Can Phillip Lindsay Replicate His Fantasy Success?

Can Phillip Lindsay Replicate His Fantasy Success? article feature image

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30).

  • Phillip Lindsay took the NFL by storm as a rookie, finishing as the RB13 in PPR scoring.
  • Will he keep balling out for the Denver Broncos and fantasy football investors in 2019?

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Phillip Lindsay totaled 4,859 yards from scrimmage and scored 39 total touchdowns over four seasons at Colorado, but concerns about his size (5-foot-8 and 190 pounds) and athleticism (30th-percentile SPARQ-x score) ultimately held him back as a prospect. He wasn’t drafted in 2018, but managed to land spot with his hometown Broncos.

Fast forward to 2019 and Lindsay is suddenly one of the hottest commodities in the league. His breakout rookie season helped provide some excitement during an otherwise putrid campaign for the 2018 Broncos, and there’s hope that the best is still to come for the young back who turns 25 in late July.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Lindsay finds himself facing scrutiny from the fantasy community now that it’ll take an early-round pick to acquire his services in 2019. Let’s break down whether the second-year back is worthy of a high fantasy football investment.

Phillip Lindsay Was Historically Good for an Undrafted Rookie

The first thing we need to note is how rare Lindsay’s success was for a rookie. Running backs selected in the top-three rounds of the draft have usually been vastly superior fantasy football options as rookies, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Only four RBs drafted outside of the top-three rounds have posted a top-20 PPR season as a rookie over the past 10 years:

2012 Alfred Morris
2013 Zac Stacy
2016 Jordan Howard
2018 Phillip Lindsay

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 29, 2019

Alfred Morris (RB21) and Jordan Howard (RB15) were again productive fantasy assets during their second professional season, while Stacy (RB71) fell off the map. It’s worth noting that Lindsay is clearly the best pass-catcher of the group and thus holds an elevated fantasy floor.

Of course, Lindsay also maintains plenty of fantasy relevance thanks to his ability on the ground. His average of 5.4 yards per carry trailed only Kerryon Johnson (5.43) and Aaron Jones (5.47) among running backs with at least 100 carries in 2018.

Lindsay is the rare example of a punitive-sized back who still is effective as an inside runner.

There’s reason to believe Lindsay could continue to have a good relationship with his quarterback considering…

Joe Flacco Likes to Throw to His RBs

The Broncos’ decision to replace Case Keenum with Flacco might not be the biggest deal for their overall offense (more on that later), but it is good news for Lindsay’s volume as a receiver:

Ravens rank in total targets to RBs with Joe Flacco:

2008: 7th
2009: 1st
2010: 7th
2011: 3rd
2012: 8th
2013: 9th
2014: 13th
2015: 5th (during Flacco's 10 starts)
2016: 2nd
2017: T4th
2018: 9th (during Flacco's 9 starts)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 5, 2019

The Broncos finished last season tied for ninth in targets to running backs, so we shouldn’t expect much of a dip in target share to the position.

Lindsay finished the season with a respectable 227 touches (15th among all running backs), but was never gifted a three-down workload. The Broncos routinely made sure that Lindsay (42% snaps), Devontae Booker (29%) and Royce Freeman (29%) were involved in the game plan, and Booker ultimately out-targeted Lindsay 51 to 47.

New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has worked under Kyle Shanahan for the better part of past last four years with the Falcons and 49ers, so he’s certainly familiar with the art of deploying committee backfields. It would certainly behoove the Broncos to get Lindsay as involved as possible in the passing game…

…but all signs point to Lindsay continuing to share a large portion of the Broncos’ snaps and touches. Not helping matters is that it’s unclear whether Lindsay will be fully recovered from offseason wrist surgery by training camp.

The Broncos Offense Might Not Be Any Better in 2019

There isn’t much reason to believe Lindsay will receive an enhanced workload this season. Complicating matters is the potential that the Broncos aren’t as good offensively as they were in 2018.

It shouldn’t be hard to top the league’s 24th-ranked scoring offense from a year ago, but it’s hard to call Flacco an upgrade over Keenum based on the past half decade.

Joe Flacco was brilliant in leading the 2012 Ravens to a Super Bowl victory

Flacco's stats and ranks among 49 QBs with at least 16 starts in 2013-2018:
Adjusted yards per attempt: 6.04 (43rd)
TD Rate: 3.5% (38th)
QB Rating: 82.3 (39th)

Money earned: $124,000,000

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 13, 2019

Keenum posted better marks in yards per attempt (6.9 vs. 6.2), touchdown rate (3.5% vs. 3.1%) and quarterback rating (86 vs. 82.6) than Flacco over the past three seasons.

The Broncos’ offensive line is a bit of a mixed bag. Starting left guard Ron Leary is recovering from a torn Achilles, offseason addition Ja’Waun James shouldn’t be an assumed All Pro at right tackle, left tackle Garrett Bolles along with center Connor McGovern were underwhelming in 2018, and rookie right guard Dalton Risner was the 41st overall pick of the 2019 draft.

Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) could miss early portions of the season as he continues to recover, leaving very little proven talent in the Denver receiving corps. Courtland Sutton and 2019 first-round tight end Noah Fant have considerable upside, but they’re hardly sure things in an offense full of question marks.

Lindsay should be regarded in this same vein: Risky.

The Broncos have the potential look of a train wreck, and it’s never ideal to spend a high fantasy football draft pick on a potential committee back in one of the league’s worst offenses. Lindsay proved in 2018 that he’s still capable of providing fantasy value under those grotesque conditions, but that doesn’t mean we should assume it’ll happen again.

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