By Kalle Sorbo
Undrafted. It’s a word that follows players in the NFL whether it should or not. Some of the best stories in the NFL are undrafted free agents out of college. Everyone is wondering who the next Case Keenum, Tony Romo or Malcom Butler is going to be
But the reality for most players who go undrafted is far different. Most undrafted free agents do what they can to shine in training camp and the pre-season and then sweat out cut day hoping to make an NFL roster as a backup and a special teams contributor. But the unfortunate reality for most undrafted players is that they are cut when teams have to trim their rosters from 90 players to 53. For one undrafted free agent out of Colorado, that won’t be the case.
Phillip Lindsay is a running back for the Denver Broncos. He entered training camp like any other undrafted free agent. He was getting his reps with the third and fourth string and trying to make an impression. He did his work trying to get noticed, and then went home. Only Lindsay actually went home, to his parents’ house. He’s a Denver kid, which made training camp that much more important to him.
Phillip Lindsay is a Colorado kid through and through. He graduated from Denver South High School and spent his college career playing for The University of Colorado at Boulder. He is undersized and was under recruited out of high school. He had two straight 1200+ yard seasons to finish his college career, and holds CU’s all-purpose yards and yards from scrimmage record. His senior year he finished 9th among all Division 1 FBS players with 1,474 yards. He was All-Pac 12 and a semi finalist for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back.
Despite all of this, he wasn’t even invited to the NFL scouting combine, and even when he did eventually sign with the Denver Broncos, he faced an uphill battle.
The Broncos had just released a 1,000 yard rusher in CJ Anderson and were looking for a young long-term answer at the position. Because of this, the team had spent significant draft capital in the last three years on the running back position. Phillip Lindsay was fighting for a roster spot against guys that weren’t tagged with the scarlet letter of the NFL. They weren’t undrafted.
Why was a guy who was so productive at the college level not even invited to the combine? Why was he not even given the opportunity to show off his skillset? It’s the same reason he only had one Division 1 offer out of high school, despite setting the Denver Public Schools career rushing record. He is 5 feet 8 inches tall and 190 pounds. He was undersized for collegiate play, let alone the NFL. But this was all something Lindsay was used to. Lindsay was determined to make the 53-man roster.
Only 16 players have played at the high school, college and NFL level in the state of Colorado. Lindsay will be the 17th. But he’ll be the first to do so consecutively, South High School to the University of Colorado straight to the Denver Broncos.
The best part is it isn’t just a good hometown story for those of us from Colorado. The kid can play.
“I think what No. 2 (Lindsay) has done has been real. It’s not a fluff story. Again, he’s done it on offense and on special teams. What he’s done hasn’t been just because he’s a local kid. He has earned his right to be here,” ead coach Vance Joseph said following Tuesday’s practice.
Lindsay entered training camp taking reps with the third and fourth string players. He was fortunate enough to be in a camp where the Broncos had an open competition at the running back position. Lindsay took full advantage. He showed good vision in OTA’s, but he was really waiting for the pads to come on. Before long, Lindsay made such a good impression that he started getting reps with the first team offense. Then when the pre-season started, it was all over.
The first week of the pre-season, Lindsay opened with a bang, scoring on a 19-yard reception. He followed up the next week with 32 yards on six rushing attempts. The third week of the pre-season, often considered the “dress rehearsal” for NFL teams, Lindsay ran for 31 yards on five rushing attempts and had an 18-yard reception from Case Keenum. But what is more telling than those numbers is that they came with the first team offense. Lindsay was part of the Broncos game plan.
Yet there it was again, that nasty word that had followed Lindsay since the start of training camp: undrafted. In the week preparing for the fourth and final game of the pre-season, Lindsey’s name was still on the bubble in most media coverage, and Lindsay, like every other UFA, was getting ready to play for his football life against the Arizona Cardinals.
Game time came Thursday night and Phillip Lindsay was dressed and warming up for the game like he had hundreds of times since he was a kid when someone tapped him on the shoulder pads and informed him that he wasn’t playing. There it was. Lindsay was a lock to make the roster. So much so that the Broncos didn’t want to risk him getting hurt or showing too much of his game in the fourth pre-season game. Lindsey had made it.
Denver Broncos GM John Elway put it best.
“We liked him a lot at CU. The grit that he has, the way that he plays, I wish we had 53 guys like that,” Elway told 9news during the games telecast.
Phillip Lindsay had been counted out one too many times in his life, and he wasn’t going to let it happen again. He may be undersized, but he has an oversized will and work ethic to finish whatever he needs to be done. Don’t just expect Lindsay to make the roster: expect him to make an impact.
The Broncos have several other key contributors that began their career as Undrafted Free Agents. Notably, quarterback Case Keenum, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. Phillip Lindsay has been wearing No. 2 during the pre-season, which is not a legal number for a running back to wear during the regular season. Expect Lindsay to be wearing a new number and making his regular season NFL debut Sunday, Sept. 9 at 3:25 p.m. (CST) against the Seattle Seahawks at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.