2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats (with New England): 29-130-0 rushing, 4-40-0 receiving, 1 special-teams tackle
2005 NFL Europe stats (with Cologne): 126-718-5 rushing, 15-154-0 receiving, 11-231-0 kick returns
Analysis: Undrafted after a pretty impressive career at Jacksonville State (I-AA), Chapman signed with the halfback-rich Ravens and then the Patriots. New England sent him to the NFL Europe, where he was the league's second-leading rusher. Although he was the Patriots' leading rusher in preseason, they cut him and went with fourth-round draft choice Cedric Cobbs instead (a decision that angered many Patriots fans). Chapman wound up with the Colts, but didn't see any significant action.
A pure runner with zip and speed, Chapman was rarely caught behind the line in Europe and would occasionally rip off a nice long gain, especially off tackle. Not as stout or compact (6'1, 202) as you'd like a runner to be, Chapman compensates with vision and agility. He's not a strong runner and does his best work outside the tackles and early in games. As a feature back in a simple offense, Chapman was rarely involved in the passing game in college and was often replaced on third downs when he was with Cologne.
2006 status: Signed, $310,000 salary
Outlook: Chapman has the kind of quick-react running style the Colts really seem to love. But his limitations as a receiver and pass-blocker could make it difficult for him to earn a solid spot. With a strong showing in drills and preseason — especially in the passing game — Chapman could earn a roster position and spot playing time. One Patriot observer I know said he absolutely wowed fans and scouts alike on kick-coverage drills in practice, so he could make his mark on special teams, where the Colts need all the help they can get. No matter what the draft and free agency yield, Chapman should get a legitimate chance to prove his worth in preseason but is realistically fighting for a No. 3 role.
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats: 5-0-0 rushing, 2-14-0 receiving
2005 NFL Europe stats: None
Analysis: Like wide receiver Roscoe Crosby, Pearson signed with the Colts after he was snubbed in the supplemental draft. After a lackluster preseason, he was released with an injury settlement and then signed to the practice squad on three separate occasions. Although Pearson doesn't really have flashy statistics or workout numbers, he is a tough, hardworking back who gives an excellent effort.
He's not a big man (6'0, 205), but in college Pearson showed a particular knack for picking up tough yards up the middle, even when the other team knew he'd be the ball carrier. Not the niftiest or most agile back, Pearson is a one-cut runner who spots a hole and gets to it as quickly as possible. He wasn't given much opportunity to be part of the passing game at Ole Miss, but appears to be a willing blocker and can make some yards when he catches the ball. He's had some limited experience as a kick returner, but probably doesn't have the speed to be a serious candidate for the job.
2006 status: Signed, $235,000 salary
Outlook: From what I hear, the Colts have been impressed by Pearson's skills, toughness and willingness, but not exactly delighted with his inability to understand Tom Moore's complex offense and his tendency to miss or blow assignments in practice. I'm not surprised he wasn't assigned to NFL Europe because he needs more familiarity with the Colts playbook (none of the European offenses will be similar enough to help him) than he does live-fire reps. Pearson's chances of making the team depend entirely on his convincing the coaching staff that he can handle the pressure of important NFL games without making costly mistakes.
Of course, the Colts' running back situation depends almost entirely on James. And if you believe the messages coming from the team's front office (not always a great idea), he's no better than the team's third priority, after Freeney and Wayne, and perhaps even farther down the list. But if they don't slap a franchise tag on James and, as is appearing more likely all the time, don't pay Rhodes his roster bonus, the Colts' top three halfbacks will all be unrestricted free agents.
But luckily for the team, the market for running backs is even more buyer-friendly than it was last year. Alexander, one of the few backs who could replace James, is also an unrestricted free agent and is getting as cold a response from Seattle as James is getting in Indy. But if the reason for letting James go is money, forget Alexander, he won't be any cheaper.
There are other unrestricted free agent halfbacks who could start in the NFL, but each has his limitations. While Jamal Lewis, Chester Taylor, DeShaun Foster, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Anthony Thomas, Michael Bennett and Maurice Morris all have their qualities, they also have their own distinct liabilities. Perhaps the best fit for the Colts are Foster, but he can't stay healthy for even a few series, and Green, who has a history of fumbles and a lot of miles and nicks on his chassis. Neither would come cheap.
The draft also features a wealth of starting quality backs, but with the Colts picking 30th in the first round (three slots behind the halfback-poor Panthers), their selection would be limited to the second tier. Minnesota's Laurence Maroney, Louisiana State's Joseph Addai, Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun and UCLA's Maurice Drew could all turn out to be stars, or they could be busts. Right now, Addai (who is rocketing up draft boards according to most observers) is probably the best fit for the Colts' offense, but he's suffered through lots of nagging injuries and has never been all that productive in college. He did, however, have his best games against his toughest opponents — a very good sign.
Further enriching the market are a few quality backs who could be traded for less than it would take it to draft a player of similar quality. But they wouldn't be on the market if they didn't have questions or baggage. Atlanta's TJ Duckett is a former first-round draft pick who is a solid between-the-tackles runner and a superior blocker, but can do little else. He'd need to be replaced on third downs. Same thing goes for the 49ers' Kevan Barlow, who also brings a rep as a clubhouse troublemaker. Ricky Williams showed that he hadn't lost much if any of his natural ability as he put up big numbers at the end of last season, but the idea of the Colts acquiring a player with his history is almost laughable. Polian has never been a fan.
While there are lots of backs to choose from, the Colts roster, draft and salary cap situations may force them to shop at Wal-Mart rather than Saks Fifth Avenue. While it may be disturbing to see the Colts enter the offseason with just Chapman and Pearson under contract, it may help fans to remember that at one point in 1999, the Colts had just Darick Holmes, Keith Elias and Paul Shields at the position and things worked out then.