Undoubtedly Phillip Lindsay was the surprise package in 2018. Nobody saw the 5ft 8 undrafted free agent out of Colorado lighting up the league and putting up over 1,250 yards from scrimmage with 10 total touchdowns the way he did – It just does not happen, does it!
Well, not since Arian Foster came into the league as a UDFA and dominated at the running back position anyway. The question remains, was that the start of something special or was 2018 just an anomalous season? I lean towards the latter, here’s why.
Before the NFL
As a college ball-carrier, Lindsay flew under the radar as a pretty efficient back. His junior and senior years at Colorado saw him amass 3,476 yards from scrimmage and 32 total touchdowns, so it was not surprising he was picked up as a UDFA after the 2018 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos.
Photo Credit: Cliff Grassmick/Times-Call
The problem he had (and likely the reason his stats from college were ignored by the draft scouts) was with his size. At just 5’8 and 190 lbs, his physique could become his downfall with 240 lbs linebackers mowing him down the moment he escaped through a gap in the trenches or 330 lbs lineman flattening before he even had the chance to do that.
Rookie Season Triumph and Decline
Despite all of the draft profiles pointing out his size weaknesses and choppy feet, Lindsay was an unpredictable, unknown quantity when he started out his rookie campaign. Fellow rookie Royce Freeman struggled to get going during the pre-season which subsequently allowed Lindsay to come in and seize his opportunity.
He was able to find the gaps and evade the tackles, meaning he could put to good use his 4.38 40 yard dash speed he showed at his pro-day which resulted in back-to-back 100+ yard games in weeks one and two against Seattle and Oakland.
He continued to elude defenses up until week 14 when his performances started to tail off. During these weeks his yards per carry declined considerably, only managing to gain 2.14, 1.71 and 4.60 (which was on only 10 carries, and the game he got injured). These came against defenses that were middle of the pack when it comes to defending the run in 2018, San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland.
Photo Credit: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
The Worries and Injury Concern
My worry is, did teams towards the end of last season start to figure out how to defend against him? After all, the majority of his carries funneled through the inside zone where he was able to take advantage of an average of 6.9 defenders in the box per play throughout the season (ranked 30th most per playerprofiler.com).
It seems when defenses are able to stack the box, or even when facing better quality rush defenses, Lindsay isn’t as effective – and whilst he was able to ride the “unknown” tag for the majority of last season, once defenses figured him out, he became vulnerable.
Then there is the current wrist injury to think about. Off-season surgery and “no specific timetable for a return” raises questions to when Lindsay might return this off-season and therefore how much opportunity colleagues Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker will have to impress new head coach Vic Fangio.
The wrist, after all, is a vital body part for a running back, whether it be when clamping the ball during the carry, or to use as a stiff-arm, so it will take Lindsay a while to get up to full speed again.
The Upcoming Season
I don’t want to take too much away from him and his 2018 performances though, he was good, just watch the tape. But will he be able to replicate those eye-opening performances this coming season, especially if the last 3 games were anything to go by?
Photo Credit: Aaron Ontiveroz/Denver Post
Joe Flacco is in town after the Broncos decided Case Keenum’s $21million 2019 cap hit wasn’t worth it after a mediocre campaign last season. Flacco is renown for having a nice deep ball and when he has a decent plethora of receiving talent, he utilizes them. Since Ray Rice was booted off the Ravens’ roster, Flacco has only sustained one rusher over 1,000 yards, Justin Forsett in 2014.
Flacco does like to use the running backs in the passing game however, striking up a good rapport with Javorius Allen most recently but with Forsett and Rice in years passed. That doesn’t do much for Lindsay’s fantasy stock though. Lindsey was ranked #26 in receptions among RB’s last season with 35, two spots behind teammate Devontae Booker, and in the same company as players like Jacquizz Rodgers and Giovani Bernard.
Another potential spanner in the quest to repeat his impressive rookie numbers could be the want around Mile High to get Freeman more involved. Owner John Elway has said recently that he wants to see more of Royce this season and ultimately goes on to say that he wants to utilize them both equally in the rush and passing game. If that doesn’t scream “committee backfield”, then I don’t know what does.
Look, i’m not writing this article to tell you Phillip Lindsay is going to be a bust this season, as I don’t think he will be. But it seems the most common word associated with him in fantasy circles this season is ‘regression’, and that is the term I agree with.
Flacco’s use of his arm worries me, especially with the young talent they have in the receiving corps with Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and Noah Fant. Despite the Broncos having a young, talented team – in a division with big hitters such as Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers, i still think they will be playing from behind a fair amount this season which in itself takes away rushing opportunities.
The wrist injury scares me a little, but hopefully Lindsay can get back to full go during training camp and get himself reconciled with running the rock effectively.
Finally, the second-coming of Royce Freeman rings alarm bells for me towards Lindsay’s 2019 fantasy outlook. I think the new look Bronco’s offense is going to want to give every opportunity to Royce to prove he was worth the high draft capital spent on him, taking touches and opportunities that Lindsay had last year away from him.
These are the reason’s why I currently have the rookie sensation ranked just outside RB2 territory at RB28 (PPR). With a current ADP (average draft position) of RB21 in PPR leagues, i’m not a million miles off the public’s estimations but i’d defintely be hesitant to trust him as a week to week starter, but more as an flex upside option. Definitely a far cry from his RB13 finish last year.
Stat Projection – 892 rushing yards and 32 receptions for 225 yards with 8 total touchdowns
by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller