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Josh Chapman is going to be a star.
I try to stay calm and objective when writing about the Colts. It’s not hard to find overblown rhetoric about sports, after all. Finding rational critiques can be more difficult, and I do my best to contribute meaningful analysis rather than hype.
But as I re-watched Chapman’s work in 2013, that one phrase kept popping into my head.
Josh Chapman is going to be a star.
Granted, the ceiling for a 3-4 nose tackle with limited pass rush skills is relatively low. Chapman is probably never going to be a commercial star or host SNL. Still, he has the strength, agility and feel for the game to be a stud, and Aubrayo Franklin’s departure leaves him and Montori Hughes as the Colts’ nose tackles of the present and future. With more playing time, Chapman has every opportunity to be a cornerstone. If I had to pick a future star among the guys I’ve covered in this series, Chapman would edge out Josh McNary.
Now, a few qualifiers. Chapman needs to stay healthy (not a sure thing, given his knee problems) and keep his weight under control (the Colts now list him at 6-0, 340, up from 316 in his draft profile, and he looked a bit sluggish at times when his snap counts climbed last year). He also needs to be committed to getting better and more consistent. Like the rest of the Colts’ defense, he seemed overwhelmed in the playoff loss to the Patriots; he’ll need to learn to affect the game against elite opponents as well as weak ones.
But if Chapman can play to his talent level, the Colts will have the anchor they need to make their 3-4 defense work.
Positions and snap counts
Unsurprisingly, Chapman played almost all of his snaps as a nose tackle, mostly in 3-4 and 4-3 alignments (I didn’t count plays like false starts and spikes, so my snap counts differ from some sources):
Percentage of snaps
|5 linemen tackle||6||2%||3||3||0|
|6 linemen tackle||12||4%||1||11||0|
He played a handful of snaps as a 3-4 end next to Aubreyo Franklin, and he was usually part of the Colts’ five- and six-man lines at the goal line. Though his snaps were almost evenly divided between pass rush and run defense, he rarely played on third down, unless it was third-and-short.
For some reason, the Colts dropped Chapman into coverage seven times, usually either to spy a mobile quarterback like Terrelle Pryor:
Or to track a running back:
Luckily, Giovani Bernard dropped a pass on the second one. It could have been ugly otherwise. I suppose those plays were efforts to be unpredictable, but the fewer times Chapman has to chase fast guys, the better.
Chapman missed a few missed games between weeks seven and 10 with a knee injury. Otherwise, he hit double digit snaps in every game. His snap counts mostly ranged from the mid-teens to the mid-20s, depending largely on how much the other team was running. His role increased in the last few weeks, and his season-high in snaps came in the loss to the Patriots, when he played 39.
What PFF Says
Pro Football Focus gave Chapman a 1.4 overall grade (subscription required), with a 5.0 in run defense and a -5.0 in pass rush. His best score was a 1.2 in the week four Jacksonville game, and his worst was a -1.4 against Tennessee in week 11 (his first game back from injury). They ranked him 31st among 80 qualifying defensive tackles with a 7.6% run stop percentage and gave him a 1.4 pass rush productivity score, placing him very close to the bottom of the league. Those numbers don’t seem to indicate a future star, but there’s more to his game than productivity stats suggest.
Chapman will never be mistaken for Gerald McCoy. While he moves well for such a huge man, he relies almost entirely on bull rushes, with the odd swim move thrown in. But he does have power in abundance (there’s a reason Chuck Pagano quipped last year that he’s “like sticking a 900-pound safe in the middle of the line of scrimmage”). His productive rushes usually come when he plows some poor guard or center back into the quarterback, as he did on his first rush of the season against Oakland:
And on this play against the Texans:
He also landed a hit on Tom Brady, which will certainly endear him to Colts fans:
Chapman only had one other pressure by my count, in the Arizona game, and he didn’t record a sack all year. But even when he’s not pressuring the quarterback, he’s valuable in the pass rush, because he does what a 3-4 nose should do: eat up blockers.
It’s not an accident of blocking schemes, either; Chapman excels at pushing one blocker over to another and getting his arms around both of them. Occupied blockers mean an easier task for everyone else. Notice how most of the other rushers in those frames are one-on-one.
Chapman’s block-eating skills are on full display here, as he draws all three Chiefs interior linemen into his clutches:
Ricardo Mathews can’t do much with it, but look how free he is once Chapman gets ahold of everyone. The left guard has to reach with one arm and barely brushes him. Chapman has a terrific feel for this stuff, which could be a huge help to the Colts’ sometimes anemic pass rush. He’ll likely give way to Ricky Jean Francois and Arthur Jones in clear passing situations, but on first and second down passes, he’ll make everyone’s job easier.
Now for the fun part.
Before I get too excited, I should point out that Chapman wasn’t always dominant against the run. Like I said earlier, he struggled against the Pats, and he had his fair share of underwhelming plays (though it usually took a double team to wash him out of a run up the middle). As good as he can be at controlling blocks, you’d like to see him generate more than the 19 tackles he had all year. Again, he needs to take a big step up in consistency before he can be counted among the elite run stuffers.
Perhaps most troubling, Chapman frequently lost his footing and wound up face down on the ground:
This seemed to happen with greater frequency late in games, suggesting it was an issue of fatigue as well as balance.
But when Chapman flashed his potential, he was impressive.
The first play that made me sit up and take notice came in the week three 49ers game, when he two-gapped the crap out of Jonathan Goodwin and wrapped up Frank Gore:
On this play in the Colts’ epic win over the Seahawks, he again showed his block-eating skills, controlling two linemen and allowing the linebackers to fill the running lanes and stop Marshawn Lynch after a 1-yard gain:
Here he is violently moving Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein out of the way before making a tackle with one arm:
And here he is ducking under a block, shooting into the backfield, disrupting the lead blocker and ruining a BenJarvus Green-Ellis run:
(You may recall that he had a similar play to deny the Bengals a goal-line touchdown at the end of the first half, only for Jeff “even I can’t believe I haven’t been fired” Triplette to screw him over. Go here if you want to see the play; as detailed here, the league later admitted that Triplette is a moron.)
Despite struggling through the Pats game, Chapman had a couple good plays, the best of which was this one, where he burrows through a double team to almost single-handedly collapse a running lane and pick up an assisted tackle:
It doesn’t look too remarkable at first, but keep your eye on the running lane and the right guard, who is trying to block Jerrell Freeman. Chapman knocks him back a step with his hip, ensuring that the back won’t get anywhere.
Finally, my favorite Chapman moment of the season:
Just look what he does to poor Jacques McClendon (whom you might recall getting schooled in my Jeris Pendleton piece; he had a rough game). Chapman then shoves the tight end out of the way, dropping to his knees when he loses his balance for a moment, and still spots and tackles Maurice Jones-Drew.
I could point out more plays like these, but you get the idea. When he’s on, the man is a force. Ryan Grigson has justifiably taken some flak for failing to find young building blocks for the defense. But he has one in Chapman.