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Tape Don't Lie - Breaking Down Phillip Lindsay's Week 1 Performance


Hey y'all! Welcome to a new column here at RotoBaller, "Tape Don't Lie". Each week, I'll pick out one surprising fantasy football performance and break it down. What does the film show? How does that mesh with what the analytics say about that player? What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things?

This week, let's look at Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, who carried the ball 15 times for 71 yards on Sunday against the Seahawks while also adding two catches for 31 yards and a score. Does this suggest that Lindsay is going to have a sustained role with the Broncos this season?

Before I get into the analysis, here's a quick list of guys who were considered for this list with my ultimate reason for leaving them off: Kenny Stills (just four targets, plus he was already high on many people's lists), Ryan Fitzpatrick (his role over the remainder of the season kind of ends when Jameis Winston returns, right?), James Conner (I'm assuming Le'Veon Bell comes back at some point, which would obviously kill Conner's fantasy value, but even if he doesn't -- you don't need to see the film to know Conner should be universally rostered), and Phillip Dorsett (who a lot of our staff wanted me to cover, but who only 25 percent of people on the Twitter poll I put out chose). Alright, let's look at some Phillip Lindsay!

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Phillip Lindsay: Tape Don't Lie

Background Information

Since Lindsay is a rookie, we don't have NFL level advanced stats on his performance. Finding good information at the college level is a lot more difficult, but here are a few numbers from his time at Colorado:

The 5'7'' Lindsay's 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash puts him in the 92nd percentile of running backs. Linday's final two college years featured 3,476 yards from scrimmage and 32 touchdowns, with 30 of those scores coming in the rushing game. Lindsay averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his final season with Colorado. Looking at his opportunity rate -- the percentage of time that the offensive line at Colorado "did its job" for its running backs in terms of producing yardage for them via blocking and opening holes -- Lindsay's rate was 34.3 percent, with the team's opportunity rate as a whole being 36.9 percent, which ranked 84th in the FBS. Lindsay's line wasn't doing a great job at Colorado, which makes his numbers even more impressive. Coming to the Broncos isn't a huge step up for Lindsay from a blocking perspective, as last year Denver's offensive line was 18th in second level yards and 26th in open field yards. The line wasn't doing a great job of opening up the run game for the Broncos backs.

With all that in mind, let's turn to Denver's Week 1 game against the Seahawks and see what Lindsay did.

 
Phillip Lindsay's Game Tape

Lindsay was expected to take a backseat to Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker coming into the season, but his 17 touches on Sunday suggests otherwise. Overall, the snap counts for Denver's running backs broke down like this:

Player Snaps Taken Snap Percentage
Royce Freeman 29 39%
Phillip Lindsay 26 35%
Devontae Booker 19 26%

Lindsay also out-targeted Booker in the passing game, an important distinction since Booker entered the season with what was expected to be a near-monopoly on the passing game share. But Booker -- who ended up with just four total touches and 15 yards -- has already had his chance to make a mark on the Broncos offense. At this point, it looks like Freeman and Lindsay are on their way to forcing Booker out of the rotation.

Let's start by looking at the most obvious play from Lindsay -- his 29-yard touchdown catch.

This play, a fairly simple route out into the flats by Lindsay, is made possible by Seattle's defense not putting a man over in that space plus Lindsay's abilities to turn on the jets. The NFL's Next Gen Stats measured Lindsay as Denver's fastest ball carrier of the day, clocking his top speed at 19.53 miles per hour. Though I'm not 100 percent sure that was on this play, it would make the most sense if it was, as Lindsay had a ton of open field and was able to show off his burst. He does a good job recognizing the few obstacles in his way -- the sideline, a defender around the eight-yard line, and a defender coming up behind him as he passes the five -- to get the ball into the end zone.

Lindsay was especially effective on the left side of the field in this one. In addition to the touchdown, his other catch -- a two yarder -- was on that side of the field and his longest run of the day, a 14 yard run in fourth quarter, came on the left end. Here's that run:

Another play where Lindsay gets an opening on the left side and is able to use his speed to make something happen. He gets some really good downfield blocks on this to open up that space once he gets outside the numbers, but if he's just a hair slower on this one then he's getting tackled at the line of scrimmage.

Clearly, Phillip Lindsay can be a threat out in the open field. Most running backs in the upper echelons in regards to their foot speed have the ability to be threats in the open field. But can Lindsay do more than that? Can he run up the middle and take contact?

Let's see what his carry chart tells us about where he was running the ball on Sunday:

The first thing I notice here is that Lindsay isn't just taking pitches and heading toward the sidelines; instead, Lindsay only turned outside on around half of his carries, while Royce Freeman seemed more likely to be the back avoiding the middle of the field.

In fact, there's a three-play sequence in the second quarter where Lindsay runs up the middle each time to varying degrees of success. For the last film we look at here, let's see those plays in order.

First, Lindsay rushes for 11 yards up the middle:

Decent blocking here -- it looks like he gets about three yards downfield before the first defender sheds a block and starts to impede Lindsay's progress. Does a really good job at the end of the play of lowering his head and making the extra yardage happen.

Next, a five-yard run:

A much more crowded box here and some poor blocking means Lindsay has to create positive yardage all on his own here. He's able to shoot a tiny, tiny opening and turn that into five yards, a good example of how he's able to work up the middle but also showcase his speed. There's a moment in this clip where I'm not even sure where Lindsay is, as if he's turned into a ghost for a brief second and emerged two yards farther than my mind could fathom he'd be. He should have been down after a three yard gain, right? I see Barkevious Mingo come over to make the tackle and then Lindsay rolling forward. Great effort.

The last play? Here it is:

Oh, yikes. The run blocking breaks down for Denver and Lindsay isn't able to go anywhere. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that Lindsay's size could cause issues in situations like this, where he isn't able to build up any speed first and is left staring at a wall of defenders.

 
Final Thoughts

There was a ton to like about Lindsay's Week 1 performance. He's an incredibly quick runner who's able to get to the edge and turn up the field, he can catch passes out of the backfield, and he's displayed an encouraging ability to make positive yardage happen in the middle of the field. The team's willingness to give Lindsay touches down the stretch -- he carried the ball seven times in the fourth quarter while Freeman had four fourth-quarter carries, all on one series -- suggests that they already trust the rookie.

This backfield should become less crowded as the season wears on. With Freeman and Lindsay both capable of toting the ball and Lindsay showing immense promise as a receiver, Devontae Booker should see his snap count decrease as 2018 continues. That leaves you with a two-headed committee on a Broncos offense that's looking suspiciously like the Vikings last year after Dalvin Cook went down -- Case Keenum at quarterback, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders filling the roles that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen held, and the possibility of a Lindsay/Freeman backfield that looks a little like the Jerick McKinnon/Latavious Murray backfield last season.

In terms of fantasy relevance, Lindsay should be added in 12-team leagues. He's likely to have some growing pains during his rookie year, but barring injury I wouldn't expect to see either him or Freeman become a bell-cow back for the Broncos. Lindsay should continue to flash the occasional big play while also handling between 10 and 15 carries per game. I really like his upside in this offense, but the team has a lot of offensive weapons, which lowers Lindsay's ability to see too much action in the passing game. Don't expect more than a handful of targets each game.

 

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