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'I just need to go build on this': Evaluating Phillip Lindsay's Year 2 performance

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With just under eight minutes to play in the Broncos' 2019 season finale, Phillip Lindsay took a handoff and broke free off right tackle.

By the time he was shoved out of bounds 8 yards later, he had elevated himself onto a pedestal where he stands alone in NFL history.

With the run, Lindsay became the first undrafted player in the league's history to begin his career with back-to-back seasons with 1,000 rushing yards.

"That's a hell of an accomplishment," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the Bronco's season-ending win. "It's also not a very good accomplishment for all the people that bypassed him in the draft."

Indeed, the Colorado product was not taken with any of the 256 selections in the 2018 NFL Draft.

President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway alluded to his oversight the following day as he addressed the media to end the season.

"As Vic said last night, there are 32 dumb-dumbs that didn't draft him and I was one of them," Elway said. "Thank God we talked him into coming here."

"I meant to say 31," Fangio chimed in.

Elway can hardly be faulted. Lindsay has made proving people wrong a routine over the last two seasons.

As a rookie, Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns and became the first undrafted offensive rookie to make a Pro Bowl. In his sophomore campaign, he nearly matched that output.

His 1,011 rushing yards in 2019 fell just short of his 2018 total, and he started all 16 games in 2019 as he added 32carries to his workload from the previous season.

He has still not fumbled over a combined 486 touches across the past two seasons.

"It's definitely been a lot tougher," Lindsay said of his season after Week 16. "They know about you, and it's a different scheme that we're in that you've got to adjust and adapt to. For me, I wanted to be able to showcase my toughness and me running in between the tackles and that I can carry a load. Everybody knows once I break I can be gone, but it's about the dirty yards. That stuff goes unnoticed, but that's what I want to work on. I'm able to do it because you've got nine in the box all the time. They're always looking at you. Our offensive line is doing a great job."

Lindsay's explosiveness did seem to trail off a bit, though not by much. His longest rush of the season was 40 yards — compared to 65 yards in 2018 — and he had 22 rushes of at least 10 yards after posting 30 such rushes as a rookie.

Lindsay, though, had six rushes of at least 25 yards in each of the last two seasons.

The second-year back's slight dip in production could stem from fullback Andy Janovich's absence. Janovich, who signed a three-year contract extension this season, played in just seven games this season as he dealt with a variety of injuries. In 2018, Janovich appeared in all 16 games.

Lindsay still found ways to make key plays throughout the season.

Among the most impressive:

  • A fourth-and-goal run from the 1-yard line against the Packers in Week 3. Lindsay fought off a pair of defensive linemen and lunged toward the end zone. Guard Dalton Risner did the rest, as he pulled Lindsay in for the score.
  • A 32-yard run against the Chargers in Week 5 with just over three minutes remaining that helped the Broncos take time off the clock in a one-score game. Lindsay then added a 13-yard run on third-and-14 later in the drive to move the Broncos within field-goal range. Brandon McManus made the kick to push Denver's lead to 20-10 and ensure the team's first win of the year.
  • A 16-yard run on second-and-9 in the fourth quarter of a one-score game against the Browns. Lindsay took the snap from the Wildcat formation, darted off the left edge and slid down in bounds after getting the first down. The run preserved a Broncos win.
  • A 12-yard run on first-and-10 from the Denver 45-yard line in a 17-17 game against the Chargers. Lindsay was hit and nearly tackled in the backfield by Joey Bosa, but he slipped out of a tackle and earned a crucial first down. The Broncos added a field goal on the drive to take the lead.
  • A 27-yard touchdown run against the Lions to give the Broncos a two-score lead with under seven minutes to play.

After a few weeks off to recover, Lindsay will turn his attention to Year 3 — and he expects more of himself when he returns for another year.

"I just need to go build on this," Lindsay said in late December. "I need to look at myself in the mirror and find ways to get better in the passing game, the blocking game, and the running game.

"I want to be an elite running back, and I want to be a top five running back in the league."

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