ENGLEWOOD | Phillip Lindsay provided the NFL with its best feel-good story of the season and the Denver Broncos with a rough-and-tumble identity before an injury epidemic spoiled their playoff plans.
The undersized, overlooked running back from the University of Colorado made history and forced all 32 of the league’s teams to question why they didn’t draft him.
What he won’t get to do is chase a rookie record this weekend or play in the Pro Bowl next month after a second opinion Wednesday revealed Lindsay needs surgery on his injured right wrist, which he injured Monday night in Oakland, and will require up to four months of rehab.
“To go out that way is not good for him, but it doesn’t take from the year he’s had,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s had a great year. He’s a great find for this football team and moving forward, he’s going to be a great player for this franchise.
“We all know what he did this year.”
Nothing less than provide the Broncos an identity.
“I think one thing Phillip does a really nice job of being himself,” tight end Matt LaCosse said. “He provides an energy to this offense that’s organic and natural for him. And I think that’s something that’s underrated in this league is just the energy a player can bring and the enthusiasm.”
It wasn’t just the offense that benefited from Lindsay’s charisma.
“His type of energy is contagious,” safety Justin Simmons said. “You see him get a big run and you see him energetic whether that was talking smack or whatnot. That’s the type of guy you want to bring into a dogfight.”
Just 5-foot-8, Lindsay was overlooked in the 2018 draft after being snubbed from the NFL combine. He chose to sign with his hometown Broncos largely for the chance to stay in his parents’ basement and save some money.
Lindsay outshined the much-praised 2018 draft class of Broncos general manager John Elway, who drafted two other running backs.
Lindsay’s infectious energy helped him earn a roster spot and later helped him supplant third-round draft pick Royce Freeman as the Broncos’ featured back.
Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns with a 5.4-yard average and caught 35 passes for 241 yards and a TD, earning him the distinction of becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie ever to earn a Pro Bowl selection.
He got hurt Monday night at Oakland and an MRI on Christmas morning revealed ligament damage and a possible scaphoid fracture. A second test Wednesday confirmed that an operation was necessary, which will deny Lindsay the chance to play in the Pro Bowl next month and the opportunity to break the NFL record for most rushing yards by an undrafted NFL rookie.
Lindsay finished 67 yards shy of the mark set by Dominic Rhodes of the Indianapolis Colts in 2001.
Fellow rookie Royce Freeman, a third-round pick from the University of Oregon, and veteran Devontae Booker will share snaps when the Broncos (6-9) host the Chargers (11-4) Sunday.
Simmons said it’s a shame, but predicted Lindsay will have many more opportunities like those.
“This is not going to set him back in any shape, form or matter,” Simmons said. “He’s going to come back even stronger, hungrier.”
Notes: CB Bradley Roby said tight end-turned-ESPN booth analyst Jason Witten wrongly accused him of quitting on his team late in the game Monday night when he didn’t chase down the ball carrier, instead staying engaged with his receiver away from the play. “It was really a mistake. I thought the play was over,” Roby said. “But for him to stay that it just made me mad. I have kids that I go to see at the Children’s Hospital that have cancer and are paralyzed and I tell him, ‘Don’t quit.'”