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The Flexible Receiver
Joe Levit
October 17, 2007

With the production from running backs quite behind the curve this season it’s the right moment to think seriously about putting a wide receiver or tight end into flex slots full time. Owners traditionally have attempted to place a decent running back in that slot since running backs often get more total touches than receivers. This year though, with injury issues and increased opportunities for receivers, the switch should be made.

Take a look at the table below to see who the touchdown leaders are so far this season, and to get a feel for why receivers should be inserted in to flex slots:

Player Position Touchdowns
Randy Moss WR 8
Plaxico Burress WR 8
Braylon Edwards WR 7
T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR 7
LaDainian Tomlinson RB 7
Steve Smith WR 6
Joseph Addai RB 5
Marion Barber RB 5
Ronnie Brown RB 5
Dallas Clark TE 5
Adrian Peterson RB 5
Benjamin Watson TE 5
Laveranues Coles WR 4
Chris Cooley TE 4
Patrick Crayton WR 4
Kevin Curtis WR 4
Edgerrin James RB 4
Terrell Owens WR 4
Reggie Wayne WR 4
Jason Witten TE 4
DeShawn Wynn RB 4

So, let’s take a look at these players, and this situation. Five of the top six touchdown makers this year are wide receivers. I would argue that all but Steve Smith are a surprise for most fantasy owners. Some people did believe Randy Moss would have a productive year for the Patriots, but I don’t know anyone who projected his gaudy numbers so far. Plaxico Burress has been outstanding, but most owners did not think Eli Manning would show such improvement this season. Braylon Edwards is a complete shock, as much due to the improbable emergence of Derek Anderson as because of Edwards’s own so-so career to this point. T.J. Houshmandzadeh has simply become as potent a fantasy option as Chad Johnson.

LaDainian Tomlinson only interrupts that list because of his four-touchdown day last weekend. If not for that outburst he wouldn’t even be on the list. 

Of the 21 players, fully 14 are receivers. Of those, 10 are wide receivers. That means a whopping four tight ends are a huge part of the fantasy season so far. Dallas Clark is averaging a touchdown per game played, and Ben Watson is part of the Patriots’ juggernaut, with five scores in six games played. You can expect more from Chris Cooley as the season continues now that the team knows his full value after a breakout Sunday.

Clearly there are some real surprises further down the list. Patrick Crayton and Kevin Curtis were not prime fantasy picks on draft day. But they serve to remind us of what we should be aiming for next season when we draft – namely to take many chances on wide receivers after the top few slots are filled.

Yardage is also favoring the receivers. Here are the top players in the NFL at these positions:

Top Receivers Yards Top Running Backs Yards Difference
Randy Moss 610 Adrian Peterson 607 WR by 3
Chad Johnson 578 LaDainian Tomlinson 527 WR by 51
Braylon Edwards 552 Ronnie Brown 526 WR by 26
Antonio Gates 547 Willis McGahee 525 WR by 22
Larry Fitzgerald 545 Edgerrin James 522 WR by 23
Plaxico Burress 507 Willie Parker 507 Even
Kellen Winslow 506 Travis Henry 498 TE by 8
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 505 Lamont Jordan 466 WR by 39
Steve Smith 496 Derrick Ward 421 WR by 75

Those small point differentials, taken all the way down to the slot position, can mean the difference between winning and losing a crucial matchup. Right now, these decisions to place receivers in the slot means trading in the Chris Browns and Correll Buckhalters for players like Reggie Williams and Bobby Engram. It is the right call right now. In light of that truth, now is a terrific time to be scouring the waiver wire for the next flex-able receiver.

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