David Montgomery: Mediocre Talent, Solid Seasonal Target
On Feb. 25, Bears General Manager (GM) Ryan Pace told reporters that the team believes David Montgomery (CHI) can be the team’s featured back and carry a heavier load, “if the team opts to run more in 2020.”
Bears GM Ryan Pace believes David Montgomery can be the team’s featured running back and carry a heavier load, if the Bears opt to run more in 2020.
— Jeff Dickerson (@DickersonESPN) February 25, 2020
While cryptic, the message seems to suggest that the team is at least considering deploying a more run-heavy scheme than last year where the team ranked 20th in rushing attempts, 27th in rushing yardage, 28th in rushing touchdowns (TDs) and 29th in yards per attempt (YPA). Comparatively, in Coach Matt Nagy’s first season with the Bears, the team ranked sixth in rushing attempts, 11th in rushing yardage, seventh in rushing TDs and 27th in YPA. The offense proved to be just a miserable unit in totality last year (29th in overall yards and 29th in points) but the scheme still skewed much pass-heavier despite having Mitchell Trubisky (CHI) under center.
In the offseason, the Bears went out and acquired Nick Foles (CHI), who is a quarterback Nagy has known for a long time. According to an article from nbcsports.com, Nagy once picked up Foles from an airport at a low point in his career, when he apparently was considering retirement and brought the quarterback (QB) to his house. The two bonded and revamped Foles’ love of the game which apparently has not been forgotten by either party. Former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said it best when he said “Anything is better than a lone Trubisky starting offensive squad going into the year” so the addition of Foles must be considered an upgrade.
Still, the question remains whether Montgomery features the potential to emerge as a post-hype sleeper and whether the Bears actually commit to a larger role. There are multiple factors to consider before drafting Montgomery in any format and they are worth taking a deeper look into before definitely deciding which side of the fence you are on with the young running back (RB).
David Montgomery Pedigree and Year One Results
In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Bears selected Montgomery with the 73rd overall pick in the third round, selecting him over the likes of Devin Singletary (BUF), Damien Harris (NE) and Alexander Mattison (MIN). Montgomery posted just a 14th percentile SPARQ score and, per playerprofiler.com, and ran just a 4.63 40-yard dash. Over the course of his final two years in college, Montgomery forced a whopping 211 missed tackles (which translated into 47 missed tackles, enough to tie him for eighth in the league, in his first year in the NFL) despite playing behind a 97th percentile offensive line. His best comparable NFL player in terms of skill set is Carlos Hyde (HOU) who realistically has enjoyed multiple seasons of success and is coming off his first 1,000-plus yard rushing season as a professional. Montgomery is by no means a truly special talent but is someone who is built to handle a full workload (250-plus carries in each of his final two college seasons).
Despite the athletic shortcomings, the Bears felt comfortable enough to use a third-round pick on him and give him an opportunity to act as their main ball carrier. In 2018, Jordan Howard (MIA) carried the ball 250 yards for the Bears and averaged 3.7 yards per carry (YPC). Last year, Montgomery carried the ball 242 times and averaged exactly 3.7 YPC as well. Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded the Bears offensive line 20th in terms of run-blocking and 25th in overall line play which partially explains the middling performances of their top rushing backs over the course of the last two years. It also partially explains why Montgomery only posted three runs of 20-plus yards, although, some of that is due to Montgomery’s lack of elite burst. However, the fact remains that Montgomery touched the ball 267 times in his first year and scored seven TDs, which speaks to his opportunity that is expected to be ongoing (especially considering the team’s lack of draft picks). While the per-touch efficiency left much to be desired, the volume is the most important factor for a RB in fantasy football, and Montgomery’s opportunities should be plentiful.
“Nowhere to go but up” is a phrase used when discussing something that has hit rock bottom and it is very possible the Bears offense last year hit rock bottom. Trubisky clearly was not the answer at the QB position as he posted just a 93.0 QB rating when the pocket was clean last year (seventh-worst amongst QBs who played at least 20-percent of their respective team’s snaps). Moreover, Trubisky ranked sixth-worst in adjusted completion percentage and second to last in terms of YPA. At worst, Foles is going to be a carbon copy of last year’s Trubisky, but there is clearly upside beyond the Bears offense from last year. Nagy schemed the Bears offense to ninth overall in points per game, and 11th rushing offense in 2018, with the main differences being Jordan Howard (CHI) on the roster and Trey Burton (CHI) remaining healthy. Furthermore, the team added an aging Jimmy Graham (CHI), which could help in the red zone, but is unlikely to help much beyond that considering he has totaled 1,083 yards and 93 receptions (RECs) over the course of his last two seasons (with Aaron Rodgers (GB) no less).
The team is left with just three picks prior to pick 163 which leaves them with limited opportunities to improve beyond their moves in free agency. Amongst their most glaring needs are offensive line and wide receiver which both may be addressed in the draft. However, the team’s secondary is a bit decimated due to the losses of Haha Clinton-Dix (DAL) and Prince Amukamara, and those will likely be the first holes addressed in the draft. The team possesses quality starters in Artie Burns (CHI) and Deon Bush (CHI) but both are only under contract until 2021 in their own right. In other words, they made need to replaced soon as well, so secondary is the number one glaring need, followed by the offensive line.
Having said all that, the hopes of a Bears offensive improvement rest on Foles being just flat-out better than Trubisky, Graham provided an added dimension in the red zone, the team drafting offensive linemen and Coach Matt Nagy improving his scheme. None of the items on that list are anywhere near a sure thing despite Nagy saying “Could we have helped him more last year getting him the ball more? Yes, absolutely, it’s part of the identity. What we’re going to do is focus on number one schematically how can we get better? If we start with that, then we can worry about the players.” Saying, essentially, “I am going to coach better,” is nothing more than coach speak, but at least Nagy has a history of superior results to last year’s mediocrity. Even assuming Foles proves to be an upgrade to Trubisky, he posted a sub-85 QBR for the fourth time in six years last season and averaged just 6.3 YPA. The Bears offense is not going to be good but the defense still features a whole lot talent (especially after acquiring Robert Quinn (CHI) previously of the Rams). Nagy sure sounds like a coach who expects to rely more heavily on the run this year and play more of a ground-and-pound style knowing very well he almost has no other choice with the pieces left of the offense. A bell-cow back on a subpar offense still has a place in fantasy football but the limited picks and off-season moves suggest this Bears offense cannot be considered anything other than subpar.
David Montgomery And His Reasonable Outlook
Montgomery is a trickier player to handicap in dynasty leagues compared to seasonal leagues due to his immediate job security but unclear talent level. Since the Bears almost assuredly do not address the RB position in the draft, Montgomery is locked into a workhorse role in the short term by default. The Bears, at best, will be using a second-round pick on a lineman which assuredly leads to the team ranking as one of the worst 12 offensive lines in the league for the second straight year. Minor improvements aside, averaging under 4.0 yards per carry could still lead to Montgomery flirting with 1,000 yards rushing since the GM Pace sounds fully-committed to Montgomery as the top back.
The issue with his outlook is what the future looks like if he in fact fails to rush for 4.0 YPC. Does the team then look to replace him even though this will only be his age 23 season. His results this year will go a long way towards shaping his future value with the team as a poor season likely means a poor offensive season overall which could lead to the team moving on from both Pace and Nagy. A new regime would inherently look to bring in their guys and all bets would be off.
In a nutshell, draft Montgomery with confidence this year, and, despite being young, consider him a risky proposition in dynasty leagues who is not for the faint of heart.