By Matt Waldman
November 16th, 2011

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.


My wife can pinch a penny hard enough to put dents in it. She's a buyer at a pharmaceutical company and her reputation among her co-workers is that she's not happy with the outcome of a negotiation unless the sales staff walks out cursing. Crying is a bonus.

I tell you this because as good as my wife is at finding cost savings for her employer it makes her one of the more unlikely players of the Georgia Lottery. She allocates a small amount of her monthly disposable income to a Zip Lock bag, buys tickets, and reinvests a portion of any winnings back to the bag. If her luck runs out before the end of the month, she waits until the next month to reinvest.

Rarely does her luck run out. She has a system that involves researching the tickets she buys and the rotation of stores where she buys them. She's won more money playing the lottery each year than the average guy wins playing fantasy football.

However, she does enjoy investing a small amount in longshot picks such as Georgia's Pick Six and Cash Three drawings. She's never won much from those, but as she likes to say, "You can't win if you don't play."

I share this about my wife because this week I'm sharing the numbers I'm picking for this week's fantasy football version Cash Three: 37, 30, and 29. The odds are low you'll hit on one, much less all three, but you can't win if you don't play.

No. 37 RB Jeremiah Johnson, Denver Broncos

Johnson was a part of a terrific Oregon backfield where he shared duties with Jonathan Stewart. Now we all know that Stewart had his issues with injuries throughout his college career, but that was not the only reason Johnson earned the timeshare with Stewart. Personally, I thought Jonathan Stewart was the second-best RB prospect I've seen in the six years of Rookie Scouting Portfolios I have published.

Telling you that Johnson split time with Stewart should make you think about Terrell Davis seeing third-down duty for Garrison Hearst at Georgia, Marion Barber getting red zone duty for Laurence Maroney, and William Andrews blocking for Joe Cribbs. Johnson was clearly a good college player. As a pro prospect I thought he was the most elusive back of the 2009 draft class.

But there is also something else that you should take from me telling you that Johnson split time with Stewart in college. The University of Oregon runs a spread system, which makes Johnson a natural fit for what the Broncos are doing in this Tebow-led, Denver offense. Lance Ball is a plodder with a lower center of gravity and just enough burst to get positive yardage. He only earned 30 carries because short of putting Eddie Royal in the backfield, the Broncos had no other option.

Johnson has flashed his talents as a rookie free agent during the preseason with the Houston Texans, but he separated his shoulder and the team waived him. From that point, Johnson did what a lot of talent free agent runners do in this league: bounced around. His brief stops of signed and cut as teams juggle rosters due to injuries during the season included Washington, Carolina, and Denver.

Johnson has managed to hang around in Denver and this week will be his first opportunity for extended action if Willis McGahee isn't ready for Thursday night after injuring his hamstring Sunday afternoon. I have serious doubts McGahee will be ready. I also have doubts Lance Ball is going to do much against a good Jets defense.

Johnson is the wildcard. The Jets probably haven't scouted him and the team won't be accustomed to his burst and agility. In this spread look Johnson should find some big holes if and if he gets into the open field fans will be abuzz about his open field skills.

No. 30 RB Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions

I've been writing about Smith since he was signed last week, so I'm not going to rehash his career for you. What I am going to share is this segment of a story from ESPN's Kevin Seifert, who discusses Smith and quotes Lions head coach Jim Schwartz:

Speaking to reporters after a bonus Tuesday practice, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Smith didn't so much address a short-term need as he did prove that he is ready to resume his career during a workout last week.

"Kevin has long experience here with the Lions," Schwartz said. "[He's] very familiar with our system. But also we had a big workout last week, with an eye toward a lot of things we were talking about with the second half of the season, and you need to be prepared for a lot of different situations that come up. And honestly in his case, we hadn't really planned on signing anybody, but Kevin looked so good. Ran well, moved well, was in great shape, and you know, has been a productive player for us when he's been on the field and I think, one of the silver linings in this was it gave his body time to heal.

"He really impressed everyone and we sort of know what we have, again, when he's healthy and he's obviously in great shape."

In other words, Smith proved a ready-man contingency plan for a team that might or might not need one at his position. The Lions will get their best players on the field, and if Smith proves to be one of them, he'll play. In the meantime, I'm guessing he's the team's third back behind Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams while Jahvid Best recovers from a concussion.

Waldman's Translation of Schwartz's Coach Speak: When we had Kevin Smith workout we didn't expect much. His agent has been hounding us to give him a shot so we added him to the list of guys that we had scheduled. Once we saw him, he looked like the guy we drafted; the guy who ran for nearly 1000 yards as a rookie, which makes him better than the stiffs we have on the field right now.

Keiland Williams has feature back size and balance, but he runs in a straight line. He's what the Google X Labs hidden away in California would probably develop during its initial attempts to produce a robot that could play running back in the NFL. Maurice Morris has the instincts and savvy that Google X would have a difficult time replicating, but he's not strong enough or fast enough to do the job as a feature back. Kevin Smith combines the best of both backs and that could make him a lottery ticket for your fantasy team if he earns the shot, stays healthy, and things roll the right away for him.

No. 29 RB Bilal Powell, New York Jets

Powell will be active for the first time this season because Ladainian Tomlinson will miss tomorrow night's game with an MCL injury. The likelihood Powell earns significant time is small because Shonn Green has played well enough in the halves where the Jets could consistently run the football. Rex Ryan is also a fan of Joe McKnight and if there's a bad that will earn those Tomlinson reps it will likely be McKnight.

However, we have all seen that Shonn Green is prone to screwing up. He can't seem to piece together two good halves and even when he might, the entire team can't seem to give the offense a chance to run the ball all game. Fortunately for New York, it's unlikely we're going to see this problem against Denver.

The Broncos spread attack what won last week despite two pass completions from Tim Tebow should keep this game close enough on paper than the Jets and can run the ball all they want and still be in the thick of it. If the Jets defense can shut down the Broncos ground game and score early, then this is the most likely non-injury scenario where we'll see Powell earn significant carries in this game.

The reasons I'm adding Powell as the third number on this week's RB Cash Three Lottery ticket has parallels to why I added Kevin Smith. Shonn Greene can wear down a defense and Joe McKnight can run around a defense. Powell can do both.

He's the complete package. My top five backs for the 2011 Rookie Scouting Portfolio were ranked in this order: Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Bilal Powell, Demarco Murray, and Delone Carter. Here's what I had to say about Powell in one of my game evaluations against Cincinnati the week after he put 200 on Memphis:

Powell is a finisher with power, speed and balance to contribute at a high level in the NFL. He likes to initiate contact and deliver the first blow and he does it with excellent pad level. I consistently saw runs in this game where he lowered his pads into the opponent or got his pads under a hit to gain significant yardage after contact.

He protects the football as well as any back I have seen this year or almost any year. He has never officially fumbled the football during his college career that amounted to 436 carries and 45 receptions and that can be attributed to the high and tight method that he carries the ball.

He's also a very mature runner. He looks for the cutback opportunity but opts to take the ball through smaller creases if the opportunity isn't right. This is something that runners with his speed tend to lack the maturity to do. He's a very good downhill runner that would play well in a zone blocking offense and when he gets into the open field he has enough of a wiggle to avoid full contact.

Powell didn't get a chance to be featured until former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong came to Louisville. Strong remembered Powell from high school and decided to give Powell the chance to be the main cog in this offense where Steve Kragthorpe did not. Strong was responsible for a lot the recruiting during his stints at Florida, Notre Dame and South Carolina and he remembered being impressed with Powell as a runner in high school.

Powell doesn't have great change of direction skills. He can set up a defender with a move but he's more of a one-cut downhill runner that doesn't string a lot of moves together. I didn't see him used as a pass blocker, but once and it was a cut block with bad technique. Otherwise, he was used as a receiver out of the backfield after acting out a play fake. However, I saw him dominate defenders at the Senior Bowl in drills with his movement, punch, and placement. He can pass protect.

If he demonstrates potential as a pass protector, he could develop into a fine runner. He reminds me a bit of Terrell Davis.

Powell was coming off a 200-yard rushing game against Memphis the week before and in this matchup with the Bearcats he had a run that I thought was the best I saw in that season outside of Marshawn Lynch's Beast Mode rumble through the Saints secondary. Just a recommendation to you while you watch these, queue up George Thorogood's Bad to the Bone while watching for maximum effect.

By the way, if you didn't see Lynch break Ray Lewis's ankles in the open field on Sunday you need to watch it now. Aaron Rodgers is doing incredible stuff every game, but for my money this is the best offensive play I've seen all year when you consider that he does it to the best defensive player in the past 10-15 years.

Don't you just love football?

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