ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — “My name’s Phillip Lindsay, I went to the University of Colorado, and I’m from Colorado.”
In three succinct statements, Phillip Lindsay introduced himself to the Denver Broncos in a high-pitched voice over the offseason, much to the joy of his veteran teammates, who would go on to impersonate the diminutive running back throughout the season.
“I was kind of nervous,” Lindsay admitted Dec. 2, minutes after the Broncos defeated the Bengals.
These days, though, he needs no introduction.
Maybe it’s the locks of curly hair that tumble out of his helmet or his unbound enthusiasm and fiery personality on the field.
But in all likelihood, it’s the 1,037 rushing yards, 10 total touchdowns and first-ever Pro Bowl selection by an undrafted offensive rookie.
By now, not only do his own teammates know and respect Phillip Lindsay, but the entire NFL does, too.
The all-time leader in several categories at the University of Colorado, Lindsay has a story that is well-known by now. He didn’t get an invitation to the NFL Combine and responded with a 4.39 40-yard dash and a 35.5-inch vertical leap at his Pro Day, numbers that would have been among the best at his position at the Combine.
With those numbers and the production to back it up, he expected to be drafted, just as he had expected to be at the Combine.
After nearly deciding to head to Baltimore as an undrafted free agent, Lindsay — with the help of his mother — decided to stay home and play for the team he had cheered for growing up. If things didn’t work out, at least he would still be close to home.
But as Lindsay said on Dec.6, “So far, I’d say it’s worked out.”
The Broncos would certainly agree.
“You can look at it statistically and see what he’s meant to the offense,” Case Keenum said on Dec. 26. “But more than that, beyond the numbers, he’s the spark that gets us going. He’s been really good in all areas of the game. I really appreciate what he’s done as an undrafted free agent rookie.”
Similar praise rolled in from all of his teammates throughout the season.
It came from Garett Bolles, who played against Lindsay when the two were in college: “I can’t even put it into words how proud I am of him and his leadership, his demeanor and his attitude every single day — coming in here to work and him putting in the work... . He just goes out there and does what he needs to do. He deserves the world. That kid is going to be special in this league for a long time.”
It came from Shelby Harris, who had trouble chasing down Lindsay from the start: “He’s Colorado-born, and he’s a Bronco, born and raised. I remember just from the beginning of OTAs I was like, ‘This little dude has got some juice.’ He’s definitely surprised a lot of people, but no one in this building, because everyone knew what he could do. He surprised a lot of people and I’m happy for him, but he still has a lot more to go. He still has a lot more potential that he can get.”
The praise didn’t just come from teammates, though. It came from opposing coaches as well.
“There are a lot of different ways to get to the NFL, and the only thing that matters is when you get to the organization that you’re given an opportunity,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said on Oct. 30. “It’s what you do with that opportunity, and obviously Lindsay’s done a great job. He runs hard, and he’s a very difficult guy to tackle.”
Lindsay came to the Broncos buried on the depth chart. He made his first impressions not on offense but on special teams. At that point, he was wearing the No. 2, and he was able to contribute both in coverage and in the return game.
Making an impact on offense, at that point, wasn’t the way to the roster, even after he scored a touchdown in the preseason opener and adding another 32 yards the following game.
“Special teams is what I have to make sure I am executing on,” Lindsay said following the second preseason game. “I think I did some good things on special teams during certain parts, but I also need to go and clean up some more things. I really need to focus on that.”
But Lindsay’s talent on offense was obvious. After recording 49 yards in the third preseason game and getting extensive playing time with the starters, Lindsay had shown he belonged. Like most starters and key players, he sat out the fourth preseason game.
In a matter of months, he had gone from missing the combine and going undrafted to hoping his special teams work would pave a path to an NFL roster to becoming a vital cog in Denver’s offense.
“The grit that he has, the way that he plays, I wish we had 53 guys like that,” President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway told 9NEWS at halftime of the fourth preseason game.
It was easy to see why Elway said what he did. After accruing 102 total yards in Week 1, Lindsay added 111 in Week 2, becoming the first undrafted rookie to eclipse 100 total yards in each of his first two games. Later in the year, he’d power a three-game winning streak over the Chargers, Steelers and Bengals with three 100-plus-yard efforts.
After receiving the game ball for a career-high 157 rushing yards in Cincinnati, Lindsay instead gave it to the offensive line.
“I don’t like that attention,” Lindsay said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the team. That’s how it’s always been in my life. When you have family, and you’re in the middle of two older sisters and two younger brothers, it’s about them. It’s about your family. That’s what it’s about.”
In a magical season for Lindsay as an individual, it always came back to the team aspect. The mindset he had when he was chasing down opposing kick returners is the same mindset he had as he chased down history, becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl.
“I’ll tell you what about Phillip, he’s the same exact guy that he was when he first got here,” Von Miller said Dec. 27. “When he was No. 2 running around here in OTAs, nobody really knew who he was. He was catching screens and passes all over the place. Then he got a little bit of success and he was the same exact guy. Hats off to Phillip for doing that. For being from Colorado, going to CU and having the whole town on your back, it can be tough, but he’s been the exact same guy. Hats off to Phillip. He’s still got a lot more to go. To keep his head down and to keep going, for him to be able to do that, it shows the type of person that he is.”
Going into this year, hardly anyone outside Colorado knew who Phillip Lindsay was.
Next year, he will need no introduction.