Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
Phillip Lindsay has overcome all the odds to make the NFL. In his senior year of high school, he suffered a severe knee injury (ACL) that put his football future into question. But he never quit. By the end of his 4-year career with the Colorado Buffaloes, he gained nearly 5000 yards from scrimmage (4859), over 100 receptions (117), and 39 touchdowns (36 rushing, 3 receiving). Despite these numbers, he was not invited to the NFL combine and went undrafted in the 2018 NFL draft.
Most aspiring NFL players journey would end right there. But Phillip Lindsay is not like most NFL players.
Lindsay signed as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos, and once again overcame the odds. He made the final roster for the Broncos, became the first undrafted player in NFL history to have 100+ scrimmage yards in his first two NFL games. He ran for over 1000 yards and was the first undrafted offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl.
This season, the fantasy community has been debating if Lindsay’s production is sustainable, and I decided to take a journey and examine if Phillip “The Colorado Kid” Lindsay is worthy of his current ADP.
Tape and Talent
Watching film of Phillip Lindsay, there were 3 primary aspects of his game that stood out to me: Vision, Speed/Big Play Ability, and Pass Catching.
Vision was immediately the primary aspect that jumped out, as he always finds the best running lane, and this is supported by the fact he had one of the best true yards per a carry in the league (4.9 YPC) last season.
Here is Lindsay showing off impressive vision near the end zone against the Bengals. He wants to take this run outside the hash marks but sees the defender on the edge, so he readjusts and cuts back towards the middle of the field, then explodes through for the touchdown.
In the video above from the game against the Seahawks last year, Lindsay cuts back and squeezes through a tiny running lane to pick up 5 yards and a first down for the Broncos.
In this run above, against the Chiefs, Lindsay does a little shuffle near the line of scrimmage to give his blockers more time to set up, then immediately explodes through a running lane by the right guard. His ability to make a quick decision and hit the hole is amongst the best in the NFL. In fact, his vision and ability to set up his blockers were so impressive that Lindsay led all running backs in yards before contact (3.68) according to PFF last year.
Speed and Big Play Ability
In combination with his vision, Lindsay’s speed allows him to be a big play threat for the Broncos.
In the highlight above, Lindsay shows off his speed and big-play ability, against the Oakland Raiders, exploding through the hole and making a few jump cuts for a 50+ yard gain. On the season, Lindsay had 11 carries that went for 15+ yards which ranked 12th in the NFL.
Pass catching was an aspect of Phillip Lindsay’s game where he was criminally underutilized last year, and I could see him be utilized more in the upcoming season. Lindsey caught only 35 balls yet finished with the 4th best red-zone receiving grade among running backs according to PFF.
Here Lindsay runs a HB Screen and turns it into a big first down against the Arizona Cardinals. With his pass-catching ability and new coaching staff, the Broncos would do well to design plays to showcase this skill. After all last year, Lindsay was one of only six players to run for over 1000 yards and catch 30+ passes. The five other players all have a current ADP in the Top 15 while Lindsay is going a few rounds later.
|Player||Rush Attempts||Rushing Yards||Yards Per Carry (YPC)||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Total Touchdowns||ADP (Standard)|
Competition and Workload
Royce Freeman may not have lived up to fantasy expectations as a rookie last year, but he still could be a threat to Phillip Lindsay’s workload this season. Freeman played the second half of the season through a high ankle sprain he suffered against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7. In Weeks 1-7 Freeman took 71 carries for 309 rushing yards (4.35 YPC) and 4 touchdowns. When Freeman played through injury, in Weeks 11-17, he had just 59 carries for 212 rushing yards (3.59 YPC) and one touchdown. Based on this information, it’s safe to assume that Freeman will play more as he did in Weeks 1-7, rather than Weeks 11-17.
If Freeman is healthy, size-wise he’s much better suited to receive “the bruiser” role and a majority of the goal-line work for the Broncos with his 6′, 238 pound frame in comparison to Lindsay’s 5’8”, 190 pound frame. Lindsay is likely to face some touchdown regression as last year Lindsay ranked 10th in touchdowns, but only 26th in expected touchdowns.
Besides Freeman, there’s also Devontae Booker who will eat into some of Lindsay’s receiving upside. While Booker carried just 34 times last season, he caught 38 passes and has never had less than 30 receptions in a season in his career. The Broncos also signed Theo Riddick, one of the best receiving backs in the league, catching over 50 passes each of the last 4 seasons. Riddick will damper Lindsay’s receiving potential and hurt his PPR value.
The Broncos completely overhauled their staff this offseason, firing Vance Joseph and hiring Vic Fangio, the former defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. Some of the other key hires that could affect Lindsay’s fantasy value were offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello (formerly of the San Francisco 49ers) and offensive line coach Mike Munchak (formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers).
As a defensive-minded head coach, Fangio will likely leave his offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to control most aspects of the offense. But based on the Broncos strength being on the defensive side of the ball and Fangio’s mastery at defensive scheming, Fangio may push Scangarello to run a more run-centric offense to keep the defense fresh and dominant.
Denver’s offensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello has commented that he envisions this backfield to be a dominant duo, comparing them to Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman from their time together in Atlanta. Speaking about Lindsay’s role in the offense, he sounded most impressed by Lindsay’s ability to win one-on-one matchups and hoped to get Lindsay more matchups against linebackers through the passing game. And having recently worked under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco as a QB coach, there’s optimism for more creativity in Denver’s offense this upcoming season than the team has had in the past.
Mike Munchak might be one of the most underrated coaching staff hires of any team this past offseason, and I expect the Broncos offensive line to be one of the biggest surprises in the league this upcoming season. A former Hall of Fame guard, Munchak is known as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. Historically, Munchak’s offensive lines have paved the way for an 1000+ yard rusher in 18/22 (81.8%) of the seasons he’s overseen the unit, and have finished in the Top 10 in fewest sacks allowed 16/22 (72.7%) times. With Munchak coaching them, the unit consisting of former 1st round pick LT Garrett Bolles, rookie LG Dalton Risner, C Connor McGovern, RG Ron Leary, and newly signed RT Ja’Wuan James could be one of the better units in the NFL, and should make Denver’s offense as a whole much more efficient.
This backfield will be a committee between Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman (with a little bit of Devontae Booker/Theo Riddick sprinkled in), which prevents Lindsay from having the upside to be a true bell cow RB. If I had to predict how the Broncos use their backs, I would guess that it will be a split similar to how the Titans utilized Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry last year, with Lindsay in an elusive finesse back role, and Freeman in the bruiser role. Last year Lewis got 214 touches (155 carries, 59 receptions), while Henry received 230 (215 carries, 15 receptions), and I would expect Lindsay and Freeman to be a similar style backfield and each get around 200 touches. At Lindsay’s current ADP, he’s a solid investment due to his efficiency and his offensive line, and with those touches he should be a solid bet to finish with 1000+ yards from scrimmage again.