The 2014 NFL Draft is in the rearview mirror and grades have already been passed out to all 32 teams. But who really did their homework and grabbed a big-time contributor later in the draft? We'll take a look at the five best bargain picks in each division this week, continuing today with AFC South and NFC South teams:
Nix was graded as a top-50 player by a lot of folks, so he's a terrific value in the third round for Houston. Romeo Crennel needs a big nose tackle for his defense, and Nix fits the bill perfectly as a quick player in the middle who can fill two gaps. Injuries hurt his stock a bit, but if he stays healthy, he could have the best career of anybody on this list.
Prior to tearing an ACL during practice at the Reese's Senior Bowl, Colvin was a player some scouts were mentioning as a potential late first-round pick. He fell to the Jaguars because of the injury, but, when healthy, he'll be valuable in a division with so many quality wide receivers. Yes, the team will have to put him on the PUP list in 2014, but long-term, it's hard to beat the value they can get out of Colvin.
Dave Caldwell made some nice late-round selections, but he might have a steal in Smith, who definitely looks the part of an outside linebacker in the league. He'll be able to get around tackles and get to the quarterback when they bring him off the edge, but he will really help the Jaguars' pass defense with his ability to cover backs, tight ends and even receivers. Anytime you can grab the leading tackler off last season's national championship team in the fifth round, you get a pat on the back.
The Texans did very well in Bill O'Brien's first draft with the organization and Blue is among the late-round picks who should be able to contribute early for the team in 2014. He was lost in the shuffle at times at LSU, but there's no question he has the talent to be Arian Foster's primary backup if he picks up pass-protection schemes quickly. He is a strong runner who can also catch the ball well, so don't be surprised if he quickly unseats Andre Brown in Houston.
Yes, sixth-round selection Zach Mettenberger might wind up as the starting quarterback eventually, but he doesn't quite bring what Jones does to the team initially. Coming off a strong senior season for Penn State, the defensive tackle has all the measurables and certainly has the strength to man the trenches. He will need to be more consistent if he wants to be a starter in the league, but he has the talent to be the anchor of the team's front.
Injuries have been a big issue for Powell, the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school, but he has the talent to be a contributor in the league. A 6-foot-3, 237-pound outside linebacker, Powell can chase down backs or come off the edge with ease. He'll be a good fit for Rob Ryan's style of defense and has the athleticism to become a front-line starter if he stays healthy.
Freeman split carries with other backs at Florida State, and he'll be sharing the load in Atlanta, too. He can hit the edge or burst through the line while running between the tackles. He has better hands as a receiver than you might think and should be able to boost the Falcons' ground game behind Steven Jackson.
The team needs more depth on the interior of the line and might have found it in Edwards. He has good size and has monster arms to keep defenders at bay. He's a small-school guy (played against FCS competition at Tennessee State), but started just about every game in his college career, so he has good experience. He'll be more of a help in the run game, but if he can refine his pass-blocking skills, Lovie Smith might have a nice late-round gem.
He won't be the fastest defensive back in the league, but when he fully recovers from an ACL tear suffered last season, he'll be one of the smartest DBs on the field. He knows where to position himself and can quickly recognize plays. NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock has said he thinks he can eventually be a starting safety in the league -- that's high praise Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan certainly will agree with.
The Panthers already have a strong ground game, but Gaffney should find ways to contribute as a hard runner who can learn the playbook quickly. He will likely make an impact on special teams first, but don't be surprised if he forces his way into the rotation behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.