Sometimes when I am ranking the players -- it starts early each football week, and then we update them -- I can sense when it's a particularly weak week for a certain position. And this ends up getting proven in the flex rankings. The top running backs in fantasy always end up outperforming the top wide receivers, except for the occasional Randy Moss or Jerry Rice monster season, but that's not always the case in a given week. The top fantasy wide receiver in ESPN leagues for the season, for standard scoring, is Washington's Santana Moss, and five running backs rank ahead of him. Rookie Chris Johnson of the Titans is the No. 10 running back, and his point total ties him with the No. 2 wide receiver, Atlanta's Roddy White.
But this week, whether it's due to tough matchups or whatever, you will see wide receivers are generally on par with the all-powerful running backs in these flex rankings. I've been ranking all season, and it's the first time I can remember this happening. It's odd, too, because some of the big-name pass-catchers didn't do well in the rankings, like Torry Holt, Chad Johnson and, of course, everyone's favorite three-point specialist (three weeks in a row!), the Cowboys' Terrell Owens. Roddy White, for example, comes in at No. 8 at his position this week, but in the flex rankings, he's 18. That's relatively even with the running backs, whom for years you've been told win the fantasy leagues. Um, not anymore they don't. This week looks like a pretty balanced one by position.
Anyway, by this point of the fantasy football season, with the playoffs merely a month away for some of you, you should know to take your time when it comes to your flex position. As always, don't go with the biggest name, or running back, but the option with the best chance to provide you fantasy points.
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 9!
Donnie Avery versus Tim Hightower: Our first matchup features a pair of rookies in the Rams-Cardinals game who both look like they have decent staying power. Avery has only recently become a fantasy fave, coming off a 22-point game in Week 8 against the Patriots, and he's forced us to question whether the reason Marc Bulger was struggling was because of Torry Holt. I don't think that's the case, really. The Rams had a coaching change, and who knows what malady was holding back Bulger, but with all the double-teams Holt still sees, a No. 2 man has finally stepped up. Hard to believe anyone thought Drew Bennett would be that guy. Avery has already passed Holt -- a consensus top-10 wide receiver back in August drafts -- in season fantasy points, and I think the success continues against the Cardinals. Hightower is going to have his time, and I thought I gave him a rather generous ranking in the first place, considering he's coming off a game with six carries for three yards. He did score, however, and now I'm convinced the divide in carries between the rook and aging veteran Edgerrin James will not be that wide again. Hightower isn't a safe bet for a touchdown, not in a game in which Bulger and Kurt Warner could combine for 600 yards before the fourth quarter begins, but I'll take Avery catching seven passes over Hightower maybe getting seven carries. For now.
DeSean Jackson versus Joseph Addai: I don't know what's gotten into me, to be recommending so many rookie wide receivers, but here I go again. Philly's Jackson was a popular target of Donovan McNabb in Week 8, and that was with Kevin Curtis back on the field and largely involved in the game plan. Sure, Curtis should continue to see more passes his way, and Reggie Brown, one of these games, will come back and play a role, but don't be scared to leave Jackson in your lineups, especially in fortuitous matchups. Playing at Seattle is one of those matchups. Jackson might not get targeted double-digit times, but if one of his four or five receptions is a long one, or a touchdown, he's surely worth it. My issue with Addai, who I do expect to play and receive considerable touches, is that there's nothing wrong with Dominic Rhodes. The Colts love Rhodes. He's likely to split the carries and see the important ones near the goal line as well. The Addai we will see this weekend is not the one you drafted in the top five. A season ago, there was no Rhodes. Now there is, and the Colts, even in desperation mode to win games, want to keep him on the field. That's why I think Addai will fall considerably short of 20 touches. I still like him among my top 30 running backs, but Philly's Jackson is probably a safer bet for now.
Fred Taylor versus Dallas Clark: Jacksonville's Taylor was so good a season ago, so what happened? Well, the Jaguars haven't had the same offensive-line play, for one, and Taylor, of course, hasn't exactly been 100 percent healthy, either. Maurice Jones-Drew has three times as many fantasy points as Taylor does, but it really doesn't feel that way, does it? It's not like Jones-Drew is having a big season, though he does have a few large games. Taylor ran for 121 yards at Indianapolis in Week 3, and we thought that would spark him to bigger games, but since then he has a total of seven fantasy points in four games. That's not good. Now he plays the Bengals, who are brutal against the run. You'll find Jones-Drew did quite well in our rankings, and Taylor was a bit forgotten, but I still have him ranked ahead of Indy's Clark, Donald Driver and Kevin Curtis, for example. I could see Taylor getting into double-digit fantasy points. I think fantasy owners might be a bit fooled by what Clark did in Week 8. He scored two touchdowns against the mighty Titans, but that's about the only weakness for the league's lone undefeated team. Everyone else was shut down. That also describes Clark's season before Week 8, when he totaled 21 fantasy points and hadn't scored. Clark is a top-10 tight end because there aren't really 10 top-10 tight ends; the position is weak and lacks depth, but someone has to fill the top 10. I think Clark can be expected to catch a few passes, but don't expect the same big game. Taylor has a better shot at that.
Bo Scaife versus Terrell Owens: I know, this seems ridiculous, and we would have been laughed at on draft day for suggesting Scaife was more valuable, but facts are facts. Owens isn't doing much, and as colleague Matthew Berry notes in his Thursday Love/Hate column, things aren't likely to get any better Sunday. Berry hates Owens. I admit, I'm not much of a fan. I have Owens in a touchdown league, and let's just say I have him firmly on the bench, at least until I see Tony Romo on the field. Even then, I have to decide whether some of my other options, including Philly's Jackson and the Dolphins' Ted Ginn Jr., are better. Owens has three straight weeks of three fantasy points, and a matchup this week against the division-rival Giants and their fearsome pass rush. Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger -- yeah, him too -- are in for a long day, and when they do complete passes, I think half will go to running backs. In time, Owens will trump Scaife every week. But Scaife has averaged 46 yards the past two weeks, which is more than Owens, and the Packers are allowing quite a few fantasy points to tight ends. Facts are facts.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis versus Joey Galloway: The Chiefs are not good defensively, but I think the Buccaneers are going to have their way on the ground. Sure, Thomas Jones didn't go off in Week 8 against the Chiefs, but I think Earnest Graham will. Galloway rejoined the Jeff Garcia band a week ago and should get a decent amount of targets, but I think the Patriots will lean on Green-Ellis a bit more. Plus, Green-Ellis has scored in two consecutive games, and despite the pending return of Bob Sanders to the Indy defense, I don't see why the Patriots can't establish the run. I'm not expecting Green-Ellis to rush for 75 yards, but I think he has a better chance to score than Galloway does. When Garcia throws the ball, possession guy Antonio Bryant seems to be the target, and that's not likely to change for this matchup.
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.