Phillip Lindsay is a 5-foot-8 undrafted free agent who was not invited to the Combine. He’s also the league’s leading rookie rusher, which is all the more notable because he wasn’t even supposed to be the leading rookie rusher in his own backfield.
It’s not that Royce Freeman has been bad. The third-round chug-a-lug is averaging 5.10 yards per carry. Lindsay has just been better, out-touching and out-producing Freeman every game in which he has not been ejected. Lindsay was at it again on Sunday, further entrenching his role as the Lone Bright Spot for a Broncos offense that’s quickly become dispiriting.
It was supposed to be Freeman’s turn against the Jets. The Broncos’ coaching staff spent the week talking about getting him more involved. It was no matter once the fur started flying. The Broncos again relied on Lindsay, the more productive and versatile back. Lindsay has not only out-produced Freeman in each of his full games, he’s rendered him a single-digit touch player. Freeman got the ball eight times against the Jets, a number he has failed to clear in three of his past four games.
Again, this is not to denigrate Freeman, who by any measure has been good for a third-round rookie. He’s just not the same kind of runner as Lindsay. Freeman is a head-of-steam power back, one who would ideally be given the chance to get into a rhythm and get stronger as the game goes on. Those opportunities are going to be lacking on a team with a collapsing defense and Case Keenum at quarterback. Lindsay — who has 4.4 speed and was a tackle-breaking/evading dynamo at Colorado — can create his own offense.
It’s not written in stone that the Broncos’ backfield’s current state will be its end state. For one thing, Devontae Booker is still getting third down snaps. Freeman could get hot and Lindsay could cool. But Lindsay has been the better back each time he’s taken the field and has the skills the struggling Broncos need most right now. You probably had not heard of Lindsay a month ago, but he needs to be in your lineup every week.
Five Week 5 Storylines
Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp concussed against the Seahawks. Cooks got blown up near the end of the second quarter on a terrifying helmet-to-helmet shot. As NFL.com’s Mike Garofolo put it on Twitter, it was the hardest anyone has gotten hit since… Cooks in the Super Bowl. Whereas Cooks’ head injury was vivid and scary, Kupp’s was of unknown origin. He simply wasn’t out there as the Rams began the second half. Even without two of their top three wideouts, the Rams broke a 17-17 halftime tie and outlasted the Seahawks for a 33-31 victory. Second-year pro Josh Reynolds stepped up for 49 yards on three touches in his teammates’ absence. Considering Cooks’ recent history, he would seem less likely to make it back for Week 6 against the Broncos. It’s possible the Rams hold both out for a game they probably reckon they can win short-handed. If that’s the case, Reynolds will be worth a WR4 flier.
James Conner has second massive game of season. Something of a disappointment for fantasy owners with unrealistic expectations, Conner cashed in a dream matchup for a 185-yard, two-touchdown day, powering the Steelers and winning weeks on the digital gridiron. Conner, who never looked back after a seven-touch, 72-yard opening drive, was piling up yards after the catch/contact. He’s now hit 185 in 2-of-5 games while totaling just 204 across his other three. That, of course, is called “not being Le’Veon Bell.” Conner gets one more game to himself before Bell’s rumored return after the Steelers’ Week 7 bye. The Bengals aren’t quite the Falcons, but they are allowing the 10th most rushing yards per game, as well as the 10th most running back fantasy points. They’ve permitted the seventh most RB receptions. It probably won’t be another 185-yard day, but Conner will get one final go as a top-eight option.
Matt Breida suffers ankle injury as C.J. Beathard implodes. Forced from the 49ers’ eventual loss in the first quarter, Breida had been feasting before going down, rushing eight times for 56 yards and adding a five-yard touchdown reception. X-rays were negative but Breida was diagnosed with a “mid- to high-ankle sprain” that will be confirmed by a Monday MRI. It sounds like an issue that’s going to cost Breida at least Week 6. That’s not good news for an offense that teetered on the edge of the track against the Cardinals. C.J. Beathard looked every bit like a backup. Alfred Morris averaged 3.38 yards per carry. FB Kyle Juszczyk did step in to lead the team in receiving. If Breida indeed sits against the Packers, Juszczyk would probably be the preferred PPR play to Morris.
Doug Baldwin decoys against the Rams. According to Pro Football Focus, Baldwin blocked on 29 of his 53 snaps as he drew just one target, a look he turned into a one-yard catch. Baldwin now has six grabs for 42 yards since returning from his second knee injury in Week 4. His biggest problem might be the fact that Russell Wilson is averaging just 28 attempts per game after that number was 35 in 2017. An increasingly-desperate team figures to be forced to pass more going forward, but Baldwin’s knees could limit his production even if the game plan doesn’t. We are used to Baldwin being an every-week WR2 with WR1 upside. Every-week WR3 with the occasional WR2 performance is looking more realistic for the final 11 games.
Antonio Brown finally gets on track. “On track” being relative in this case. Brown entered Week 5 without a 100-yard or two-score game. His misery seemed destined to continue in the first half, where Ben Roethlisberger found him just twice for 15 yards on eight targets. Roethlisberger stuck with it after the break and was rewarded with the breakout that seemed like it had to be coming for weeks. The highlight was a 47-yard score down the left sideline in the fourth quarter. Brown got a step on Robert Alford and Roethlisberger hit him in stride. “In stride” is what has so often been lacking for the duo this season.
Five More Week 5 Storylines
Kerryon Johnson doesn’t get the ball enough, injures ankle. Johnson was injured on his 12th, and obviously final, carry against the Packers, landing awkwardly as he punctuated a 24-yard run to set the Lions up at the Packers’ eight-yard line with 14:13 to go. It was Johnson’s final indignity in a game that saw the ghost of LeGarrette Blount vulture two goal line scores. It had the looks of a potentially serious issue, but Johnson insisted afterwards that he was “fine.” It could be a while before fantasy owners get a real update, as the Lions are headed on bye for Week 6. Coming from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree, Matt Patricia is unlikely to be expansive on the matter. Now 15th in the league in rushing (286) and averaging 5.72 yards per carry, Johnson deserves to mothball Blount if he’s healthy for Week 7. Even if Johnson does not dispatch his elderly teammate, he’s locked himself in as a top-24 option.
The Crow: City of Apples. Isaiah Crowell goes bonkers on Broncos. Coming off a four-carry, zero-yard performance, Crowell erupted for 219 on 15, goosing his yards per carry from 4.07 to 6.84 and vaulting him to No. 3 in the league in rushing. His day was built on the back of 77- and 54-yard runs, the former of which went for a touchdown. Amazingly, Crowell still got out-carried 20-15 by backfield mate Bilal Powell. That’s his fantasy situation in a nutshell. The Jets’ committee has no end in sight. There’s not even a guarantee that Crowell gets the first chance to establish the hot hand against the Colts in Week 6. Plug Crowell in as your FLEX. Just know there’s as good of a chance he goes 4-0 as 15-219.
Quincy Enunwa goose eggs as Robby Anderson revives. Crowell wasn’t the only Jet busting big plays against the Broncos. Anderson entered Week 5 with eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Dominating Bradley Roby, Anderson doubled his touchdown and yardage totals thanks to scores of 76 and 35 yards. That he still drew only five targets is a touch of grey for another day. Enunwa, meanwhile, went 0-for-5, with the announcers revealing he was playing through a previously undisclosed hand issue. Three cheers for the injury report. Enunwa dropped a screen and let a touchdown ricochet off his hands. The fortunes could quickly be changing in the Jets’ receiver corps as OC Jeremy Bates dabbles with taking the training wheels off of Sam Darnold. The Colts’ injury-ruined secondary is on tap for Week 6.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling immediately enters DFS Hall-of-Fame. One of the Packers’ “Unpronounceables” at receiver, “MVS” made it happen for re-draft desperados and DFS thrill seekers, finishing second on the Pack in receptions (seven) and tied for second in targets (10). He was half a yard away from another score in the third quarter but got ruled down by contact on replay. Lance Kendricks vultured him one play later. Already pushing for more work before Geronimo Allison (concussion) and Randall Cobb (hamstring) were sidelined, Valdes-Scantling could keep it even if both return for Week 6 against the 49ers. Allison is the more likely of the two to suit up. A liability before going down, Cobb should get all the time he needs to get healthy. MVS is worth a speculative flier in leagues he remains unowned.
Ryan Tannehill melts all the way down against the Bengals. Inexcusably bad in the Dolphins’ incomprehensible road meltdown, Tannehill is now 31-of-55 for (56.3 percent) for 285 yards (5.18 YPA), one touchdown, three interceptions and whatever this was over his past two starts. Tannehill’s collapse has coincided with an offensive line injury crisis, but that excuse rings hollow when you’re a 30-year-old seventh-year veteran. The display earned the dreaded vote of confidence from coach Adam Gase, as well as reporters doing things like tweeting out Tannehill’s 2019 salary cap number. Riding high two weeks ago, the Dolphins now find themselves on a familiar track to 7-9.
1. Since they are giving away first-rounders, will the Seahawks at least send their next one to the Red Cross?
2. When will Josh Allen finish his tunnel to the center of the earth?
3. Is Devontae Booker still getting third down work an algorithm the Broncos forgot to fine tune after Week 1?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Jets (vs. IND), Cowboys (vs. JAX), Dolphins (vs. CHI)
Stats of the Week
Adam Thielen is just the third player in NFL history and the first since the AFL/NFL merger to begin the season with five-straight 100-yard receiving efforts.
Zach Ertz has caught 10 passes in 3-of-5 games. He is on pace for 1,398 yards, which would be a new career high by 545.
Tweet of the Week, From Fantasy Insiders’ Ben Gretch on Cowboys/Texans: Find someone who loves you as much as these coaches love 2nd-and-9.
That’s So Giants Award: Losing on a walk-off 60-yard field goal isn’t necessarily Giants. Doing so in back-to-back years is.
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