Every year about 256 collegiate football prospects are selected within seven rounds by the 32 NFL organizations in the annual NFL Draft. Every organization’s scouting and personnel departments are evaluating their information, and putting it all together towards hopefully selecting the potentially future building blocks of the franchise.
Although, 256 may seem like a gigantic pool of prospects to choose from, but somehow there always seems to be at least a few players following each draft that every organization miss-evaluates, or perhaps overlooks them for some apparent reason.
This year, there is one specific player that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for so long how the entire NFL passed on him last draft.
The Denver Broncos selected former Oregon RB Royce Freeman in the third round assuming he would immediately the franchise’s new lead-back. What they did not know was that found an absolute gem following the draft from their own home state, and that was when they signed RB Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent.
Denver ended up signing the first offensive undrafted rookie ever to be selected for a Pro Bowl and has even garnered some consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Lindsay, finished his rookie campaign with 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on 192 carries and another 241 yards and a touchdown on 35 catches.
“I am so blessed to be selected to my first Pro Bowl. It is a tremendous honor and I am so thankful to all of Broncos Country for supporting and believing in me this season,” – Phillip Lindsay
Lindsay passed the 1,000-yards rushing mark and became the third undrafted rookie to do it in his rookie season joining LeGarrette Blount (1,007 – 2010) and Dominic Rhodes (1,104 – 2001), according to NFL Research.
He finished tied for second in the NFL in yards per carry at 5.4, only trailing Green Bay’s Aaron Jones by 0.1 yards, even though Jones received 89 less carries. Heading into Week 14, Lindsay was averaging a whopping 6.1 yards per carry, but his average dropped considerably following the Week 13 injury to Emmanuel Sanders (Torn Achilles), allowing for defenses to stack the box.
Lindsay averaged more than seven yards per carry for three straight games this season and became the first player to accomplish that since Fred Taylor in 2007.
He also finished 9th in NFL in rushing with 1,042 yards on 192 carries. To put that into perspective on how impressive that is, he totaled 102 more yards than David Johnson despite having 66 less carries, and 159 more yards than Alvin Kamara with two less carries.
Lindsay started at the bottom of the Denver’s depth chart, but earned an increased role after a strong preseason, averaging his regular season avg. of 5.4 yards per carry.
Somehow though he did not receive an invite to the NFL combine and was not one of the 21 running backs drafted?
“The whole league made a mistake,” analyst Tony Romo said during the Broncos’ 24-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12.
So my question is how and why was Phillip Lindsay undrafted?
The majority of times when a prospect is extremely talented and goes undrafted, most likely there is some apparent reason behind why nobody selected him (typically physically or mentally concerning). In Lindsay’s case, I have absolutely no idea what was the effect behind every NFL team to pass on him.
“I’m proud to be undrafted and to be able to do the things I’ve done because it’s a slap in everybody’s face,” – Phillip Lindsay
I’m not saying I predicted Phillip Lindsay’s breakout rookie season nearly to this extent. Though, I am saying there has been and was no doubt in my mind Lindsay easily should have been at least a mid-late round draft pick.
I chose Lindsay as my “top undrafted rookie RB” in my pre-season rookie preview, with the assumption he’d be pretty comparable to a sort of player like Titans RB Dion Lewis, especially like how they used him in New England.
My Pre-Draft Scouting Report on Phillip Lindsay:
“Lindsay possesses a solid frame for his limited size along with elite athletic characteristics such as; great burst, energy, vision, footwork, instincts, pass protection, and consistently plays with toughness. He’s also been described by his college teammates and coaches to be a tremendous person and a trusted leader,“.
Now with that being said, what could have possibly impacted his draft value to the point of being undraftable?
Lets take a look into a few factors, and determine whether or not they could have possibly somehow impacted every single NFL team to pass on him?
Size has been associated as the biggest weakness NFL scouts associated with Phillip Lindsay at 5’8″ 190 lbs. While there is no “exact or specific” size requirement established to be able to perform as a RB in the NFL; unlike some other positions such as offensive or defensive tackles, edge pass rushers, quarterbacks, and tight ends.
For running backs, the size is more a “preferred or ideal” baseline, rather than a “set requirement” that teams are aiming for when drafting their potential future starting running back.
So the obvious fact here is that Lindsay would be considered “below average” compared to the average size of an NFL RB, or as compared to other top RB prospects which are more right around the average size of 5’11” 225 lbs. Lindsay may not be that “preferred” NFL size for a typical starter in the league, but why should that warrant all 32 teams to to solely pass on him for only that?
Typically a RB considered “undersized” are pretty much stereotyped from critics into only being labeled as a “change-of-pace” or “3rd down back”. Many scouts will believe they are extremely limited for that, and immediately begin to consider them just a “3rd down back” contributing mainly towards the passing game. Now, I do agree with that statement to some extent, but if you have a back that’s proved he’s capable of handling a large workload running between the tackles he’ll have a shot in the league.
A “change-of-pace back” typically are valued to be a mid-to-late round draft pick. Which to me is so ironic because their value should only be increasing every year, especially with how offense’s have transformed into more passing with incorporating the RB’s a whole lot more (McCaffrey broke the NFL record for most receptions by a RB in a single season).
If you may still firmly believe Lindsay was not selected for just his size limitations; here are three rookie RB’s whom with pretty much the exact same size whom were all selected…
The Colts selected Nyheim Hines (5’9″ 200 lbs.) and Falcons chose Ito Smith (5’9″ 195 lbs.) and they were both 4th round selections. Saints took Boston Scott (5’7″ 200 lbs.) from Louisiana Tech in the 6th round (currently on the Eagles practice squad), just exemplifying how there are multiple RB’s the same size as Lindsay that were drafted, and multiple RB’s every year are drafted with his size.
To transition from size, durability is a huge concern especially for a smaller RB, and by far arguably is the most crucial factor towards impacting any player in the draft’s stock value. Every team deeply analyzes every prospect’s past medical history, in addition to having a medical expert perform a physical to double check on any concerns.
Remaining healthy and avoiding any serious issues is obviously a huge concern, but especially with a RB that is below average in size. Scouts question whether or not he’d be able to remain durable surrounded by much bigger competition from defenses compared to college.
Phillip Lindsay at the University of Colorado played in 51 games over 30 starts, and he never missed one single game in his entire college career. It’s difficult to not select a player for durability concerns if he’s never even missed a game before in college.
So next question, whether or not there were are any limitations with his athletic ability? Anybody who has seen Lindsay play even just once could immediately determine that he possesses elite athletic traits.
Despite somehow not receiving an invitation to the NFL Combine, at his Pro Day at Colorado he ran an electrifying 40 Time of 4.39. Nyheim Hines (same size), was the only RB at the entire NFL Combine who tested a faster time than Lindsay (just 0.01 faster at 4.38).
There really never were any questions regarding Lindsay’s athleticism, which makes this factor completely invalid for that being why he was not selected.
Another factor for a RB to not be selected could have something to do with his actual performance on the field in college. He was highly productive to say the least, he is Colorado’s record holder for all-purpose yards (4,598), and ranks second all-time in rushing (3,635).
He was an explosive playmaker who played against some real tough Pac-12 defenses throughout his four-year career. Lindsay played 51 games in his four-year career, improving his total rushing yards each season, rushing for (391, 658, 1252, 1474) yards respectively each season. The past two seasons he had 16 and 14 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 5.1, 4.9 per carry.
The last thing that would possibly affect Lindsay’s value, is whether or not he’s able catch the ball. Being able to receive is a huge determining factor for a “change-of-pace” back’s draft value.
In his entire college career, Lindsay had a 117 total receptions, which translated into the NFL. He finished the season with 35 receptions, which was 3rd most for a rookie RB behind Saquon Barkley and Nyheim Hines.
When comparing him to other top RB prospects’ receiving stats, he was a lot more productive in the receiving game. Lindsay had more career receptions in his college career than; Saquon Barkley (102), Nyheim Hines (89), Royce Freeman (79), Sony Michel (64), Kerryon Johnson (55), Rashaad Penny (42), Ronald Jones (32), Nick Chubb (31).
Therefore, we could assume all we want on to why possibly could have been the reason(s) that contributed towards Lindsay not being selected. The fact of the matter is there were 21 running backs selected over him.
The only “weakness” that was consistently identified with Lindsay was his lack of size, and that would be a real shame if that was the sole reason every team passed on him.
To be honest, it’s actually insane that nobody drafted him and every organization should be ashamed that they all missed on him. How not one organization was able to identify Lindsay’s pure talent and potential of a running back that was capable of earning a Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
Although, I am questioning how no team drafted Phillip Lindsay, the people I firmly believe should be held the most accountable and to blame is the NFL Combine’s selection committee. This scouting committee puts together the invite list for the Combine is responsible in evaluating the potential talent pool of every potential draft prospect. Their goal is to invite the players within each position that have the best shot at being drafted, but also identify players who’s elite athletic traits that can extremely benefit from showcasing off their athletic ability on the biggest stage.
In my opinion, the fact that he was unable to showcase himself in-front of every NFL scout at the NFL Combine was the biggest impact in my opinion on why Lindsay was most likely undrafted.
There were other undrafted RB’s such as Quinton Flowers and Lavon Coleman who participated in the combine, there would be no doubt Lindsay would of extremely benefited if he tested at the Combine. If he ran anywhere near his 4.39 40-time, opposed to at his Pro Day where there’s plenty of less scouts, it would of grabbed everybody’s attention.
Therefore, every NFL organization, as well as the NFL Combine needs to take this Phillip Lindsay situation and mistake as a gigantic learning lesson. Never doubt or pass on a prospect solely cause he’s not the “ideal average size” for the position.
How would the game ever progress, if there were never any “Game-Changers” who flip the the course of the narrative on how things are “supposed to operate”?
“First, for me, it was not getting drafted, so I had to prove myself to get into the NFL. Now, I’m in the NFL. Now my whole thing is to show everybody that I’m the best rookie running back coming out and I didn’t even get drafted. So, shame on them.”
– Phillip Lindsay
Phillip Lindsay, I hope you keep continuing to prove everybody wrong…