We don’t know if a Phillip Lindsay lurks in the 2019 rookie class. But we do know the conditions that cultivated his breakout season. If we can identify that Goldilocks Zone that sustains fantasy life on the deepest of depth charts, maybe we find another.
This summer, there is one team whose depth chart bears an intriguing resemblance to the 2018 Broncos–and one player on that team whose profile is strikingly similar to Lindsay’s.
OVERCONFIDENCE IN A FRAGILE DEPTH CHART
At this time a year ago, Denver had released their leading rusher, C.J. Anderson, who had just delivered a 1,000-yard rushing season. They still had former fourth-round pick Devontae Booker entering his third year, but the expectation was that rookie Royce Freeman would eventually take over the lead role after John Elway spent the 71st pick on him.
This was one of the most vulnerable depth charts in the league, but drafters showed heavy confidence that they knew how the backfield would play out. In fact, it was an unsettled situation that allowed for one of the most explosive gains in value in recent years. Phillip Lindsay rocketed from outside the top 300 players to as high as 24th overall.
THIRD-ROUND DRAFT CAPITAL, AND A DISPENSABLE VET
In 2019, the team that has a remarkably similar backfield is the Chicago Bears. They shipped out their leading rusher, Jordan Howard, to the Eagles, and the expected replacement is 73rd pick David Montgomery. Of course Tarik Cohen remains, but even if he retains his exact role from last year, 68% of the offensive snaps remain up for grabs.
Drafters are confident that Montgomery will seize most of these snaps, and that Mike Davis will compete for the rest. While this is a likely outcome, the depth chart remains fragile. Putting a third-round draft pick into a committee is not a black eye for the GM if he added other players that excel. The Bears ditched Jordan Howard to become more versatile and explosive from the RB position. If another RB is more versatile and explosive than Montgomery, that player will play.
Players come into opportunity in different ways, and Shawn Siegele wrote an excellent piece earlier this year showing how Davis could be this year’s Damien Williams. But Davis’ contract looks primarily like an insurance policy in case the NFL draft went unexpectedly for the Bears. He’s owed $4m next year if he makes the roster–versus just $1m in dead cap–almost guaranteeing that he’s not in the Bears’ 2020 plans.
If journeyman lightning strikes twice, Davis is intriguing. But if we are looking for the next explosive, yet overlooked rookie, that player is Kerrith Whyte.1
THE MOST ATHLETIC RB ON THE TEAM
Whyte was snubbed from the combine, and has continued to sail under the radar despite utterly smashing his Pro Day.2
Pro Day times are notoriously iffy, but Ryan Pace says that Whyte runs a 4.38 (with some observers, of course, claiming even faster times). He is almost certainly the fastest RB on the roster, and easily the most athletic overall. In fact, Cordarrelle Patterson is probably his most dangerous competition on the team in terms of profile.
Like Lindsay, Whyte will not need to prove he can grind out games between the tackles to start carving out a role in the offense. He can threaten defenses in ways the rest of the roster cannot, and if he makes plays in the preseason, he will be hard to keep off the field. There is a scenario where he steals rushes from Cohen, passing snaps from Montgomery, and functions similar to Matt Breida in San Francisco last year, alongside Alfred Morris and Kyle Juszczyk.
The most likely scenario is that Whyte is a good, but not great, speedster, whose limitations will make him a role player in the NFL (at best), just like they did in college. But this exercise is about attacking the situation, and remaining agnostic about the player.
The lesson here is that for the price of the last spot on your roster, you can add the most athletic RB on one of last year’s highest scoring offenses, with a creative coach who is specifically seeking to reshape his RB group to incorporate versatile playmakers. If Whyte is better than we think, he is in a situation where his ADP will jump into the top 150.
BUT WHO THE HECK IS HE?
Whyte was drafted in the seventh round, largely due to his minimal production at Florida Atlantic. However, he was competing with Devin Singletary, who rewrote the FAU record books. While we make excuses for the short resumes of Miles Sanders and Josh Jacobs, Whyte was carving out snaps from a returning star coming off a 300-carry season with over 2,100 yards from scrimmage.
Nevertheless, Whyte was the more efficient player, which forced Lane Kiffin to give him more snaps as the season went on. Whyte averaged 6.5 yards per carry, and 16 yards per reception, for 1,026 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs on just 144 touches. Because of his explosive plays in the receiving game, Whyte actually outscored Singletary in Blair Andrews’ Backfield Dominator Rating.3
In addition, Whyte totaled 2,115 kick return yards, which is relevant for RB prospects, and averaged a very good 26.1 yards per return. His prospect profile is quite similar to Nyheim Hines, who was similarly blocked for two years by Matthew Dayes at NC State. Whyte could have returned for his senior year to put up stats as a true feature back, but declared anyway, which helps us view his limited production a little more favorably.
I’ll be watching Whyte closely in the preseason to see how Matt Nagy uses him. Whyte already led Bears rushers in Week 1, with six carries for 35 yards (featuring a nice 23-yard scamper), and one reception for seven yards. Other Bears had more receptions, but Whyte was lined up as a receiver numerous times, even in his limited snaps. Now is a good time to scoop him up while the attention is focused so heavily on Montgomery.
Image Credit: Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Phillip Lindsay.
- I had to select Superflex drafts in our Dynasty ADP App to make this chart, because Whyte has only been drafted once in 1QB MFL drafts this year. (back)
- Those who were following Lindsay as a prospect will recognize this story. (back)
- The metric that helped to find the original Phillip Lindsay too. (back)