Can Phillip Lindsay break into the next level in 2020?

Phillip Lindsay is now partnered with an NFL veteran. The running attack in Denver has all the makings in 2020 to break into the next level.

“At the end of the day, there are only so many runs and passes that you can do.” This was Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay’s response when asked about bringing in Melvin Gordon to share touches this upcoming season. Lindsay, who has had a stellar start to his career, now finds himself partnered with one of the NFL’s veteran backs to help lead the Broncos ground game. If the running attack in Denver looked good last season, it’s got all the makings in 2020 to break into the next level.

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Phillip Lindsay and the Offensive Share Metric

Lindsay’s stat sheets can’t look much better. Back in 2018, his first year in the NFL, he rushed for 1,037 total yards and nine touchdowns — a performance that led to the Pro Bowl. He followed that up in 2019 with 1,011 rushing yards and seven more touchdowns to his resume.

But a deeper dive into those seasons using the OSM system helps to tell the story of just what kind of impact he has really been for the Broncos offense. For 2018, Lindsay had an overall season OSM grade of 15.18. Then, his 2019 OSM regressed down to 11.83.

The Offensive Share Metric (OSM) was created to provide a numerical scale to measure the overall value that an individual player provides to his offensive unit. A player with a higher OSM grade isn’t necessarily a higher skilled player, but they do create more offensive production for their team than a player with a lower OSM.

An 11.83 OSM grade for a running back in 2019 is fairly low. There were 48 running backs in the NFL last year that had enough stats to create an overall OSM grade; Lindsay’s OSM was the 33rd. This doesn’t mean that he’s any less talented, but it can be hard to say he created a huge amount of value to the offensive at key moments.

Phillip Lindsay 2020
Data Source: The BX Movement

A couple of weeks stand out as examples. In Week 2, Lindsay ended the day with a negative OSM grade of -0.74. A negative OSM means that the back was more of a detriment to the team that week than any actual value. Lindsay just couldn’t get anything working for him that week — only 2.77 yards per attempt, no touchdowns, only 30 receiving yards. And without a working run game, the offense can easily start to become more predictable. The Broncos lost to the Chicago Bears 14-16 that day.

Week 13 was another tough week for Lindsay. His OSM that week was a measly 1.69; again providing almost no value to his offense. In 17 attempts, he rushed for only 58 total yards and no touchdowns. The defense controlled him that week and he couldn’t seem to ever get going. 

Predictability and its impact on the Offensive Share Metric

Predictability is a real concern for running backs and can almost always be an unfortunate side affect for backs with lower OSM grades. On almost 17% of all his attempts last season, he was running up against 8+ defenders who knew he was coming. This is on the higher end of running backs in 2019.

Backs who do a better job against that kind of adversity will tend to add much more value to their offense. For comparison, Frank Gore in 2019 ran against 8+ defenders on nearly 40% of his snaps, one of the highest defended backs in the NFL. But because he’s able to continue to make plays, find gaps, and break tackles, creating more value for his offense, his overall OSM grade of 20.55 was the third highest in the league.

A 1000 yard season is a good season for any running back. But Lindsay largely struggled with consistency, which is a must-have for your leading back. He definitely had some high number games but just couldn’t seem to string these big performances together.

Phillip Lindsay in 2020

Lindsay is undoubtedly very talented. An undrafted rookie running back going for 1,000+ yards and making a Pro Bowl appearance in his first season, then following it up with another 1,000+ yards the very next season. Has that ever happened before?

The struggle is with consistency. He can be really on one week and then get completely shut down the next. But with the addition of Gordon, this should really bring an interesting piece to the puzzle. Their play styles compliment each other well — Lindsay has the speed and stamina of a young RB, Gordon has the strength and footwork of a powerhouse veteran.

Individually, I think both Lindsay and Gordon are good running backs. They both have shown what their potential can be and are performing at higher levels right now. But, what will make these guys great running backs, is being able to work together this season and play off of each other’s strengths. Both of these guys made the Pro Bowl in 2018. Maybe together they can get there again.