Undrafted Running Back Could Find a Niche

The Colts signed an undrafted running back that has above-average skills, but played at a below-average level of competition in college -- at least as far as the NFL is concerned. How will he adjust to the pro game and could he push for a roster spot this summer? Eric Hartz profiles the newest horse in the running back stable inside!

Adding to what should be a crowded running back battle in training camp for the Colts No. 2 position is Chad Simpson, who the Colts signed to a rookie free-agent contract last week.

Simpson burst onto the NFL's radar with a strong senior season at Morgan State, rushing for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to MEAC Player of the Year honors. He was also named to the Football Championship Subdivision All-America First Team.

That earned him an invite to the NFL Combine, where he showed he belonged with the fifth-best 40-yard dash time among running backs. Simpson's 4.44 was better than the times of Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte, Felix Jones and Jonathan Stewart, all backs that were taken in the first 44 picks in last month's NFL Draft.

Chad Simpson breaks loose on a long run
Photo: Morgan State Sports Information

But straight-line speed doesn't always transfer into NFL success, as this story lists plenty of fast 40 times from players who were never heard from again.

Simpson probably went undrafted because he lacks ideal size at 5 feet, 9 inches — although he has a very solid build at 216 pounds — and because he excelled against a lower level of competition at Morgan State.

The Bears are a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. I-AA), but, as fellow Colts' rookie Mike Hart can attest, there are plenty of athletes at that level, and Simpson's numbers during his two seasons at Morgan State can't be ignored.

Simpson began his college career at South Florida and struggled to qualify academically out of high school, but Simpson made a very intelligent decision to transfer to Morgan State after the 2005 season.

He barely saw the backfield at South Florida, although he did have one highlight, a 94-yard touchdown return against Louisville in 2005.

At Morgan State in 2005, Simpson earned just 11 carries in his first two games, but exploded for 178 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries in a win vs. Bowie State. He cracked the 100-yard mark two more times that season and finished with 795 yards and nine touchdowns, setting the stage for his big senior year.

Scout.com's Tom Marino ranked Simpson as the 17th-best running back prospect in this year's draft and had several positive things to say about him.

"[Simpson] is a strong inside runner with quickness, quick feet, instincts, balance and speed," Marino said. "He's strong-legged and broke many secured tackles at this level. Tough inside, but also showed creativity in space."

Chad Simpson breaks a pair of tackles vs. Delaware State
Photo: Morgan State Sports Information

With Joseph Addai, an all-around back, as the team's No. 1, the Colts be looking for a tough inside runner as a second back, and Simpson could fit that bill — although he will have plenty of competition for that role with Kenton Keith, Hart and Clifton Dawson.

One concern with Simpson is his receiving ability. He caught just 22 passes during his two seasons at Morgan State and his ability isn't up to the standards of the Colts' offense. But Keith, as well, has struggled in the passing game and Hart isn't a proven receiver, either, so this area could be one that determines which player gets the edge on the others during training camp.

Marino concluded his analysis of Simpson by saying, "[he]has the run skills, but [I] would like to have seen him catch, block and or return."

In short, Simpson is a strong running back when he has the ball in his hands, but the NFL game is about more than just taking the ball and running ahead — it also involves blocking, catching and possibly returning the ball, as well as understanding the intricacies of the team's offense.

In these areas, Simpson is still a work in progress, but if he can show improvement in his complete game during minicamp and training camp, he could be worth a roster spot. At any rate, he should add even more intrigue to the running back competition in camp.

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