Colts Deviation Could Have Huge Payoff

Smart Colt fans know that the draft is just step one in the hunt for new talent. In recent years, talented players like Terrence Wilkins, Marcus Pollard, Dominic Rhodes, Raheem Brock, Jeff Saturday and have been found in the days just after the draft -- and have made huge impacts on the team.

Some were drafted and cut or not signed, and others just didn't get picked. Pollard didn't even play football in college.

The Colts have been very creative about how they find players, but they have steered well clear of the supplemental draft. By reputation, players in the supplemental draft have something wrong with them, something that makes them odd and mysterious. The whole thing just feels unseemly.

This season was a bit different. Although the Colts didn't participate in the supplemental draft, they did rush to sign two players that all 32 NFL teams had passed over.

Hours after the draft, the Colts outbid or out-impressed a number of other teams to acquire the services of wide receiver Roscoe Crosby. If his name doesn't register alongside Braylon Edwards and Troy Williamson, it's because he didn't have a huge senior year. Or junior. Or sophomore.

After he made a big splash as a freshman in 2001, he sort of lost his way. First came a contract with the Kansas City Royals after they made him a second-round pick. That was followed by a serious elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He was ready to come back in 2003, but was affected by a car accident that killed his three best friends and left him physically unharmed but emotionally unprepared to play football.

So why would the Colts be interested in him? Well, he's a 6'2, 218-pound wide receiver with 4.43 speed and outstanding athletic ability. He has a lot to learn about playing the position, but is an abject natural when it comes to playing football.

In the one season he did play, he made a big splash. On a run-oriented Clemson team with little offensive clout, he exploded for 27 catches for 465 yards and four touchdowns. He looked like a huge talent as a receiver and runner, and used his size, strength and moves to be a terror after the catch. Since he'd been one of the top half-dozen football recruits that year, it looked very much like he'd grow into a first- or second-round draft pick and an NFL starter.

There's very little doubt that Crosby has the talent to be a NFL starter, even a star. But with three years away from the game and a series of misfortunes that he may not have entirely have been blameless for, he's far from a sure thing.

But he's nothing if not smart.

He's chosen the best possible scenario to make his pro debut. With noted mentors like offensive coordinator Tom Moore, receivers coach Clyde Christensen, brook-no-nonsense quarterback Peyton Manning and master-of-the-game receiver Marvin Harrison, Crosby has no lack of teachers. And with Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokely coming off 1,000-yard seasons, he'll feel very little pressure to produce right away.

The other candidates for the fourth and fifth receiver spots — Troy Walters, Aaron Moorehead, Brad Pyatt, John Standeford, Montiese Culton, and Levon Thomas — all have flaws and none is as rich in talent as Crosby. Walters has been given many opportunities to prove himself as a return man and has never really impressed, while Pyatt looked great until his first big injury — and like many return men — has been tentative since. If Crosby can impress coaches as return man — probably on kicks, he's a bit too much of a long-strider for punts — he could easily win the No. 5 receiver job and hone his skills with the best in the business until he's ready to start catching passes.

The beauty of the Crosby signing is that if he fails, it wouldn't cost the Colts any picks or even much of a signing bonus. And if he does live up to his potential, Bill Polian looks like a genius again.

While the signing of Crosby makes perfect sense if you think about it for a while, the Colts made another dip into the supplemental pool that was less predictable. Ole Miss halfback Vashon Pearson is a nice little runner, but he joins a crowded backfield of very similar players.

At 5'10, 205, Pearson is a compact little back with honest 4.51 speed. Despite playing on one of the worst offenses in Division I, he managed to put together a pretty nice season with 807 rushing yards and a 5.1 yard per carry average. He particularly impressed me running between the tackles and on short yardage. The Rebs rarely asked him to get involved in their shaky passing game, but when I saw him, he ran good routes, caught the ball well and understood how to nullify the blitz.

But let's not get carried away here. Pearson hasn't shown the vision, moves, explosion or second gear to be a starting back in the NFL. He fits better as a part-timer, a change of pace guy who can also help out on specials. I don't think even Pearson's mom thinks he'll take Edgerrin James' job and Rhodes is pretty safe bet to make the team. Seventh-round draft pick Anthony Davis has all the talent (if not the size) to succeed and, barring another injury, is at least the third-best back on the roster.

That means that Pearson will have to fight James Mungro (good blocker with no moves), Ran Carthon (strong straight-line runner with no vision), Marcus Williams (small-school power back) and JT Wall (nothing more than a blocker) for one of what will probably be two roster spots. Mungro's ability to play fullback, special-teams prowess and rapport with Manning give him an inside track, so the competition is more likely to be for the last spot.

But if there's one thing Polian knows, it's running backs. He knew James was better than Ricky Williams, found Rhodes in the middle of nowhere and plucked Mungro off the waiver wire. He even found all-time great Thurman Thomas in the second round. Polian kind of missed on Tim Biakabutuka, but on the rare occasions he was healthy enough to play, he was a very good runner and receiver. So if Polian wants to take a flyer on Pearson, he must have seen something I haven't. And, as with Crosby, the signing of Pearson cost the Colts nothing of significance.

As usual, the Colts avoided spending a pick in the supplemental draft. But, as always, they kept their eyes open and leapt at a couple of personnel bargains. Crosby chances of succeeding and starring in the NFL are no worse than Maurice Clarett's, and the Broncos selected him in the third round of the spring draft.

Pearson's ability is about on par with many of the backs drafted on the second day last April and, despite his academic issues, he's known as a smart, hard-working kid with durability. In essence, the Colts got two decent prospects — one a potential star — for nothing more than diligence and a couple of paltry signing bonuses.

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