisberger steps up with a monster day against a horrible pass defense? I think fantasy owners have to play things relatively safe here, and go with the assumption Moore cuts into Parker's attention. With Breaston exceeding 100 yards games in his past six games, plus sporting a strong matchup, he trumps a pair of Pittsburghers.
Dominic Rhodes versus DeSean Jackson: People think I'm anti-DeSean, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I don't think he gets enough attention in the passing game, but at least predictable Andy Reid has found ways to get his best healthy weapon -- yep, we're talking to you, Brian Westbrook -- into the action more. Still, Jackson is not Philly's top receiving option. He's more of a home-run threat than Kevin Curtis, but he's not a possession receiver. Plus, we do need to remind people that he has scored only one receiving touchdown all season. We can't rely on kicks returned or Wildcat plays for scores each week. Jackson made my top 30 wide receivers this week, but he's not really a safe No. 2 fantasy wide receiver. Sure, he's No. 20 among wide receivers this season right now, but I don't expect he'll finish there. Rhodes gets the nod for me, because even if Joseph Addai gets three of every four carries in the first three quarters, it seems like Rhodes finds his way into the game late. I don't think the Texans are particularly strong against the run or pass, but if turnover-prone Sage Rosenfels keeps the game relatively competitive, Rhodes will get enough touches to matter. He has double-digit fantasy points in four of the past five weeks, and in two of those weeks the sluggish Addai was active.
Ricky Williams versus Greg Camarillo: I don't want to read too much into what happened to Jake Delhomme in Oakland in Week 10, but the Panthers had no trouble running the ball, and serious issues throwing it. Chad Pennington is having a surprisingly good season, better than most people think, but I don't believe he'll need to do a whole lot this week. It's why the steady PPR machine Camarillo didn't get a great rank, and Ted Ginn Jr., barely cracked the top 100. Williams broke off a 51-yarder for a touchdown this past week, yet he's rarely thought of as a flex play. It could be because of his name, and how fantasy owners have been burned before, but get past that. Ronnie Brown is a top-10 running back many weeks, yet he really doesn't get that many more touches than Williams. This week I expect both Miami running backs to enjoy themselves with touchdowns and the Dolphins to cruise to an easy win. Pennington shouldn't throw four interceptions like Delhomme did, but I don't expect a big game, either. Why pass when you can have so much success running?
Jason Witten versus Jonathan Stewart: This is an example of when I would play a good, but currently injured, tight end that might or might not have a big game in the place of a backup running back struggling along as a clear No. 2 option on his own team. I don't think Stewart has run out of gas like Steve Slaton has, but the way DeAngelo Williams is running and with the matchup so good, I don't know why the Panthers would push their future rookie star. This is another game that shouldn't be competitive. Some fantasy owners might view Stewart as a good start for just that reason, but after Williams gets his 120 yards on 20 carries, what does that leave for Stewart? I'll take the chance Witten catches five or more passes and threatens to score with Tony Romo back in the fold.
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.