Phillip Lindsay is a generational talent.
Yes, Broncos fans have been “oohed” and “awed” by him all year long. His incredible speed, his lightning-fast quickness, his superb vision. But, he’s not just great, he’s all-time great.
“The guy is the guy,” teammate, linebacker Brandon Marshall said of Lindsay on The Afternoon Drive this week. “His vision is amazing. His speed through the hole, his cuts, his confidence. He’s everything you want in a running back.”
“His vision and his patience is amazing. Once he sees it, he hits it. It’s over,” Marshall explained.
Conventional stats show he’s been undoubtedly one of the best running backs in the NFL this year; Lindsay’s 937 yards is fourth, his 8 touchdowns are tied for sixth and his 6.1 yards per carry are No. 1 the NFL. But, thanks to advanced stats, we can see just how dominant Lindsay has been for the Denver Broncos as only a rookie.
1. Yards gained before contact – At 3.68 yards before contact, Lindsay isn’t just the best in the NFL in that statistic this year, he’s the best since they’ve been tracking it, going back to 2006.
Phillip Lindsay has averaged 3.68 yards before contact per carry this year, which is not just the best mark this season, it's on pace to be the best mark that we've ever seen. #BroncosCountry
— PFF DEN Broncos (@PFF_Broncos) December 5, 2018
Part of the reason he’s able to run so far before being hit is his undeniably brave running style. Lindsay accelerates and hits the hole with a reckless abandon, gaining speed in the backfield and running through the line before defenders even have a chance to react. Of course, his vision also leads to this; Lindsay can dissect where to run in a split-second, finding the path of least resistance and taking off for a big play.
Like, for instance, the 65-yard run to the house against Cincinnati. Or, the 32-yard scamper in the win over Pittsburgh, in which he hit 21.91 miles per hour.
2. EPA/play and success rate – This is advanced as statistics get. Basically, EPA stands for “Expected Points Added” and Lindsay, as you can see, is on the top of the list (top right corner).
Rushing EPA/play & success rate. Cook had a good game on Sunday but still hasn't escaped from the dungeon.
Phillip Lindsay is a generational talent pic.twitter.com/SCoSy3SrtA
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) December 5, 2018
EPA factors in not just how the play finished, but takes into account where the play occurred on the field, the down and distance and more. For instance: A 3rd and 5 from midfield has an EPA of 2.1, while a 3rd and 5 from a team’s own 5 yard line has an EPA of -2.1. The plus/negative tells you how expected a play is to score.
What does it mean in regarding Lindsay? Well, take his 65-yard touchdown run outside against the Bengals last week for an example. Because it came on the Broncos’ 35 yard line, the EPA is just below 1.0; not that likely he’ll score. But, because he was able take the ball all the way down the field and across the goal line, that really boosted his personal EPA.
3. Speed – As mentioned earlier, Lindsay is one of the fastest players in the NFL. In fact, his 32-yard run against the Steelers was, for a few days, the fastest play in the league this year, but the NFL’s “next gen stats” changed it.
Still, 21.91 miles per hour is the same speed as a brown bear, and faster than a roadrunner (19.9 MPH). Usain Bolt’s 29.55 MPH is the fastest a human’s ever been recorded running, so that also puts this into perspective. Lindsay’s only 5’8″ tall — Bolt’s legs are much longer — and Lindsay’s wearing full pads and a helmet while making that run, which is even more incredible.
As an undrafted free agent coming out of the University of Colorado, Lindsay’s been the feel-good story of the year in the NFL. Not only is he an underdog, but his humble attitude makes him easy to root for, whether you’re a Broncos fan or not.
Lindsay and the Broncos (6-6) face the San Francisco 49ers (2-10) this Sunday in California with Denver’s playoff lives on the line. The game kicks off at 2:05 p.m. MT.