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NFL Draft

Can Broncos Execute True Timeshare With Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 27, 2020
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Imagine you were born to bake.

When you were growing up, you always found yourself in the kitchen helping parents or grandparents prepare meals, but more importantly, desserts. As you grew, so did your knowledge of your craft and thus, so did your portfolio of culinary creations.

This was your dream.

Eventually, when the time came to take that next step toward your dream, there weren’t many options. Outside of your own kitchen, there weren’t many resources to help you along the way. So you made your own. You did the best with what you had. You took job after job, each one a small step up from the last, working crazy hours to prove that not only were you born to do this, but that you belonged at the top of the baking food chain.

As you climbed, you watched other bakers around you, who you knew damn well you were better than, get promotions and chosen for jobs over you. But it never stopped your drive until one day, one of the most prestigious bakeries in the world in New York City, that happened to be struggling due to some tough times, gave you a call. They had heard of you; they wanted to offer you something part-time. Nothing too committed, but they did open the door to say there was a chance to for more. You jumped at the chance, at the challenge. 

From the jump, you went to work. You proved why you belonged, and soon, they couldn’t brush off your talent and your work ethic for your craft anymore. Soon after, they didn’t just bring you on full-time, they put you in charge. It was your bakery. It was your time, and you had earned it. 

A year went by and the going was good. You were doing everything that they asked of you and more until one day the management team stumbled upon a well-known, experienced baker from not too far down the city who had recently been let go. You’d read about this baker before. They were good, but you knew you were better. 

Then all of a sudden your management team brought you in for a meeting. They said they were bringing the new baker in, and they would be co-running the bakery with you. You could hear those words coming out of their mouth, but you could tell they said it as if to say that they liked the potential of this new baker more than the potential you gave them, despite doing everything they’d asked and more.

All that hard work to get to that point, to have your own bakery, a place with your name that you deserved, and they were just going to bring in someone else? 

That’s how Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay felt initially when the Denver Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon this offseason.

“It caught me off-guard because it was like, ‘Okay, I’ve put in the work and done all this’ and it makes it seem like they don’t respect you enough to know the work you’re putting in,” Lindsay said. “So I was really upset at the beginning, I’m not going to lie.”

After going undrafted out of Colorado in 2018 (despite rushing for more than 2,700 yards with 30 rushing touchdowns in his last two seasons there) it didn’t take long for Lindsay to make a name for himself in Denver and in the NFL.

After a standout preseason performance, Lindsay made the Broncos’ 53-man roster as the team’s third running back behind Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker. In Week 1, Lindsay rushed for 71 yards. The next week, 107. From then on it was an impressive season that finished with more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage, which included 1,037 yards rushing and 241 yards receiving. The following season Lindsay continued his good work, this time as the solidified starter for all 16 games. He had another 1,200-yard campaign, 1,011 yards rushing and 196 yards receiving.

Lindsay likely thought the next big news coming out of the Denver running back room was a contract extension for him. Instead, it was the signing of Gordon, the former first-round pick, to a two-year, $16 million deal. The moment he signed, before even putting on a Broncos helmet, Gordon was guaranteed to make 7.8 times more than Lindsay will in his entire rookie contract.

It’s understandable why Lindsay wouldn’t be the happiest baker at the time of the news, but such a move isn’t uncommon in the NFL. Running back rooms by committee are all the rage, and there are good reasons for that. You can not only specialize your gameplan better with different options (early-down work, third-down backs, pass catches, pass protectors, short-yardage guys, etc.), but also take away some of the hits and the abuse that naturally comes with playing the position. 

“I’m all for adding good players at every position,” Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “I feel like Phillip Lindsay’s an outstanding player that we can hand the ball or throw the ball to. The fact that we have two running backs now that can be very explosive with the ball in their hands whether you throw it or run it, I think is a good thing.

“I really do think you need more than one running back. Royce Freeman obviously did a great job last year as well. We’re going to try to utilize both and all three of them and try to utilize their skills.”

After giving it some time, Lindsay himself has come around to the idea of having some help, too.

“If you have somebody that can complement me like I did my rookie year where I’m not just running up the middle trying to get first downs all day,” Lindsay said. “I was like, ‘Okay, this takes some pressure off me. Now I can do my job and use my speed do my stuff and stay healthier, too.'”

As it pertains to his preferred usage of running backs, it’s hard to really put much stock into what Shurmur did as the decision-maker at his last stop as head coach of the New York Giants because he had Saquon Barkley, who is a marvel of an athlete who can truly do it all.

But if we go back further to the 2013 season when Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, we do see a similar trend. In both 2013 and 2014, running back LeSean McCoy saw more than 300 carries while the next closest back didn’t get more than 60. In that 2015 season, with McCoy gone, there was more of a split with DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles.

As offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, Shurmur was more open to a share in the workload that year between Jerick McKinnon (159 carries) and Matt Asiata (121 carries). The following year it was Latavius Murray (216 carries) and McKinnon (150 carries) splitting the workload of Dalvin Cook when he went down.

If you ask me, however, I think that Shurmur would much rather find a guy that he can really lean on to give about 65-75 percent of the work to. His history tells us he wants a feature back.

That’s where Lindsay is not just nervous, but upset, because Shurmur can say that he envisions a situation where both him and Gordon can be options, but Shurmur likely wants just one to be the one he chooses most of the time—makes his life easier, I suppose. 

On top of that, Gordon is used to being a workhorse back. In his final year at Wisconsin, he saw 343 carries. During his time in the NFL, even while only playing a full 16-game season one time, Gordon has always been one to have a high carries-per-game average.

That’s not to say Gordon and Lindsay can’t co-exist. They both bring plus attributes to the passing game, as well, so the options for them to get on the field should be versatile. But from an outsider’s perspective, with Shurmur as a coach, it’s going to be less likely to have a true split in contributions and chances from his running back room. With two alpha running backs in the room, that will make for quite the camp and season battle.

"Melvin's not my enemy," Lindsay said. "He's my teammate. He needs to do his job, but best believe I'm going to do my job."

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