How many Bears fans do we have here at Razzball? Judging by our SFBX drafts, we’re really more of a Washington “Thorough Reviews” stan site. Did you see that awesome article by Pags about Kelvin Harmon that ran for 8 hours before the world found out that the 6th rounder from Monrovia tore his ACL? I sent Pags my tax return and I’m hoping he’ll make it disappear just as easily. But if you’ve been watching the Fantasy Football Malpractice show, you’ll see that Razzball has more than a few Bears fans hibernating in the woods while the NFL team stumbles into mediocrity. As a Vikings fan myself, you can trust me to bite hard on the Bears–rawr!–when I’m reviewing them for fantasy purposes. So, let’s take a look at one of the most divisive running backs in the 2020 draft, David Montgomery.
Rudy has David Montgomery as the #11 running back for 2020 fantasy football, and Donkey Teeth has Montgomery at #25 in his top 40 running back rankings. This disagreement is echoed by the drafters over at the National Fantasy Football Championships, where Montgomery’s ADP is 50–some have taken him 25th overall, and others have let him slide to #80. In other words, experts are picking Montgomery anywhere from the start of round 3 to halfway through round 6.
Analysts are divided over Montgomery’s value to fantasy managers in both his ground game and his receiving game. Rudy sees Montgomery getting nearly 300 combined touches–about 260 rushes and 40 receptions–and racking up 1,400 total yards. Meanwhile, Donkey Teeth sees Montgomery getting about 1200 total yards with a modest 25 receptions. They both agree that Montgomery will be primarily a rush-first running back with some role in the passing game.
There are three big questions about Montgomery: his ground game, his receiving game, and the role of Tarik Cohen. Let’s take a closer look at Montgomery’s 2019 season and see if we can answer any of those questions with data.
The Chicago Bears took Montgomery in the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL draft out of Iowa State, and he stepped into a starting role almost immediately. By week 3, Montgomery took 70% of the offensive running back snaps for the Bears, and had gained nearly 200 yards on 42 total touches. Because rookie running backs often take some time to adjust to the speed and challenge of the NFL–especially backs taken in the third round from a school like Iowa State (my alma mater in ’07)–Montgomery’s quick start was notable. By the end of the season, Montgomery led all rookie RBs in snaps, and finished with more offensive snaps than “bellcow” running backs Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and Austin Ekeler. In other words, Montgomery has a lot of opportunities for production. For fantasy purposes, however, Montgomery’s 2019 was nondescript.
Yet, Montgomery hovered around the top 10 in the league in two categories that are more interesting to NFL tape watchers: evaded tackles and juke rate.
As Donkey Teeth noted in his top 60 dynasty running back rankings, the Chicago Bears offensive line performed miserably in 2019. Pro Football Focus graded the Bears’ line 25th overall, and Football Outsiders ranked the Bears’ line 29th in the league in run blocking. The offensive line was so bad, in fact, that Trubisky and Montgomery lined up in the shotgun nearly 75% of the time according to NFL Savant. The result was, as you see in the above clip, Montgomery having to do a ton of work to gain five yards. However, those yards were gained because he evaded tackles and continued moving forward. With such a weak offensive line, Montgomery proved to be an intriguing NFL back yet uninteresting for fantasy managers.
Because of the Bears’ poor offensive line play and Trubisky’s underwhelming quarterback play, Montgomery faced 8+ defenders in the box on 20% of his snaps. Yet, he pushed forward. As a result, he finished 7th in the league in broken tackles–28–while finishing in the bottom third of the league in yards before contact. In short, Montgomery was getting hit early and often. The yards he created were more his own doing than the work of his offensive line.
The final two questions are tied together: how did Montgomery perform in the receiving game, and how does Tarik Cohen affect Montgomery’s fantasy value?
In agreement with Trubisky’s prolific short passing game, in 2019 Montgomery received 30 of his 35 targets within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. With an average depth of target at 2.7 yards, Montgomery largely took screen or dump passes and then had to take the ball the rest of the way, where he had to rely on his evasiveness to elude the numerous defenders that the offensive line let roam the field with impunity. However, Montgomery dropped only one ball, and gained an average of 7.4 yards per catch on the few passes he snagged. There was a high upside to Montgomery’s receiving game: Montgomery’s average depth of target (2.7) was better than Tarik Cohen’s (1.7), and Montgomery’s 7.4 yards per catch were better than Cohen’s 5.8 YPC. Montgomery and Cohen were on the field for about the same number of snaps in 2019. If the efficient and elusive Montgomery takes even 5 or 10% more snaps than Cohen, then Montgomery could easily sneak into RB1 territory by volume alone.
2020 Fantasy Prospects:
I’m more on team Donkey Teeth: Montgomery will likely be towards RB20. Montgomery is a fantastic runner on a bad team with a bad offensive line with a less than stellar quarterback. The upside is that Trubisky passes short all the time. The downside is that Tarik Cohen is slotted to receive those short passes. The other upside–which in Stranger Things is really the upside-down— is that Montgomery sneaks past hulking linemen and dodges linebackers.
Could we see Montgomery breaking into the top 20 running backs? Absolutely. Would I draft him before Gurley? Probably. Would I let Montgomery fall to 80th overall? Not a chance. Montgomery has great upside as your RB2, or even RB1 for those Zero-RB practitioners.
For best ball players (shout out to the RazzBowl!), Montgomery was pretty volatile throughout 2019, probably in relation to offensive line performance. If you have 2 running backs and see Montgomery falling towards RB 30, you’ll probably want to grab him as your RB3 for a FLEX play. By RazzBowl scoring, Montgomery would have been a certain starter in 9 games last year and produced top-20 scores in 5 games. That’s impressive for a rookie running back.