Fantasy Football Offseason Questions: Can Phillip Lindsay prove unlikely rookie success wasn't a fluke?

Pro Bowl practice for the AFC team had been over for a while, and not a player in uniform was in sight. Yet just off to the side of one of the practice fields was a long line of fans.

Standing there waiting for them was a player in regular, every day clothes with a black cast on his right wrist. And he signed every autograph -- as best he could.

Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay couldn't play in the Pro Bowl because of the wrist injury he sustained in Week 16 last season, but he wanted to experience the Pro Bowl festivities as much as possible.

And he definitely wanted to thank the fans who cheered him on all season during his improbable rookie campaign. Not only was Lindsay a surprise to earn a Pro Bowl nomination, it was a shock he played in the NFL at all.

Despite 4,859 total yards and 39 total touchdowns in four seasons at Colorado, Lindsay wasn't invited to the NFL Combine last year, likely because of his size (5-foot-8, 190 pounds). He also wasn't selected in the NFL Draft.

He signed with the Broncos, his hometown team, as an undrafted rookie free agent, and he became a star. He earned his trip to the Pro Bowl and was easily the biggest success story of the 2018 season in the NFL.

"In the beginning, I was hoping to do some punt returns and kick returns, maybe," Lindsay said between autographs. "Maybe get on the field if we're winning by a lot or something like that. To come up here ... I'm grateful for everything. If I never play again, I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to play." 

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Phillip Lindsay DEN • RB • 30
2018 stats

Fantasy players certainly hope Lindsay plays again after he had 192 carries for 1,037 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, as well as 35 catches for 241 yards and one touchdown in 2018. He had 12 games with double digits in PPR points, including eight games with at least 15 points.

It was an amazing feat, not only because of how Lindsay's NFL career began, but remember that Denver had high expectations for another rookie running back. The Broncos selected Royce Freeman in the third round of the NFL Draft, and he was the one getting all the hype prior to the preseason -- in Fantasy and reality.

However, once the games started and you could see how Lindsay played, it was evident he was the best running back in Denver. He also was the second-best rookie running back in the NFL behind Saquon Barkley.

Not bad for not being drafted.

Broncos general manager John Elway is hoping for more this season from Freeman, who had 130 carries for 521 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and five touchdowns, along with 14 catches for 72 yards. But Elway said Lindsay showed he could be a workhorse in this league.

"We feel really good about both of them," Elway said this offseason. "I think they're both a good combination and a change of pace. The size difference that we have, we're excited about the years that they had. We have big plans for Phillip, as well as Royce, to get them both involved in the passing game as well as the run game. I think that Phillip proved this year that he can run between the tackles, which he did very well. But we think he's durable enough to play."

Ah, there's that word -- durable. We hope it applies to Lindsay because his wrist injury wasn't a minor one. He suffered ligament damage and was given a 4-6 month recovery time, and he's already missed Denver's OTAs in May.

Elway said Lindsay could return for the minicamp in June, which would be great, but we just want to see him healthy in time for training camp. Then Fantasy players can draft him without hesitation, likely in the fourth round.

But even if he's healthy, Lindsay knows replicating his performance from last season won't be easy. And he's ready to go earn another Pro Bowl appearance again.

"I have to go back to work," Lindsay said. "I have to do what I did to get here. Nothing changes. I have to go and compete again. I have to go back to that dog mentality. That dog mode. I have to go back to grinding. I have to make the team. Somebody else is in my shoes that's going to try and do the same thing I did. For my family's sake, I have to make the team."

Speaking of family, Lindsay is very close to his. In fact, during his rookie season, the Denver native lived at home in his parents' house to save money.

Lindsay's guaranteed money as a rookie was $15,000. By comparison, Barkey's signing bonus was more than $20 million as the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

"I'm comfortable at home," Lindsay said. "I know the ins and outs of Denver and Colorado in general. It just felt good. I'm still staying at home with my parents right now. I'm not making millions right now. It's smart to stay home."

In full disclosure, I'm a little nervous about drafting Lindsay this season. I'm worried about his wrist, and I do expect Freeman to take on a bigger workload.

Still, as long as you keep expectations in check, Lindsay could remain a solid Fantasy running back in all leagues. Round 4 is the right spot to target him, but don't reach for him in Round 3.

I love Lindsay's story about how he reached the NFL. And I loved watching him play in 2018 before getting hurt. 

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Royce Freeman DEN • RB • 28
2018 stats

I'm also expecting more from Freeman this year. While he was a bust as a rookie, he could be a surprise as a sophomore, especially if Lindsay is limited with his wrist injury.

Freeman had five games last season with double digits in touches, and he scored at least 12 PPR points in two of them, including Week 17 when Lindsay was out. In that outing against the Chargers, Freeman had 17 carries for 60 yards, as well as eight catches for 43 yards on 10 targets. Hopefully, like Elway said, the Broncos use Freeman more in the passing game.

It might not be a bad idea to get Lindsay in Round 4 and then target Freeman with a pick in Round 8 or later. Should Lindsay struggle or get hurt again, Freeman could be a valuable Fantasy asset in 2019.

But Fantasy players would much rather rely on Lindsay since he showcased his skills last season. If healthy, he could be looking at another trip to the Pro Bowl. Only this time he will hopefully play in the game instead of being a spectator.

I'm guessing that if that happens then Lindsay will once again sign plenty of autographs. This time, it should be easier to write without having a cast on his wrist.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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