By CHAD JENSEN
(247 SPORTS) – Against all odds, Phillip Lindsay has become a bona-fide NFL sensation. The Denver Broncos’ undrafted rookie running back has been blowing minds with his prolific production and underdog story.
With nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage already (943) and seven combined touchdowns through 11 games, Lindsay is in the running for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, against the vaunted likes of No. 2 overall draft pick Saquon Barkley.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos, 24, Bengals, 10
Lindsay has a tremendous heart and an unlikely story replete with overcoming low odds and repeated obstacles. Most Broncos fans might not know that in high school, Lindsay broke his father’s all-time career rushing record in the Denver Public School District.
His father, Troy, wanted his son to break the record and the bittersweet irony is that on the same day Phillip broke it, he tore his ACL. But he didn’t fully realize his injury right away, and went on to rush for more than a 100 yards in the next game before finally getting it properly diagnosed. Insane heart.
That knee injury almost cost him a Division I scholarship. But Colorado believed in him and gave him an opportunity.
Fast forward to the end of the 2017 college football season, Lindsay is a red-shirt senior coming off two prolific seasons at Colorado in which he totaled nearly 3,000 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns from scrimmage. Surely he would receive an invite to the Scouting Combine where he could ply his wares for NFL teams?
In a recent interview on the Peter King Podcast, Lindsay shared his pre-draft story — the crushing disappointment, the hurt, the anger — what happened on Draft Day, and why he chose to sign with the Broncos. Spoiler: the reason he chose to sign in Denver is not the one you might think.
I’m going to break down Lindsay’s revelatory and candid interview and share my brief takeaways. Without further adieu..
ON NOT RECEIVING A COMBINE INVITITATION
“Going into it, I really didn’t pay that much attention to it,” Lindsay told King. “But I did think, ‘You know what, I was going to get a Combine invite’. I’m sitting here — I was leading the Pac12 — I think my last year or my junior year — one of those years. And I was among the top in college football for rushing for the past two years. So I thought, “Okay, I was going to get my opportunity at least’. At least I deserved that much. And when I didn’t get the call it was a slap in the fast. It was a disrespect.”
Takeaway: We’re beginning to get a feel for the size of that chip on Phillip Lindsay‘s shoulder. The story gets more inexplicable, however, and excruciating.
ON THE AGONY OF WATCHING OTHER RBS COMPETE AT COMBINE
“I was mad. I watched it because I wanted to see what the other running backs were doing. I wanted to see the other running backs — some of them I didn’t even know about. I didn’t have no clue about [them] and they had maybe 400 yards rushing and they were invited. And the only thing I could see that they had that I didn’t was the size. That’s the only thing I could see that was different. I used it as motivation. I worked my ass off to train for my Pro Day. My Pro Day was my Combine and I knew that.”
Takeaway: Lindsay’s Pro Day would be his one shot at garnering some NFL attention. He knocked it out of the park, showcasing his 4.3 speed and blowing minds in the drills. He knows he impressed a lot of scouts that day, which we’ll learn more about shortly.
THE ANGUISH AND ANXIETY OF DRAFT DAY
“That whole three days was hell. It really was. And it wasn’t hell just for me, it was hell for my family, because you’re sitting there waiting for a phone call. Every time you get a chance…and you knew the first round, you weren’t going to go in. You knew the second round, you weren’t going. When you get to the fifth, sixth, seventh round, that’s when you have to wait. So you’re waiting three days. You’re sitting there with your family and every time you get a phone call and its not the one, everybody gets nervous. Everybody gets nervous. Your nerves, you start to get angry, you start to get upset. You start to really…you want to cry. You want to cry because you’re seeing everybody go but not you and you want to know why. You want to know why people feel like you’re not good enough.”
Takeaway: I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that as a worthy and viable NFL prospect. The fact that Lindsay wasn’t invited to the Combine is bad enough, but to go undrafted after he produced at a prolific level at Colorado and impressed the scouts at his Pro Day, was a travesty.
DID DRAFT DAY LEAD TO TEARS?
“I’m not going to lie. I did. I was in the room with my father and I did cry. I did cry because I sat there and my family’s there and I’m looking at my family and they’re crying. They’re crying with me, because they know how bad I’ve worked for it and how much I wanted it. And how much they wanted it for me.”
Takeaway: We’re starting to really get a feel for the magnitude of the impact going undrafted had on Lindsay. He hurt. It made him angry and cut him to the core. I can’t imagine how devastating it would be.
DRAFT ENDS, HIS PHONE IMMEDIATELY BLOWS UP
“Both of us [agent] were handling calls. And I was confused. I was confused and I’m sitting here like, “Damn, all these teams want me. Almost all 32 teams wanted me but they couldn’t spend a seventh-round draft pick on me?’ They couldn’t spend one draft pick on me? But everybody wants to call my phone now. That’s how I was thinking. And I was angry. I was mad. My agent — we only had 15 minutes to decide. These teams were only giving us 15 minutes to decide where to go and I’m thinking, “Damn, this is where I’m going to be. This is where I have to try to make my living at.’ And for me, I haven’t ever been away from home like that! You got Baltimore who was probably my top [team] at the time. I haven’t ever been to Baltimore in my life. I would have to try to swindle some money up to try to live out there until I had made the team. And at the time, making the team was like, ‘Damn’. You don’t have a good chance at making the team.”
Takeaway: Lindsay liked Baltimore first. But there were drawbacks. The monetary realities of surviving until he could make the team were pressing. But he didn’t choose the Ravens. Growing up a Broncos fan, you’d think he’d be falling over himself to sign with Denver. Nope. We find out why next.
MIXED EMOTIONS WHEN THE BRONCOS CALL
“After the draft was done — I was angry too. You know, I was angry. And mainly I was angry with the Broncos — I’m not going to lie — at the time because I looked at them and they picked two running backs in front of me, but at the end of the day now are probably two of my best friends, which is funny. But we’ve been through a lot now. They picked a seventh-round pick that I thought maybe I was going to be that guy. And they picked him and then the Broncos called me saying that they want me. But by that time I was mad. I was like, ‘Nah. I don’t want to go here, [with] somebody who doesn’t want me’. And at that time, I’m sitting there like, ‘I don’t know where I want to go and I’ve got 15 minutes to decide’. My family is going crazy. My agent is trying to tell me what’s best for me. And I’m just running with a lot of emotion at that time.”
Takeaway: The story about the Broncos being a no-brainer for an undrafted rookie who grew up literally in the shadow of Mile High Stadium was a falsehood. Or at least, it was only a fraction of the story. Did Lindsay grow up a Broncos fan? Absolutely. But he also expected them to draft him, and when they didn’t — instead drafting two backs — it rankled his pride. That’s why Baltimore was at the top of his list at first. Thankfully for John Elway, someone in that room helped shift Lindsay’s perspective.
THE REAL REASON WHY HE CHOSE DENVER
“Through all that chaos — my mother — who just sits there. My mother’s a real quiet woman and she observes a lot of things and she gets a lot of feelings and a lot of times, when her feelings are right, you go with them. If it means, ‘Phil, you need to stay home tonight’, you stay home tonight because something ain’t right. So I’m sitting there, everybody’s going crazy, my family, we’re kind of arguing where I should go and it gets quiet. My mother kind of sits there and my mother looks around the room and she says, ‘Phil, you need to stay home. You need to go to the Denver Broncos’. And that right there was when I — my agent was pushing for me to go to Denver as well — and that right there, when I sat down, I had to let my emotions go and take my pride and put it to the side and I had to really think about it. At that time I had like five minutes left. And I called my agent and I said, ‘Let’s go with Denver’.
Takeaway: Phillip Lindsay is a Denver Bronco, in large part, because of a mother’s intuition. Its amazing that he would trust his mother so absolutely. The Broncos are lucky that Lindsay is also surprisingly mature for his age, and was able to put his pride aside and not make an emotional decision. Clearly, he chose the right team, as far as the roster math and situation went. It was a fortuitous situation to walk into as an undrafted rookie running back.
HOW HE MADE THE TEAM AS AN UNDRAFTED ROOKIE
“There’s a motto that [Broncos strength and conditioning] coach Loren Landow went by with us for Combine-prep training. And it was pretty much like ‘You’re still not s**t’. Even when you think you’re doing well, you’re not s**t. And I knew going in here I was at the bottom of the totem pole. I knew that I needed to prove myself the most out of everybody. And I knew that what I needed to do the most was be quiet, put my head down and just grind. And just grind. And when I got opportunities — because I knew at the time I wasn’t going to get a lot of opportunities. My agent told me, ‘You may get five plays the whole practice. But out of those five plays, make them all count’. So I knew going in there I had to make everything count.”
Takeaway: Before Lindsay arrived as a Bronco, he trained with Landow during the pre-draft process at Landow’s private facility. It was football serendipity that Landow would end up as the Broncos’ strength and conditioning coach. But Lindsay’s remarks give us a window into the mindset the driven undrafted rookie cultivated. As we know, it didn’t take long before Lindsay had Broncos’ veterans talking about him publicly in the press, a foreshadowing of things to come.
WHAT HIS FIRST NFL GAME WAS LIKE
“It was a surreal moment. I think my mother cried. Me, I was just numb. I was numb. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m sitting here and I’m just so happy to just be on the team. I’m thinking, ‘S**t, I might get maybe three, four special teams plays at gunner, if that’. So I’m just happy-go-lucky, I’m just happy to be on the team. And I’m just sitting there just taking everything in, embracing what I went through but I really can’t just get it through my head. I’m numb. I went through so much and I just don’t know how to express it.”
Takeaway: Lindsay overcame a mountain of obstacles to make it to Week 1 of the NFL regular season. Its understandable that he would feel “numb”. But even he had no idea he would receive the opportunity that he did that day against the Seahawks, scoring his first career touchdown and posting more than 100 scrimmage yards. Lindsay’s initial arrival on the playing field looked pretty from the outside, but as you’ll soon learn, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing on the inside.
KEENUM SAVES LINDSAY’S BUTT VS. OAKLAND
“It was a blur. The offensive line was doing a great job moving people. And honestly, it was my second game. You know, I’m getting the feel of things. I’m just out there playing, so I’m out there just making plays. And honestly to be thinking — I probably messed up on the majority of plays I got. I ran the wrong way a couple times. Case [Keenum] helped me out. Case bailed me out a couple times. And him being a vet and understanding my emotions, I ran the wrong way, he gets his hips around and he hands the ball off like nothing ever was wrong when I ran the wrong route. And nobody’s going to know but when I got to that sideline I got a lot said to me from my running back coach [Curtis Modkins] after that. It was a blur. But after the game I was able to thank my offensive line and just thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to do this.”
Takeaway: Lindsay is so electric, he makes everything look great with the ball in his hands. But were it not for Case Keenum steering him in the right direction, it could have ended differently for Lindsay — who was still competing hard with Royce Freeman for the No. 1 role. This story makes you realize why his teammates love Keenum. He takes bullets for them.
ON GETTING EJECTED IN BALTIMORE
“I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m just an emotional player. The thing is, I was going for the ball and I tried to punch it out and I ended up hitting somebody. And the ref seen it as me trying to hit somebody. I mean, I’m sitting here at 185 pounds. This guy’s like 300! Like, come on! You know what I mean? But there was just a lot of emotions going through that game.”
Takeaway: Lindsay really was trying to knock the ball out. He wasn’t trying to punch anyone, as the ref believed. The tape made it difficult to deduce exactly Lindsay’s intention, but its good to get clarification on it.
ON THE BRONCOS’ ROOKIE CLASS
“We have a great rookie class. And one thing I’ll tell you when you’re dealing with a lot of rookies, you’re dealing with kids, a bunch of young men that really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. So we don’t care. We go out there, we’re playing football just to play football. We’re out there playing. We don’t understand the rivalry of the Broncos and Oakland. We haven’t been around and in the NFL long enough to understand it like that. So we’re out there playing for each other and I think that helps you. That helps you because you’re not looking at the helmet, you’re not looking at the person that’s wearing it. You’re just playing football. That’s how I take it every game and that’s how our rookie class takes it every game.”
Takeaway: Lindsay’s not wrong. Denver’s rookie class has been absolutely magnificent this year. And he’s a big reason why. These young guys are just out there playing football, with no other agenda other than playing football and holding onto a job.
LINDSAY STILL LIVES ‘AT HOME’, DOES MOM HAVE CURFEW?
“Nah. I’m still a grown man. I’m a grown man. But they’re helping me out and I’m helping them out. It is what it is right now. I am going to get my own place at the end of the year. But until then, its about being smart. I’m an undrafted free agent, you’re making the minimum rookie salary, so you’ve got to be smart with it.”
Takeaway: As a 24-year-old fresh out of college, why not live at home? Lindsay is only making $485K this year on the undrafted rookie minimum, which is a lot of money to you and me, but in the grand scheme of life, its not that much. If it all went away for Lindsay tomorrow, the money he earns this year with the Broncos could serve as a nice little nest egg to set him up for the next thing in his life. That’s not going to happen, because he’s a budding NFL superstar. But it reveals the conservative mindset of a player still feeling like he has to fight and claw for every opportunity and each nickel he earns.