Phillip Lindsay is just another 24-year-old Millennial living in his parents’ basement. Until Sunday, that is.
On Sundays, Lindsay transforms into one of the most electrifying players in the National Football League. Regardless of residential status.
The undrafted rookie from the University of Colorado is on his way to becoming a housebhold name as a running back with the Denver Broncos. Despite long odds and short measurables, Lindsay has been a revelation. Entering Week 15, he’s leading the AFC with 967 rushing yards on a robust 5.8 yards per attempt.
Lindsay should be a certainty for the Pro Bowl, becoming the first undrafted free-agent running back to ever earn the honor. He should also be garnering some consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year, an award never given to an UDFA since its inception in 1967.
The consensus mostly supports Saquon Barkley, the New York Giants’ second-overall pick. Barkley has been awesome, totaling 1,124 rushing yards and 1,753 yards from scrimmage with 13 total touchdowns. Still, Lindsay is fourth in the NFL in rushing yardage with a patchwork offensive line and little help in the passing game to lighten boxes.
“I view myself as a player trying to find his way in the NFL,” Lindsay said. “I view myself as a man trying to prove he’s one of the best running backs to play in the NFL. I do deserve to be in the Pro Bowl. Everybody is trying to hype up Saquon (Barkley) this and Saquon that. I feel disrespected.”
For Denver, Lindsay has been nothing short of a godsend. If Lindsay had it his way back in April, he would have been elsewhere.
In the NFL Draft’s immediate aftermath, the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans were both pursuing him and had murky situations behind their leading backs. Then there were the Tennessee Titans, who led Lindsay to believe they would select him. At the 11th hour, Tennessee told him he was too small at 5-foot-7 and 184 pounds.
Feeling jilted, the former senior captain for the Buffaloes was leaning toward Baltimore once the calls starting coming in.
“I wasn’t going to sign with (the Broncos) if it wasn’t for (agent Mike McCartney) and my mom,” Lindsay said. “I was mad at them. Usually when I make up my mind it it doesn’t change. But you only get 15 minutes to decide. My whole family is there trying to decide, and it gets quiet. My mother doesn’t say a lot, she observes, but when she says something it’s powerful and it’s usually the right thing to do.
“It got quiet for a second and she said, ‘Phil, you have to go to Denver.’ After talking to my agent and taking my mom’s advice, I decided to stay home.”
It was a bold choice. Beyond the aforementioned teams, the Atlanta, the Los Angeles Chargers and Indianapolis also showed interest. Denver seemed a tough place to make the roster, considering it already had Devontae Booker alongside 2018 draft picks Royce Freeman (third round) and David Williams (seventh).
Still, McCartney felt it was the right fit. The Broncos had power, but they lacked a runner who had speed and the ability to make someone miss in open space. Lindsay had plenty of both traits to offer.
After failing to receive an invite from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the diminutive back ran a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day in Boulder. It was a figure renowned private trainer Loren Landow helped him attain in the winter months. Landow, coincidentally, is now in his first year as a strength and conditioning coach with the Broncos.
By signing with Denver for three years and $1.725 million — and only $15,000 guaranteed — Lindsay continued a trend of staying close to home. A Denver native, the all-time leading rusher at South High School chose Colorado over offers from Utah and Colorado State. The choice was due in part to his ailing mother, Diane, who suffers from a chronic muscle disease.
In the same season his mother almost lost her foot to the illness, Lindsay’s life changed.
During his junior year in a home game against Arizona State, Lindsay’s play demanded McCartney’s attention. In a 40-16 romp, Lindsay sprinted in front of the home sideline on the first play of the third quarter for a 75-yard touchdown.
McCartney, the son of legendary Colorado coach, Bill McCartney, was sold. Following a senior year that saw Lindsay amass 1,474 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, McCartney signed him to his agency.
“As a sophomore I didn’t consider him because he was so small,” McCartney recalled. “His junior year he started and he was better, faster. I never questioned his toughness. … (The run against Arizona State) was it. I was done. I love this kid. I love everything about him.”
Once in Denver, it didn’t take the Broncos long to see his potential. Lindsay peaked interest at OTAs and minicamp, setting the stage for training camp.
At Engelwood for the summer, the longshot seized the moment. Instead of taking rotations with the other backups, Lindsay accidentally found himself in the midst of a first-team rep. It was his Welcome to the NFL moment.
“The first practice I was a slot receiver, and I don’t know why but I was with the 1s,” Lindsay said. “I don’t think I was supposed to be. I made a play against Brandon Marshall on a stop and go, and my first play in there I scored a 60-yard touchdown. The next day I did again.”
Denver’s initial plan was for Lindsay to be a core special teams contributor. He was supposed to play returner and gunner, potentially working his way onto the field as a situational back. Instead, the Broncos now have a star who can dominate a game.
These days, however, Lindsay is still living rent-free. He has upgraded some things around the house his mom wanted. Otherwise, little has changed at home from his days in high school and college.
Maybe soon the Millennial will finally move out and get the condo he’s eyeing once his pay-for-performance bonus kicks in.
Hopefully he’ll have some nice pictures from the Pro Bowl to hang on his walls.