It seems to me wide receivers are off to a bit of a slow start, and it's showing in the rankings. Of the current top 10 scoring leaders involving those who fit into our flex rankings, only three are wide receivers. It gets worse when you check the top 20; only five wide receivers make the cut. My normal reasoning for going running back over wide receiver is that running backs get the ball more, and aren't totally dependent on the quarterback finding them. They just need a simple handoff.
As the weeks go by, however, I can see quite a few of the top receivers moving up the lists. Brandon Marshall, on a per-game basis, would be the top wide receiver, and top 5 overall. Terrell Owens is going to get better, Reggie Wayne and Calvin Johnson have a lot left in them, and even some of the wide receivers I'm seeing people give up on, like Torry Holt and that Chad Ocho dude, are too talented to be this average. So while I might continue to lean toward the running backs, the wide receivers will still be heard from.
The other thing is, the deeper you go on running backs, the choices aren't so choice. Some decent backs either have tough matchups, or we're deep into reserves, while starting wide receivers are better plays. Matt Jones, for example, has been doing pretty well, but he beats out Buffalo's Fred Jackson by only one spot? In that case, the wide receiver got my vote, but just barely. That's why a column like this works; I might tend to go running back first in a flex scenario, but after about 20 or so running backs, I'm finding plenty of wide receivers who get the nod.
For the purposes of this column, I'll continue to compare players I rank in similar spots to the right, and mix it up so it's not all about the running backs getting picked in head-to-head scenarios. Also, I can't imagine Adrian Peterson is anyone's flex, but we do need to rank all the relevant players. Who knows, someone might have Joseph Addai as a flex option, and since he didn't make my top 10, even with a nice matchup, maybe you wouldn't play him.
Ryan Grant (No. 35) versus DeSean Jackson (No. 36): One guy is angering fantasy owners everywhere as one of the bigger disappointments so far, while the other has been the most consistent rookie wide receiver and a huge value. You can't give up on Green Bay's Grant, not yet. I admit this difficult start to his season could continue indefinitely, even to the point the Packers need to start getting Brandon Jackson more involved, but look at the teams Grant has had to run against (Vikings, Cowboys, Buccaneers), and the fact that he's been battling a hamstring injury. In two of the past three games, Grant has rushed 15 times for 20 yards. That's not the kind of consistency we were hoping for. We have to like a matchup against the Falcons, and three weeks from now the Colts come to Lambeau Field. The Colts! Anyway, for this week I like Grant over Philly's Jackson. The Eagles are going to find ways to get Jackson involved, and even against the Steelers and Bears the past two weeks he managed five catches in each game, and he scored a touchdown, but I like Grant's fantasy upside more, and think he's being unduly forgotten. I view both as borderline No. 2 options at their positions, and Grant gets the nod.
Le'Ron McClain (No. 47) versus Amani Toomer (No. 48): I can make the case each of these guys is going to have a big game, and also argue they will be busts. McClain is getting more touches than teammate Willis McGahee, and he's certainly making better use of them. His worst game for rushing yards is 63, and he's clearly the goal-line option. Of course, he might not get near the goal line against the Titans, a team that has played wonderfully on defense, and certainly keeps opposing running games in check. Figure McClain gets in the neighborhood of 20 touches, as McGahee is no lock to perform well even if he plays, and I wouldn't be shocked if McClain turns the touches into 8-10 fantasy points. Toomer seems to be very popular this week because Plaxico Burress is serving a one-game suspension, and in theory, Eli Manning will look for him a lot. I don't think this is assured, though. Domenik Hixon will start alongside Toomer, but expect to see plenty of Steve Smith (the other one) as well. The Giants will want to establish the run first against the Seahawks, and Brandon Jacobs looks like a terrific play. I like Toomer a bit and ranked him better than others, but his situation really brings no extra assurances of a big week. McClain's touches seem safer.
Bernard Berrian (No. 50) versus Mewelde Moore (No. 54): Here are two players on my mind this week. I've been a Berrian fan since the summer, foolishly believing all Tarvaris Jackson needed was a true downfield threat to emerge. Jackson clearly needs more than this, but Gus Frerotte is proving to be the type of quarterback who can bring out the best in Berrian. Look, Frerotte isn't the next Kurt Warner, but he gets the ball downfield, and Berrian has 78 and 79 yards the past two weeks. Now he faces the Saints. Is there a better matchup? Don't worry, Adrian Peterson owners, because your guy will get his fantasy points as well, but look for Berrian to find his way into the end zone and get into the 100-yard region as well. For Moore, it's all about the opportunity, but he does not have a great matchup against the Jaguars. Even if Moore gets all the rushes and a few screen passes, I think Berrian is a safer bet to reach the end zone, which is often how decisions like these get made.
Anthony Gonzalez (No. 70) versus Deuce McAllister (No. 71): I have yet to take the leap on Gonzalez that he has passed Marvin Harrison on the depth chart, or for short-term fantasy riches. Gonzalez is going to be a very good fantasy wide receiver, but Harrison isn't done yet. Yes, in Week 2 at Minnesota it was Gonzalez putting up the numbers, and this Week 5 matchup in Houston appears very tasty. It is! Peyton Manning always does well against the Texans. Is it premature to assume there will be enough passes to make stars of Reggie Wayne, Harrison and Gonzalez? Probably, but I do think Gonzalez will be involved enough -- and has a chance to be very good -- to be worth playing over McAllister, who has become a very popular free-agent addition. McAllister was given 20 carries against the 49ers in Week 4, and he earned the goal-line touchdown. Against probably 25 teams in the league I'd pick McAllister this week. Against the Vikings I cannot. They stop the run. Reggie Bush catches the ball, so he's different, but McAllister turning 15 carries into 45 yards this week isn't enticing. Add him to your team, but wait for meatier matchups before playing him.
Ricky Williams (No. 88) versus Derrick Mason (No. 91): I'm hardly a big Ricky Williams fan, and I view the quotes he gave recently about being tempted to return to marijuana as a bad thing for his long-term fantasy value. We hope he stays clean, but it has to be a daily fight for him, and more important than playing football. That said, look what happened the last time Williams played. The Dolphins blew out the Patriots on their field, and Ronnie Brown got all the ink for scoring five touchdowns. Are you aware Williams had a fine afternoon as well, picking up 98 rushing yards? He also had as many touches as Brown did. Of course nobody paid attention because a guy scored five touchdowns, but I guess that's the point; Williams is under the radar, and while being No. 88 in flex rankings might not seem like much respect, hey, at least he made the list. And he made it ahead of a wide receiver who hauled in 100 passes last season and recently torched the Steelers for 137 yards as well. Mason is normally a safe No. 3 wide receiver, but as noted earlier, taking on the Titans is not going to be easy, especially with a rookie quarterback.
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, "Top 100 Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.