Fantasy Football: 5 Rules to Follow When Filling the Flex Spot in Weekly Lineups

Jay ClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterOctober 19, 2012

Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (27 catches, 316 yards, 3 TD) has notched double-digit targets in his last four games.
Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (27 catches, 316 yards, 3 TD) has notched double-digit targets in his last four games.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Here are five simple rules to follow when filling the flex-only slots in fantasy starting lineups (written with 12-team leagues in mind).

For me, these beliefs are implemented every week of the NFL season.

1. There's no excuse for benching a healthy superstar...short of another one taking his place

I feel sorry for those who benched Frank Gore (182 total yards vs. Seattle) and/or Marshawn Lynch (116 total yards) on Thursday, thinking neither rusher could dominate the Seahawks and 49ers defenses, respectively.

I feel even worse for those who benched Gore and Lynch for bottom-rung starters like William Powell, Vick Ballard, Jonathan Stewart, Alex Green or Daryl Richardson (depending on your assessment of the Rams' situation).

Look, no one on earth had Gore and Lynch pegged for 298 total yards in Week 7, so there was no shame in projecting mediocre numbers for the pair.

However, it's a time-tested belief that owners have far less regrets when playing stars in tough situations, compared to riding relatively unproven talents during crucial fantasy weekends. And Lynch and Gore have more than earned the right to be trusted against stingy opponents.

Bottom line: We only get 15 opportunities during the season to start blue-chip assets, from Week 1 to the Week 16 Fantasy Bowl. So, why not maximize their gifts at every turn?

2. When in doubt, start quality running backs over quality receivers in standard-scoring leagues

On a given NFL Sunday, a starting running back will log approximately 20-24 touches per game, covering short-yardage, goal-line and standard down-and-distance situations.

So, why not ride the guy who'll carry the mail roughly three times that of a receiver of similar fantasy gifts?

And that's on a good day for the wideout!

3. When in doubt, start top-shelf receivers over top-shelf tailbacks in PPR leagues

The reverse of bullet point No. 2 holds true in PPR scenarios for two reasons: Catches and targets.

These categories are the life-blood components of constructing and maintaining a title-contending roster—covering running backs, tight ends and receivers. Catches and targets should also be the primary considerations when crafting PPR starting lineups, week in and week out.

Put another way, it's why every PPR club should move heaven and earth to land Buffalo's Steve Johnson (four straight games of double-digit targets) and/or Denver's Eric Decker (seven targets in all six games; one TD in three straight outings)...but feel a similar urgency for trading big-name running backs who don't register targets (Michael Turner, BenJarvus Green-Ellis)—after one or two strong performances (maximizing value).

Take Steven Jackson, for example. In my mind, S-Jax (399 total yards) will be on the first train to Splitsville, roughly five seconds after his first rushing touchdown of the season. The days of him catching 50 balls and netting double-digit touchdowns are over.

4. Always start a rusher or receiver over a tight end of equal caliber

The exceptions here would involve Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez (NFL tight ends leader in targets, catches, receiving yards). In these special cases, they're full-time fantasy starters in 12-team leagues, regardless of scoring.

Speaking of which, for the fortunate owners who possess a combination of Gronk, Gonzo or Graham—and "Tight End" is an official starting slot—I've got a question:

Why have you not traded one of the superstars yet, in an effort to bolster the talent base at more vital positions, like running back, receiver or quarterback?

My rationale for favoring backs and wideouts is simple: Over time, non-elite tight ends don't warrant enough consistent touches to merit automatic starts at the flex.

And finally...

5. Never choose Danny Woodhead over a top 40 receiver or running back in standard-scoring leagues

As long as Stevan Ridley (575 total yards, four TD) and Brandon Bolden are wreaking havoc in the Patriots' backfield...let's assume Woodhead (259 total yards, two TD) is only good for 45 total yards per week.

Consider this rule to be a pre-emptive strike against the absurd amount of Woodhead-related questions I encounter on a weekly basis.

America, what is your fascination with a guy who hasn't had 75 total yards in a game since Week 1 of 2011? Help me understand!

From a PPR perspective though, I did appreciate Woodhead's five receptions for 46 yards last week. It was good for him to maintain that odd pace of one five-catch game for even-numbered seasons.

Jay Clemons
can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.