Let’s Not Bury Phillip Lindsay Just Yet (Fantasy Football)

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DirectTV, Dish Network, Sputnik….. Phillip Lindsay

We may see the next great satellite in 2020. If you want to leave this page because of that joke, I totally understand. 

The NFL landscape is changing drastically, but I’ve been arguing for a couple of years now that it’s already changed we just haven’t wanted to admit it. Running back committees are the new norm, it’s just a matter of how drastically each offense wants to deploy them. The Broncos are no exception as they’ve been utilizing two backs for two straight years now, but with an established leader. 

Phillip Lindsay came out of nowhere in 2018 and immediately established himself as an overlooked talent with something to prove. After back to back 1000 yard seasons and two top 20 fantasy finishes, he’s becoming a complete afterthought. There’s certainly a good reason for this narrative, but it would be a huge mistake to completely overlook him…..again. Melvin Gordon projects to be the lead dog in the Bronco offense, but it’s worth examining whether or not Lindsay can be a strong fantasy asset even if he’s delegated to satellite back duties. I’m going to take it one step further. I think Lindsay will be the 1B, with a much more even split than people think. 

The Case to Be Lead Dog 

Just hear me out before you throw your head back in disgust. Melvin Gordon has shown he can be a workhorse back. I’m not denying that. Just bear with me. 

Over the past two seasons, their performance has been shockingly similar and Lindsay actually edges Gordon on a per-game basis in nearly every category. Lindsay had a better YPC, more yards per game, a higher touchdown rate near the goal line, and was more efficient between the tackles. Gordon edged him in the touchdown department and saw more work in the passing game, but Lindsay handled passing work extremely well too. If we’re looking at it from a rushing perspective only, there’s an argument that Lindsay has been the better back in the past two seasons. He made the pro bowl in 2018 and had back to back 1000 yard seasons, while Gordon only has one total in his career. 

Let me be very clear: I do not think Phillip Lindsay will lead this team in rushing. I’m strictly making a case that Gordon may not be the workhorse he was in Los Angeles, because Lindsay has been exceptional, and Denver has shown us time and time again that they’re stubborn with their running back usage. If you’re expecting him to fall out of the picture completely or become a Duke Johnson type back, I think you’ll be in for a surprise. He’s consistent, talented, and efficient. He’s shown he can handle a lot of carries, and his statistics speak for themselves. But as we all know, one thing speaks louder: The Cash. 

The $16 Million Dollar Elephant in The Room 

The Broncos were aggressive in signing Gordon this offseason, handing him a two-year contract worth just over $16 million. For a running back in today’s NFL, this is about as aggressive as it gets. When we see players hold out for big money, it’s usually a frustrating process to watch before they land somewhere that will pay up. Le’Veon Bell looked like he wasn’t going to find a team for a bit there, but the Jets finally swooped in. Gordon was signed fairly quickly by Denver, and all signs point to a significant investment in the former Chargers ball carrier. 

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If this were any other team, I’d feel more confident that the contract all but guaranteed Gordon workhorse duties. The two main reasons there’s room for pause are Lindsay’s performance and the Broncos’ recent acquisition history. This is the same organization that gave Case Keenum $32 million, traded for Joe Flacco when he was ‘just entering his prime’, drafted Royce Freeman to be a backup, and ponied up almost $18 million for Menelik Watson who wasn’t even on the roster the next season. Their decision making is questionable at best, so it’s going to be up to Gordon to play his way into a workhorse role. That also means Lindsay would have to stumble. 

How to Approach the Broncos Backfield in Fantasy 

The lack of a preseason will be interesting for all positional competitions, but there should still be a training camp of some kind. Gordon is a superior back to Lindsay in most categories from a physical standpoint, and his contract suggests he will be the lead guy in Denver. Phillip Lindsay has been too good to leave on the bench, and Royce Freeman is a talented player who will see some snaps. It’s early in the 2020 season, but right now Lindsay appears to be a value in fantasy leagues. Royce Freeman was a player worth drafting last season, and Denver never fully committed to Lindsay as a workhorse.

I don’t expect them to commit to Gordon as a three-down back either, similar to the way the Chargers kept Ekeler on the field with consistency. The sad reality of the league is that three-down backs are incredibly rare, and they usually don’t extend to players with as much tread on their tires as Gordon. I expect to see something resembling a 55/35/10 split with Gordon as the 1A, Lindsay behind him, and Freeman on the field occasionally. Denver’s offensive line is solid, they upgraded in the pass-catching department, and Drew Lock has a chance to take a second-year leap. An improved offense should help all the players in this backfield. Phillip Lindsay is a pro bowl running back still in his prime who once led the NCAA in carries and outplayed Gordon straight up over the past two seasons. With an ADP in the back of the 9th round, he has value written all over him in 2020 fantasy drafts. He should be an autopick at his ADP for any team that needs flex spot depth. 

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