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The Evolution of the Flex Position

Kenny Britt

As a Fantasy Football owner, every week we are faced with the very difficult decision of deciding what to do with our flex position.

When I first played Fantasy Football, my guy friend informed me that you should always use a running back in your flex spot. I asked him why, as my observation was that my wide receivers were outperforming my running backs. He had no answer to my question other than to say, that’s just how it’s always been.

This over-evaluation of running backs was reinforced further by people telling me that I “should” draft a running back in the first round, as if doing anything else was a guarantee that your team would be worthless. As far as I could tell, points are points, so why should it matter what position they come from?

The old mentality was that you should always start a running back in your flex spot is quickly diminishing and for those of us who jumped on the fantasy bandwagon in recent years, the idea seems almost silly and old-fashioned.

In an effort to understand this idea, I conducted a 100% unscientific poll on Twitter to get some insight about what exactly influences people’s decision-making for the flex position week to week.

It goes without saying that most smart fantasy owners allow match-ups, opponents, roster and format dictate their decisions but that wasn’t really what I was interested in specifically. I wanted to know if fantasy players have an idea in the back of their minds if they “should” start one over the other, either because someone told them to or because they felt it was truly better. The answer was that most people believe you “should” start a running back over a wide receiver.

I am here to debunk this theory.

Here are some reasons why you might want to consider using a wide receiver over a running back in your flex position:

  1. An increasing number of offenses are taking a “running back by committee approach,” making it difficult to expect consistent production. Ex. New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers.
  2. Running backs, because of  demands, tend to be more injury prone and therefore, teams are making a concerted effort to preserve these backs. This furthers the argument above regarding production.
  3. The NFL is becoming a pass-first league. On top of that, even teams that have a strong run game are forced to abandon the run when they are playing from behind, making it again, impossible to predict production with any consistency.
  4. On average, wide receivers are out performing running backs in fantasy points week to week. (See below)
  5. The drop off from elite running backs is so dramatic. There are more value players on your waiver wire at wide receiver that you can pick up on a weekly basis and start than running backs.
  6. A runner’s ability to be effective relies heavily on offensive line play, especially when you are talking about the talent pool you would be using as a flex.
Just take a look at the scoring leaders on your Fantasy Site. Here is a list of some of the top skill position performers from Week two,  in a standard scoring non-PPR league, from ESPN:
  1.  Miles Austin, DAL WR
  2. Vincent Jackson, SD WR
  3. Jeremy Maclin, PHL WR
  4. Adrian Peterson, MIN RB
  5. Fred Jackson, BUF RB

It might not 100% highlight my point, as these players will appear in most people’s lineups as #1 or #2 options at RB/WR. Instead, let’s refer to the scoring leaders for players that would appear in the weekly rankings outside of the top 20 at their respective position, as that is a more appropriate assessment of players you would consider using as a flex option. This will give us greater perspective of who performs better for your team. I’m using CBS Sports Flex Rankings for this argument and comparing it to the Week two scoring leaders:

  1. Jeremy Maclin, PHI WR
  2. Fred Jackson, BUF RB
  3. Denarius Moore, OAK WR
  4. Eric Decker, DEN WR
  5. Danario Alexander, STL WR
  6. A.J. Green, CIN WR
  7. Willis McGahee, DEN RB
  8.  Devery Henderson, NO WR
  9. Jordy Nelson, GB WR
  10. David Nelson, BUF WR
There are various factors that might skew this list but the main point is this: eight of these ten players are wide receivers and one of the running backs on this list has value because they also catch passes out of the backfield (McGahee). The passing yards gave McGahee an inflated number and further my point about the NFL being a pass-first league.

Is this enough to convince you that the idea you “should” listen to some non-existent rule is silly?

Now, let me be clear: I am not suggesting you only use a wide receiver in your flex position. That would be bad advice and anyone that thinks you should use one position over the other is not managing their team in the best way possible. What I am simply saying is that times-they-are-a-changing and it’s time for you to manage your team differently.

Wide receiver production is largely dependent on opportunity and that makes it difficult to even rely upon them. I do, however, think it is a legitimate observation that the pass-first trend is here to stay and that more and more offenses are preserving players and spreading the ball around, making the Adrian Peterson types few and far between.

Fantasy Football is a variables game. Now more than ever you must study your match-ups, get to know these teams and these players and make informed decisions rather than doing something the way you have always done it.

This isn’t just advice for Fantasy Football, this is advice for life.

About Kristine Reese

Kristine Reese is an actress, singer and freelance writer living in New York City. She is a regular contributor to Sports of New York, the lead New York Jets writer for Aerys Sports, the lead writer/creator of content for the Hard Ninety Activewear blog and the sole contributor to her own sports blog, gridirongirlnextdoor.com. You can follow her on Twitter @kristinereese or visit www.kristinereese.com for more information.

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Discussion

6 comments for “The Evolution of the Flex Position”

  1. New Post: The Evolution of the Flex Position http://t.co/sZAirUUw

    Posted by Sports of New York | September 22, 2011, 12:27 am
  2. Taking a closer look at the flex spot in #fantasyfootball: http://t.co/jbGFTowO

    Posted by Kristine Reese | September 22, 2011, 2:33 pm
  3. Nice work by @kristinereese! RT Taking a closer look at the flex spot in #fantasyfootball: http://t.co/E3zVIM0Z

    Posted by The Pigskin Arch | September 22, 2011, 2:45 pm
  4. Nice work by @kristinereese! RT Taking a closer look at the flex spot in #fantasyfootball: http://t.co/0vpbqy1J

    Posted by Paty | September 22, 2011, 2:45 pm
  5. Taking a closer look at the flex spot in #fantasyfootball: http://t.co/jbGFTowO

    Posted by Roaring Black & Teal | September 22, 2011, 5:06 pm
  6. [...] I missed the mailbag last week, let me make it up to you by sharing this post I wrote for Sports of New York, examining the league-wide shift to a pass heavy offense and [...]

    Posted by Week 4 Fantasy Football Mailbag: Oh, CJ, Where Art Thou? | gridiron girl next door | September 30, 2011, 10:42 pm

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