Looking Back at 25 Biggest Steals of 2015 Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2015

Looking Back at 25 Biggest Steals of 2015 Offseason

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Sometimes when an NFL team signs or drafts a new player, the value of the move is so tremendous that it's almost like stealing.

    The best value picks often happen by accident (Tom Brady in Round 6, anyone?) and sometimes they are the result of careful planning, scouting and forward thinking. Creative contract planning can also play a large part.

    We've already taken a look at every team's efforts this offseason, as well as some of the potential mistakes of the past few months. Since player movement has reached a slow trickle of activity, now is the perfect time to look back at the biggest value moves of the 2015 offseason. 

    Over the next 25 pages, we're going to examine the biggest steals and deals from free agency and the draft and rank them in order of increasing value. We're looking for big value here, so mediocre free-agent contracts and prospects who fell only a handful of spots in the draft won't qualify.

    These are the true steals of the 2015 offseason.

25. Saints Land P.J. Williams in Round 3

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints had just a little trouble defending the pass last season. That's putting things mildly.

    The team allowed an average of 251.2 yards per game through the air in 2014 (25th in the NFL) and was rated 31st in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus.

    Adding a versatile rookie like Florida State's P.J. Williams is a huge deal for New Orleans. Getting him with the 78th overall selection is a steal.

    Williams has the athletic talent to play either cornerback or safety if called upon and he was projected as a second-round pick by NFL.com.

    Bleacher Report ranked Williams 52nd overall in predraft rankings—sixth overall among cornerback prospects. However, 10 corners were selected in the draft before Williams, which allowed New Orleans to land him in the middle of Round 3.

24. Browns Get Randy Starks for $6.5 Million

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Last season, the Cleveland Browns struggled with injuries along the defensive line. Armonty Bryant, Phil Taylor and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen all suffered season-ending injuries. John Hughes missed 11 games before returning for the season finale.

    The Browns also struggled to rush the passer in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, Cleveland was the fifth-worst team in terms of pass rush last season.

    Therefore, it was great to see the Browns sign a player who can help with both issues in defensive lineman Randy Starks.

    Starks, 31, may be nearing the back end of his career. However, he is still a great rotational lineman against the pass. He logged 4.5 sacks for the Miami Dolphins last year and was rated 21st overall among defensive tackles by Pro Football Focus when rushing the passer.

    By signing Starks, the Browns got a guy who can help the team in multiple ways. They also got him at the bargain price pf $6.5 million over two years.

23. Bills Take Dezmin Lewis in 7th Round

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Central Arkansas product Dezmin Lewis is a bit raw as a wide receiver, but he could prove to be one of the bigger steals of the draft if he can crack the already-loaded receiving corps of the Buffalo Bills.

    Lewis catches the ball extremely well and he has the type of size that pro scouts drool over (hopefully not literally). He stands 6'4" and weighs in at 214 pounds and could become a terror in the red zone at the next level.

    He was projected as a fourth-round pick by NFLDraftScout.com. He was also rated as the 15th-best receiver and 109th overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings.

    Lewis saw 32 wide receivers selected before his name was called, which was likely due to his small-school status. Plenty of small-school pass-catchers have made an impact in the NFL over the years and Lewis gives Buffalo plenty of draft value with the 234th selection.

22. Buccaneers Add Sterling Moore at Wholesale Price

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not have done much this offseason to support rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, but the team deserves credit for bringing in a potential up-and-comer for their defense at a true bargain price.

    Fifth-year cornerback Sterling Moore has never established himself as an NFL standout, but he did get an opportunity to start seven games for the Dallas Cowboys last season with very promising results.

    Moore appeared in all 16 games for the Cowboys in 2014 and produced 46 tackles with 12 passes defended and a forced fumble. He was rated 22nd overall among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus for the season.

    Tampa Bay brought Moore in on a one-year deal this offseason at the low, low price of $1.525 millionwith nothing guaranteed. 

    This is a terrific price for a potential answer at the nickelback position. This move would have been an even bigger steal if Tampa had been able to lock Moore up for longer than one year at such an affordable annual rate.

21. New York Giants Draft Owamagbe Odighizuwa in 3rd Round

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    To say the New York Giants' run defense was a weakness in 2014 is like saying the Liberty Bell is a little flawed.

    New York ranked 30th in run defense (135.1 yards per game) last season and allowed 15 total rushing touchdowns over the course of the year. Only six teams allowed more scores on the ground.

    This is why a player like UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa is the perfect fit for the Giants' defense. The 6'3", 267-pound defensive end doesn't offer much as a pass-rusher, but he was one of the best run-stuffers available in the entire draft.

    The fact that New York grabbed Odighizuwa with the 74th overall selection is pretty impressive. 

    Odighizuwa was rated as a second-round pick by NFL.com leading up to the draft and was listed as the 37th overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings.

    This is a real steal for the Giants because the selection of Odighizuwa is an example of when tremendous value meets great need.

20. Patriots Sign Jabaal Sheard to Team-Friendly Deal

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Early in free agency, the New England Patriots inked former Cleveland Browns linebacker Jabaal Sheard to a modest two-year, $11 million deal.

    This is a very team-friendly deal for a guy who was rated 16th overall among 3-4 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus in 2014.

    However, Sheard's real value comes in the fact that he has experience playing both linebacker and defensive end. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likes to move players around in a variety of defensive fronts and Sheard can fit into the philosophy perfectly.

    "Throughout the course of the years, I learned three different defenses,” Sheard said earlier this offseason, per Doug Kyed of NESN.com. “I learned how to drop back. It made me diverse and able to do a number of different things. I think the three different coordinators definitely helped me."

    In New England, Sheard will likely line up at defensive end when the team is in a four-man front. His best work as a pass-rusher came in his first two seasons in the league, when Cleveland ran a 4-3 defense and Sheard played end. Sheard racked up 15.5 sacks between 2011 and 2012.

    Sheard is a tremendously well-rounded player and should be a major asset in New England's multiple-look defense. If he can regain his form as a pass-rusher, then he will also be a major steal for the Patriots.

19. Packers Steal Brett Hundley Away from Quarterback-Needy Teams

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Leave it to the Green Bay Packers to draft a talented quarterback prospect when the team already features arguably the best signal-caller in the game. 

    Of course, it isn't Green Bay's fault that teams allowed former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley to slip into the top of the fifth round (147th overall).

    For the Packers, Hundley will be a depth player and a guy to develop for the future of the team or for future trade capital. However, the pick still represents a steal because another team could have likely drafted Hundley two rounds earlier without anyone batting an eye.

    Hundley was rated as the fourth-best quarterback and the 81st overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings. He has the tools and the talent to eventually develop into a standout passer at the pro level—even if the Packers don't need him to.

18. Minnesota Lands Tyrus Thompson with 185th Pick

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Former Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson has the size (6'5" and 324 pounds) and athleticism to compete for a starting job at the NFL level. Yet the Minnesota Vikings were able to snatch him with an early sixth-round pick.

    Thompson was rated as the 10th-best offensive tackle and the 102nd overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings. NFL.com projected him as a third- or fourth-round selection.

    According to Brian Hall of Fox Sports North, Thompson is being tested at guard by the Vikings and may be able to compete there for playing time.

    When a team grabs a player it feels can possibly start in the sixth round, it has to be considered a steal. It is especially valuable to the Vikings, who need to build a strong line around promising second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

17. Bengals Draft Paul Dawson 99th Overall

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Former TCU linebacker Paul Dawson had a monster 2014 season with 136 total tackles, four interceptions and six sacks. However, he fell in the draft because of a failed drug test and reported character concerns.

    One unnamed AFC West scout said the following of Dawson, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:

    "He's an early-round player without any question, but you don't have to dig around very deep or very long to realize that his personal character is going to be a major issue for some teams. My grade will be two rounds later than just the talent grade. It has to be factored in."

    Dawson was still expected to go higher than he did. He was rated as the third-best linebacker and 39th overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings.

    Work ethic and character may be an issue for Dawson, but in terms of talent he was a steal at the end of the third round.

16. Colts Grab Todd Herremans for Just $1 Million Guaranteed

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    After witnessing the enigmatic disaster that was Trent Richardson, the Indianapolis Colts made it a point to upgrade the running game this offseason.

    Their signing of running back Frank Gore garnered the majority of the headlines, but there is a value signing that could prove to be just as important to a ground-game resurgence in Indianapolis.

    The Colts signed former Philadelphia Eagles guard Todd Herremans to a modest one-year, $2.25 million deal with $1 million guaranteed.

    Herremans played through a biceps tear last season and wound up on injured reserve with an ankle injury. He was a top-tier run-blocker before the injuries, however, and can be a major piece in the Indianapolis offense.

    Herremans started all 16 games in 2013 and was rated second overall among guard in run blocking by Pro Football Focus

15. Browns Grab Ifo Ekpre-Olomu with 241st Overall Pick

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu fell in this year's draft because of a serious knee injury that he suffered while preparing for the College Football Playoff last season.

    However, Ekpre-Olomu was one of the nation's best pass defenders before the injury and would possibly have been a first-round pick without it. Even with the knee injury and with the likelihood that Ekpre-Olomu won't play in 2015, he shouldn't have fallen all the way to the bottom of Round 7.

    He was projected as a likely fourth-round pick by NFL.com before the draft. He was rated as the 13th-best cornerback and the 95th overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings.

    There is some risk with Ekpre-Olomu, as players don't always return to predraft form. Even with those risks, however, getting him where the Browns did was a steal. He isn't likely to see the field as a rookie, but Ekpre-Olomu will spend the next year watching how to play pass defense from guys like Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner.

14. Cincinnati Picks Up Derron Smith in 6th Round

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals do not have a pressing need at free safety because of the presence of Reggie Nelson, but rookie sixth-round pick Derron Smith could be the future there.

    Cincinnati shouldn't have been able to get Smith where it did.

    The Fresno State product was an unbelievable value at pick No. 197. Smith racked up 93 total tackles with seven passed defended and one interception in 2014 and has the coverage skills to continue to produce at the pro level.

    Smith was rated as the fourth-best free safety and the 99th overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings. He likely fell because of his height (5'10") and because he underwent sports-hernia surgery prior to the draft.

    He should become a regular contributor on the Cincinnati defense in the near future, however, and was a steal for the Bengals.

13. Lions Snag Haloti Ngata for Pair of Mid-Round Picks

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Though the move isn't going to completely ease the loss of both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the move the Detroit Lions made to acquire defensive tackle Haloti Ngata this offseason was brilliant.

    Ngata is 31 years old, but he is still an extremely productive defender. He was rated as a 3-4 defensive end by Pro Football Focus last season and was ranked ninth overall at the position. He has been named to the Pro Bowl five times during his NFL career.

    The Lions got Ngata in exchange for a fourth- and fifth-round pick (Detroit got a seventh-rounder from the Ravens). This is great value for a player who will perfectly fit what the Lions want to do defensively.

    Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes to use multiple defensive fronts and Ngata can likely fit as a 4-3 end and will definitely fit as a nose tackle when the line shifts to a three-man front.

    This move would have been an even bigger steal if Ngata had more than one year remaining on his current deal.

12. Miami Gets Kenny Stills in Trade for Dannell Ellerbe, Pick

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    By trading with the New Orleans Saints to acquire wideout Kenny Stills, the Miami Dolphins got a receiver who was responsible for 63 receptions and 931 yards last season.

    This move was a steal because the deal only cost Miami a third-round pick and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. In many ways, getting rid of Ellerbe actually sweetens the deal for Miami.

    The former Ravens linebacker was signed to a five-year, $35 million free-agent deal back in 2013. According to Spotrac.com$14 million of that deal was guaranteed.

    Unfortunately, Ellerbe never lived up to his contract. He was rated just 50th overall among inside linebackers for the 2013 season by Pro Football Focus. He appeared in only one game last season before being placed on injured reserve with a hip injury.

    By making the deal for Stills, the Dolphins got a speedy young target for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, while dumping Ellerbe and the remainder of his massive contract in the process.  

11. Cleveland Grabs Duke Johnson in Round 3

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns couldn't find one consistent running back during the 2014 season and even ended up cutting Ben Tate, the free-agent addition who was supposed to be the team's workhorse. 

    While Cleveland might not have found an every-down rusher in former Miami star Duke Johnson, the Browns got one heck of a steal with the 77th overall pick.

    Bleacher Report Lead Draft Writer Matt Miller ranked Johnson third among running backs and 38th among all prospects leading up to the draft. 

    "He really reminds me of Giovani Bernard of the Bengals," LaDainian Tomlinson said of Johnson, via NFL.com. "They are both built similarly. Johnson is very good out of the shotgun. The one thing on film that sticks out is his explosiveness and ability to turn the corner."

    Tomlinson might know a thing or two about what makes a successful back in the NFL.

10. Ravens Re-Sign Justin Forsett for Cheap

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Teams haven't exactly been throwing money at running backs in recent years, but we witnessed two of them (LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray) get $40 million contracts this offseason.

    This is why Justin Forsett's three-year, $9 million deal feels like a real steal for the Baltimore Ravens. 

    Forsett had the best season of his career last year, his first with the Ravens. He rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns with an impressive 5.4 yards-per-carry average. He was rated sixth overall among running backs for the season by Pro Football Focus, one spot behind Murray and far ahead of McCoy (55th).

    He was also named to the 2015 Pro Bowl.

    Baltimore now has Forsett locked up for another three years and it really feels like he was purchased from the bargain bin. His entire contract is only $1 million more than McCoy and Murray will average annually under their respective deals. 

9. Jaguars Draft Michael Bennett in 6th Round

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Defensive tackle Michael Bennett was a true standout defender at Ohio State and entered the draft process looking like a surefire Day 2 pick. However, Bennett plummeted in the actual draft, before being scooped up by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 180th overall selection.

    Bennett is a bit unpolished as a defender, but he has a quick first step and can be disruptive on the field. His fall to the sixth round was not expected and was a bit puzzling to see.

    Perhaps teams had some concern with Bennett that has not yet come to light. Perhaps he fell simply because teams view him as a prospect who could only succeed in a 4-3 defense. 

    "He is a scheme-fit type of player and fortunately for us he fits our scheme," Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said of Bennett earlier this offseason, according to Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com.

    Whatever the reason for it was, Bennett's fall ended up giving wonderful value to the Jaguars. He was rated as the 55th-best prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings

8. Dolphins Snag Jay Ajayi with Pick No. 149

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Former Boise State running back Jay Ajayi may have been one of the most highly coveted ball-carriers in this year's draft class if not for concerns about the durability of his right knee.

    He was still highly regarded and was a potential steal for the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round.

    Mark Dulgerian of NFL Network said the following of Ajayi shortly after the back was drafted: "Miami needed running back depth and they got a potential steal in the fifth round. Ajayi slipped due to serious knee concerns, but if he stays healthy he can be a 18-25 carry back in the NFL. The Dolphins got a potential replacement for Lamar Miller, who's in a contract year."

    Ajayi was rated as the seventh-best running back and the 67th overall prospect in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings

7. Falcons Pick Up Grady Jarrett in 5th Round

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons got themselves a steal of a player when they drafted former defensive tackle Grady Jarrett with the 137th overall selection.

    Jarrett is a tremendous overall defender who was likely pushed down draft boards because his less-than-ideal height (6'1"). However, Jarrett's production in 2014 (45 total tackles, 10.5 for a loss) was impressive. 

    Jarrett was projected as a second-round pick by NFL.com prior to the draft and he was listed as the eighth-best defensive lineman in Bleacher Report's predraft rankings.

    Jarrett should fit perfectly into head coach Dan Quinn's plans for a new 4-3 Atlanta defense. No one would have faulted the Falcons for grabbing him a round or two earlier than they eventually did.

6. Titans Add Perrish Cox for $5 Million a Year

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It was a bit surprising to see the San Francisco 49ers allow cornerback Perrish Cox to walk away in free agency. It was even more surprising to see the Tennessee Titans land the fifth-year pro with a three-year, $15 million deal.

    Cox was San Francisco's best cornerback last season and one of the better overall corners in the entire league. He was rated 35th overall among corners by Pro Football Focus for the year. Judging from the early offseason, he will be a regular standout on the Titans defense as well.

    He’s done a nice job," head coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Cox, according to ESPN's Paul Kuharsky. "I think he’s been close on a lot of balls, had his hands on a couple. Early last year he had his hands on a lot of balls, and that was one of the things you really liked."

    This is a real steal for the Titans, especially when you compare Cox's deal to some of the other cornerback contracts of the offseason. For example, fellow four-year veteran Buster Skrine was given a four-year, $25 million deal by the New York Jets.

    Skrine was rated 82nd among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus last season.

5. Washington Signs Terrance Knighton with Thrifty 1-Year Deal

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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins are traditionally known more for overspending in free agency than for bargain-hunting. However, grabbing a bargain is exactly what the team did this offseason.

    Washington was awful on defense last season. Though the team only allowed an average of 357 yards per game in 2014 (20th in the NFL), the Redskins were rated dead last in overall defense and in run defense by Pro Football Focus.

    Instead of throwing cash at the problem, Washington took the smart, short-term approach and grabbed defensive tackle Terrance Knighton with a team-friendly one-year deal.

    The mammoth defender brings both talent (rated 12th overall by Pro Football Focus among defensive tackles last season) and playoff experience to the capital city. He will do so for just under $4.5 million, which is a steal for one of the league's better defensive big men. 

4. Texans Draft Jaelen Strong in Round 3

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans parted with longtime fan favorite Andre Johnson this offseason and needed to find a young, talented pass-catcher to help fill the void.

    Sure-handed Arizona State product Jaelen Strong should be the perfect candidate to replace Johnson as a clutch receiver in Houston's offense. The fact that the Texans landed him with a third-round pick is remarkable.

    "He has extremely strong hands. He reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald in body frame only. When the ball is in his hands, he's a horse. He high points the ball as good as anybody in the country," veteran draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Strong, via NFL.com.

    Strong was widely viewed as a first- or second-round pick heading into the draft. Bleacher Report rated Strong as the 36th overall prospect in predraft rankings.

    However, the Texans got Strong with the 70th overall pick in the draft. This represents a major steal as few would likely question the Texans had the team drafted the receiver in the second or possibly even the first round of the draft.

3. Chiefs Get Ben Grubbs for 5th-Round Pick

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs came into the offseason looking to add talent to their offensive line. The team got the veteran help it was looking for by trading to acquire former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs from the New Orleans Saints.

    Though Grubbs is an eight-year veteran, he is still one of the better guards in the NFL. He was rated 35th overall among guards by Pro Football Focus last season and 11th overall the season before.

    All it cost the Chiefs to acquire Grubbs was a measly fifth-round pick.

    What makes this an even bigger steal for the Chiefs is that Grubbs agreed to rework his contract to give Kansas City a more team-friendly deal. 

    Grubbs was due to earn $6.5 million this season. Under his new deal, he will make just $2.4 million, including bonuses. That's like a double steal for the Chiefs.

2. Vikings Get T.J. Clemmings with 4th-Round Pick

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings may have received one of the biggest gifts in this year's draft when former Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings tumbled into the fourth round.

    What is it with this team stealing linemen in this year's draft?

    Sure, there was a little injury concern with Clemmings after NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported that the prospect had a foot fracture. However, it was still surprising to see Clemmings fall as far as he did.

    Clemmings was regarded by NFL.com as a potential first- or second-round pick and was ranked 51st among rookie prospects by Bleacher Report Lead Draft Writer Matt Miller.

    According to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com, the Vikings have been working Clemmings at right guard and the plan is for him to start there. Getting a starting lineman in the fourth round has to feel like a major steal for Minnesota. 

1. Cowboys Sign La'el Collins as Undrafted Free Agent

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Former LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins entered the 2015 draft as a very highly regarded prospect.

    In fact, he was the 21st-rated overall player in Bleacher Report's predraft ranking

    However, Collins was passed over by every NFL team during the draft because of concerns about his being questioned in connection with the slaying of an ex-girlfriend.

    According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, Collins has not been officially cleared of wrongdoing, but he is also not considered a suspect. As things currently stand, Collins' football future should be wide open.

    This is why it was an absolute steal for the Dallas Cowboys to land Collins with a three-year deal worth just under $1.6 million. By comparison, 21st overall pick Cedric Ogbuehi (also an offensive lineman) was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals to a four-year, $9.325 million deal.

    Because of his status as an undrafted free agent, Collins was limited in his contract options. He likely picked Dallas because he liked the situation he would come into. For the Cowboys, all of this adds up to the biggest steal of the offseason.

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