The Denver Broncos chose to move on from running back Phillip Lindsay this offseason. An undrafted free agent out of Colorado in 2018, Lindsay constantly proved doubters wrong in the NFL. He wasn’t supposed to be as successful as he was, but Lindsay was a Pro Bowl back as a rookie and turned in a fine second season as well.
Things fell apart for him due to injuries in 2020, and the Broncos added Melvin Gordon last year to be their lead back. He was a restricted free agent entering 2021, and the Broncos chose to give him an original-round tender. That was essentially a slap in the face of the former back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher. Lindsay was unhappy with that, so the two sides mutually agreed to part ways and he was now an unrestricted free agent who could sign anywhere.
It didn’t take long for Lindsay to find a new home with the Houston Texans. Ready to prove doubters wrong once again, Lindsay looked to be a key piece for their offense. Now, with other additions to the backfield, Lindsay may be on the outs.
Aaron Reiss, Texans beat reporter from The Athletic, speculates that Lindsay may be on the roster bubble in training camp.
Regarding the Texans' crowded backfield: Rex Burkhead offers value on special teams. Ingram + Lindsay, on the other hand, have played ~100 ST snaps combined. Ingram hasn't played on STs since 2013.
Ingram and Lindsay are competing for one spot, IMO.
— Aaron Reiss (@aaronjreiss) June 2, 2021
If released by Houston, could Lindsay return to Denver? Let’s take a look.
Texans Jam-Packed RB Room
The idea that the Texans could move on from Lindsay is a bit preposterous. But when looking at their depth chart at the running back position, one can see how things are cramped. They have David Johnson as their starter, and when he’s healthy he can be a fine all-purpose back who can thrive as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. A former wide receiver, Johnson had some great production during his time with the Cardinals. With the Texans, Johnson has mostly been banged up and not as effective as he used to be.
— David Johnson (@DavidJohnson31) June 10, 2021
About a week before they signed Lindsay, the Texans signed former Ravens/Saints running back Mark Ingram. Like Lindsay, Ingram is a former 1,000-yard rusher who has carried a large workload in the past. It’s been years since Ingram was catching 40-50 passes per season, but he’s got that in his work history, as well. Ingram commented back in April that he’s not sure what his role is going to be with the Texans in 2021. He’s clearly a part of the committee and may be the player the Texans choose to keep instead of Lindsay.
In addition to Ingram, things really got cramped in the backfield when the Texans added Rex Burkhead in early June. Burkhead has been a long-time Swiss Army knife running back who can line up all over the field. He’ll do whatever as a blocker, runner and receiver to make plays for his team and showed that during stints with the Patriots and Bengals. Burkhead does not have as much production in is history as Johnson, Ingram or Lindsay but he is a do-it-all player who should be a lock for the 53-man roster if he can stay healthy.
The Broncos have a talented backfield, and rookie Javonte Williams can eventually be one of the best running backs in the game. He was my No. 1 running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, and I think the Broncos got a tremendous value when they selected him near the top of the second round. Williams will compete with Gordon for the top spot on the depth chart, and it may not be that long before he takes over.
Williams is your classic banger as a running back, and he’s tough to bring down due to his power and intent as a runner. He’s sound in pass protection, and Williams can be a capable receiver out of the backfield. I’ve compared his game to that of Nick Chubb (Browns) and NFL.com compared Williams to Ingram in terms of skill set. Either way, Williams is incredibly talented and should be able to make an impact in the pros from day one.
RB1 JAVONTE WILLIAMS
Welcome to Denver
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 30, 2021
Behind Williams and Gordon, the Broncos still have Royce Freeman. A third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Freeman was supposed to be the Broncos lead back – not Lindsay – after they moved on from C.J. Anderson. Instead, Lindsay took the job and ran with it and Freeman seemed to lose confidence as a runner. I still believe he has talent, but a change of scenery is probably best for him. He won’t get much work with Williams and Gordon above him on the depth chart.
Mike Boone was signed in free agency earlier this year, in a move that basically prompted Lindsay and the Broncos to part ways. Boone has flashed just a bit as a runner when given an opportunity with the Vikings, but he’s mainly here to be a special teams player – something the team did not trust Lindsay to do.
Way down the depth chart, LeVante Bellamy brings a Lindsay-like skill set to the football field. Bellamy is not as talented as Lindsay, but he’s a smaller back who does not hesitate to run inside and has quickness to make defenders miss in close quarters. Damrea Crockett is a huge power option for the Broncos who should struggle to make the 53-man roster but might find a home on the team’s practice squad.
If everyone is healthy in Denver, there’s not much room for additional talent.
At the end of the day, a player is going to go where he’s wanted, but would Lindsay come back to Denver after the way things ended? I’m sure Lindsay is not happy with the way things ended here. The Broncos were less than truthful to him multiple times during his career in Denver.
First, they said they would draft him. Then, they selected David Williams – such a deep call that he was my No. 60 running back in 2018 whereas Lindsay was my No. 10 running back for that draft. Second, former general manager John Elway said he would take a look at Lindsay’s contract – only to not give him a new deal after back-to-back 1,000-yard season. Finally, the team professed how much they liked his game, but the new regime felt comfortable enough to put an original round tender on him.
He’s never stated it publicly, but I’d guess Lindsay is ticked off about how he was treated by the former and current regime running the Broncos.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) June 2, 2021
I doubt if Lindsay is let go by the Texans. This was a fun exercise to look at the “what if?” of this scenario but I find it to be folly in the end.
Would he consider a move back to Denver if he could? I’m sure of it. Would the Broncos welcome him back? That’s a question I can’t answer.
For Reiss, or anyone else covering the Texans, here is a piece of advice – don’t ever underestimate Phillip Lindsay.
- Broncos QB battle comes down to one specific skill set
- How will Russell Westbrook landing with the Lakers affect the Nuggets?
- Clayton: As other teams reel from COVID positives, Broncos in good shape
- In Hyland, Nuggets add a "talented shooter and energetic player"
- It’s time to say so long to Coors Field
- What to know about Nuggets first-round pick Bones Hyland