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Dion Lewis leads list of top offseason bargains

Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.

After last Sunday's action, we noted that the seven teams sitting atop the NFL with a combined record of 28-1 have one thing in common: They are reliant upon nucleus players and bargain-big pickups rather than splurging in free agency with splashy headline moves.

With that in mind, let's examine the best offseason bargains from the previous offseason:

1. Dion Lewis, New England Patriots running back: Somewhere between Darren Sproles and former Chiefs return ace Dante Hall (nicknamed The Human Joystick for stop-start ability that consistently embarrassed would-be tacklers), Lewis has joined Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman as the playmaking "triplets" in Tom Brady's league-leading aerial attack.

Pro Football Focus should rename their Elusive Rating the "Dion Lewis Factor," as the quarter-season All-Pro scat back is threatening to break the scale, which measures a runner's impact independent of blocking. No running back has forced more missed tackles than Lewis' 28.

The Patriots acquired one of their most valuable players late last December, signing Lewis to a reserve/future contract after he failed to find a team for the entirety of the 2014 season.

2. Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals running back: After taking a bullet to the shoulder on top of a disappointing 2014 season, Johnson was free for the taking in mid-August when the Cardinals came calling due to a litany of hamstring injuries in their backfield. The Arizona version of Johnson is reliant upon vision, patience and physicality that were missing in recent seasons.

The sharp cut at the 40-yard line in the video to the right is demonstrative. A 23-year-old Johnson would have taken that carry to the end zone. A 27-year-old Johnson wouldn't have made that first defender miss. A 30-year-old Johnson forces a missed tackle and scampers 40 yards through open prairie land provided by the best surrounding talent of his career.

3. James Jones, Green Bay Packers wide receiver: Released by two teams over a four-month span, Jones has been a godsend for a Packers aerial attack missing Pro Bowl wideout Jordy Nelson, breakout candidate Davante Adams and tight end Andrew Quarless. Quickly regaining Aaron Rodgers' absolute trust, Jones has pulled off a series of circus catches, including five touchdowns -- second only to Larry Fitzgerald's six.

4. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills quarterback: Even with the MCL injury that will sideline Taylor this week, he has been more than the Bills could have possibly expected when they signed him to a two-year deal with $1.2 million in guarantees last March. Known more for his running ability, Taylor has impressed as a passer, recording a 70.1 completion rate and 103.6 passer rating.

5. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets wide receiver: One of the game's premier wideouts was available for the bargain-basement price of a fifth-round draft pick, because he played through last season with a high-ankle sprain and wore out his welcome in the locker room. Neither of those issues has followed him to the Jets, as he has already posted more 100-yard games through one month than he did all of last season.

6. Chris Chester and Andy Levitre, Atlanta Falcons guards: The Falcons are ranked No. 1 in rushing touchdowns and run defense, a Herculean feat for a franchise that so obviously lacked backbone on both lines under Mike Smith's staff the past couple of years. Anchoring an overhauled offensive line that has paved the way for Devonta Freeman's hot streak, Chester and Levitre are representative of a host of Atlanta bargains including Leonard Hankerson, Jacob Tamme, O'Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn. Hats off to coach Dan Quinn, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and talent purveyor Scott Pioli.

7. Delvin Breaux, New Orleans Saints cornerback: Signed away from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after shutting Duron Carter down in the CFL playoffs, Breaux has overcome four penalties in his NFL debut to emerge as a quality cornerback in New Orleans. His last three games suggest there's potential to emerge as a sticky cover corner.

8. Jabaal Sheard, New England Patriots pass rusher: We loved the two-year, $11 million deal in March, and nothing we have seen since has dampened our enthusiasm for Sheard's fit in New England. The former Browns' edge rusher's four sacks are just one off the league lead and he's added 16 combined quarterback hits and hurries to lead a disruptive Patriots front seven.

9. Darian Stewart, Denver Broncos free safety: This choice could just as easily be Walter Thurmond of the Eagles or Dwight Lowery of the Colts. Stewart gets the nod because he's been a noticeable upgrade in coverage on Rahim Moore, making game-altering plays for the NFL's most dominant defense.

10. Pernell McPhee, Chicago Bears pass rusher: The Bears shelled out nearly $16 million in guarantees to lure McPhee away from Baltimore, but that's a small price to pay for an impact force responsible for 23 quarterback disruptions (sacks, hits and hurries). Would you believe Vic Fangio's defense ranks fourth this season after placing 30th in 2014?

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