In our game there isn’t much we like more than an unheralded rookie emerging from the darkness. Denver Broncos Running Back Phillip Lindsay did just that in his Week 1 performance vs. the Seahawks. He rumbled for 71 yards on 15 carries and added a 29 yard receiving touchdown for good measure. He parlayed that performance into becoming our game’s most added player leading into Week 2. Unfortunately, this story has been told before and as great as it makes us feel in the moment it’s not going to lead to more good feelings in the future.
There are stories in mid-September every year about a player like Lindsay. These are the types of stories football fans naturally gravitate towards; the after-thought that defies the odds to become a star on Sunday. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason he did what he did in his debut. He got lost within one of the best running back drafts in the modern era whereas had he been available in a different year he would have garnered more attention. He grew up in Denver, went to school up the road at Colorado, and been a meaningful part of the run game for four years – starting the final two. I could get into a scouting report, but this is one of those cases in which the stats year-over-year really tell the story:
2014 – 79 carries 391 yards (4.9 average), 14 catches 118 yards (8.4 average)
2015 – 140 carries 653 yards (4.7 average), 26 catches 211 yards (8.1 average), 7 touchdowns
2016 – 244 carries 1,252 yards (5.1 average), 53 catches 493 yards (9.3 average), 17 touchdowns
2017 – 301 carries 1,474 yards (4.9 average), 23 catches 257 yards (11.2 average), 15 touchdowns
His role was expanded each year and the result was equal or great efficiency. He should have been a more valuable commodity in the pre-draft process, but due to the quality of alternatives and his stature (5’8, 190 pounds) he got lost in the muck. That’s the problem with a fantasy stock like this one though. What this player did Week 1 is quite simply not sustainable and it has more to do with circumstance than his own skill. We have seen this story before and actually saw something very similar just one year ago.
This time last year the hot name was Tarik Cohen and who could blame anyone for being captivated by him? A day three rookie draft pick from North Carolina AT&T who gets targeted 12 times in his debut on his way to accumulating 113 total yards and a highlight reel touchdown. After that performance he not surprisingly became the hottest pick up entering Week 2. Unfortunately this was the high point of the story in 2017 as he would average less than four targets per game and was limited to less than 10 touches in nine of the Bears final 15 contests. An exciting player and a great Week 1 story? Absolutely, but that’s not necessarily an asset in our game. He was never seen as a 15+ touch per game player at his size (5’6 180) and given the alternatives at the team’s disposal. Barring injury to Royce Freeman a similar fate awaits Lindsay.
In today’s game 72 snaps is not an unusually high amount and the Broncos Week 1 game against the Seahawks was certainly not a blowout (Denver won 27-24). Lindsay’s usage within the game flow was rather fortunate for him though. In the first half Freeman opened each of the team’s first five drives with Lindsay coming in to spell him. The timing was just right for him on drive #3 as that resulted in his touchdown for the day. This theme was consistent through the duration of the game as Lindsay only opened two drives, so he was reliant on drive sustainability to get on the field and ultimately his touches. Additionally, the Seahawks K.J. Wright missed the opener and in his stead was another great rookie story – Shaqueem Griffin. While there are some mainstays littered throughout the Seahawks defense they are certainly amidst a rebuilding phase and this match up was exploited with the Broncos running back tandem Week 1. This is a big reason why Broncos running backs were on the receiving end of more than half of the team’s snaps in this match up.
Unfortunately for Lindsay’s case I do not expect this to be the case many more times this season and most importantly predicting it in advance will result in more failure than success. Ultimately, like Cohen this time last year, this 17 touch output will likely be Lindsay’s high point of the season. There will be other double digit touch opportunities, but anticipating them in advance will be an exercise in futility. Treating him like Cohen last year, while not fun, is the correct approach. As long as Freeman is healthy he’s just not going to be a reliable nor quality start.
This week’s Flavor of the Week is: Take-Out Tacos.
That great feeling in the moment I mentioned in the opening? About one time per year you get a craving for take-out tacos and just have to have them. Maybe it isn’t tacos for you, but it is for me and you have your vice too. Regardless of your weakness, about 12-18 hours after you remember why you hadn’t had them in almost a year. Your day spirals into a sea of indigestion and regret and you ask yourself what was I thinking when I placed that order. That order in this case is Broncos Running Back Phillip Lindsay.