Omitted from the combine invitation list and ignored in the NFL draft, Denver Broncos rookie running back Phillip Lindsay has gone from head-scratcher to head-turner.
“I remember the first couple of times I watched him five, six weeks ago on video, I had to get a flip card to figure out who he was,” Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Broncos star linebacker Von Miller knows the feeling. He recalled that when Lindsay first showed up, he was known simply by the No. 2 jersey he wore.
“When he was No. 2 running here in OTAs, nobody really knew who he was,” Miller said. “He was catching screens and passes all over the place. Then he got a little bit of success and he was the exact same guy. Hats off to Phillip for doing that. For being from Colorado, going to CU and having a whole town on your back, it can be tough. But he’s been the exact same guy.”
As in, the Broncos’ best offensive player.
When assessing the Broncos (4-6), whom the Steelers (7-2-1) visit this weekend , Tomlin started off not with Emmanuel Sanders or Case Keenum but with the former University of Colorado star he called “a great runner who is dangerous.”
On Friday, Lindsay said he appreciated the nod from Tomlin.
“It is an honor. But now I’ve got to go out and do it again,” Lindsay told The Associated Press. “In his case, it sucks for him because now it’s time for him to see what it’s about.”
Welcome, Mike Tomlin, to Phillip Lindsay’s told-you-so tour.
“I’m proud to be undrafted and to be able to do the things I’ve done because it’s a slap in everybody’s face,” Lindsay said. “But you know at some point in time you’ve got to get past that and you have to go for other things that have that chip, something else has to always feed you.
“First, for me, it was not getting drafted, so I had to prove myself to get into the NFL. Now, I’m in the NFL. Now my whole thing is to show everybody that I’m the best rookie running back coming out and I didn’t even get drafted. So, shame on them.”
Lindsay also uses the combine snub as his motivation.
“Oh yeah, it’s disrespectful. But it fueled my fire and got me here to where I am today,” Lindsay said.
On opening weekend, Lindsay’s 102 yards from scrimmage made him the third undrafted player — and first running back — in the common draft era (since 1967) to top 100 yards and score a touchdown in his NFL debut.
With fellow rookie Royce Freeman, a third-round pick out of Oregon, injured, Lindsay made his first start in Week 8 at Kansas City and rushed for the most yards (95) in team history by a rookie in his starting debut.
Lindsay is averaging 5.5 yards a carry and has rushed for 670 yards and five touchdowns, including two against the Chargers last week. He also has two dozen catches for 187 yards and a TD.
“I think you can stop wondering 11 games in,” Tomlin said. “I think he’s got a big enough body of work. He’s a guy to be reckoned with. Inside and out, he’s capable of making big runs.”
Lindsay has become so valuable on offense that the Broncos are using Devontae Booker to return kicks and River Cracraft to return punts even though Lindsay is the team’s best player at both.
What impresses Keenum is Lindsay’s upward trajectory even as defensive coordinators have begun scheming to stop him specifically: “I think for him to keep doing that is big time.”
“Obviously, it’s Week 12 and it’s not a fluke,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s a really good player. He’s a durable player and he makes plays every week.
“We’re lucky to have him — very lucky.”
Several teams reached out to Lindsay and his agent after he went undrafted, but the Broncos had a built-in advantage. The first player from the Broncos Futures Football program for middle schoolers to sign an NFL contract, Lindsay starred at Denver’s South High School before playing for the Buffaloes.
Lindsay said he wanted to stay close to home — or, rather, at his parents’ home.
“When you’re a college free agent, you’re not getting a lot of money,” Lindsay said. “So, you go somewhere else you damn near don’t have no money. But for me, I’m able to stay at home right now, save my money and be more comfortable. And it was just the best fit for me, a better fit for me all around.”
Source: The Associated Press