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David Montgomery is a Player to Avoid

David Montgomery

If you want to get the serotonin flowing to the pleasure receptors in the brain of a fantasy draftnik, show him a rookie RB drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, who has a clear path to playing time.  We got our first taste of the sweet nectar with David Johnson in 2015, and after the 2017 bumper crop of Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and James Connor, we were irretrievably hooked.  It will be a cold day in hell before we miss out on the next one.  This phenomenon is the driving force behind Bears rookie RB, David Montgomery coming off the board at 4.02 in early fantasy drafts (fantasy football calculator).

It’s the same formula that rocketed Royce Freeman up to an RB18 ADP in 2018, before paying back as RB47.  At his current price, Montgomery is the most over-drafted player in early drafts.  Unfortunately, the aforementioned success stories are in no way predictive of similar production from future players entering the league under the same circumstances.

While Montgomery is being drafted as though he is next in line to enjoy similar fortunes, it is statistically unlikely that this will happen.  And beyond the long odds for any 3rd round pick to bust out as a rookie, we have outlined a multitude of reasons why Montgomery is not a candidate to pay you back on your 4th round investment.

 

Beware of the Big 12

 

About five years ago, the Big 12 instituted a rule change that allowed only 10 men to play on defense.  I joke, of course, but if you watched any Big 12 game, you’d sure think it was true.  This conference has become a carnival of offense, exploding scoreboards, with players running freely up and down the field with little resistance from opposing defenses.  College numbers in this league just don’t hold much weight with me, compared to players that have done it in the SEC, Big 10, etc.  Furthermore, the recent track record of Big 12 running backs in the NFL is abysmal.  Below is a list of every Big 12 RB drafted from 2012-2018.  Joe Mixon was an elite, blue-chip prospect coming out of high school.  David Montgomery’s pedigree falls more in line with the rest of the list.

 

  • Terance Ganaway
  • Bryce Brown
  • Joseph Randle
  • Rex Burkhead
  • Lache Seastrunk
  • Charles Sims
  • Ameer Abdullah
  • DeAndre Washington
  • Wendell Smallwood
  • Joe Mixon*
  • D’Onta Foreman
  • Samaje Perine
  • Chris Carson

Outside of Mixon and Carson, success in the Big 12 hasn’t translated to the NFL at all, much less as a top 40 fantasy player.  Even Carson, the one player that actually hit, is being drafted a full round behind Montgomery!  With the exception of a can’t miss prospect like Mixon, we can see that RBs coming out of the high flying Big 12 are overwhelmingly likely to become mediocre at the NFL level.

Measurables

Another concern about Montgomery is his athleticism and skills profile.  He demonstrated below-average speed (4.63) and alarmingly poor explosiveness (10th percentile Burst per PlayerProfiler).  In the NFL, running holes open and close in the blink of an eye, and the ability to hit the hole quickly is critically important.  Athletically, Montgomery will have a hard time doing that.  His lack of speed will prohibit him from beating linebackers to the edge and limit his ability to hit home runs when he does break free.  The areas where he does excel are elusiveness, shiftiness, and balance.

He led the NCAA in forced missed tackles last year.  Again, I’d be more interested in this statistic if he did it in a different league.  I’m also nervous about how well he’ll do with that against NFL competition.  I’m picturing a player dancing behind the line of scrimmage trying to juke guys out of their shoes.  This style usually leads to negative plays and a poor YPC.  We rarely see NFL running backs have sustained production relying solely on “making guys miss”.  NFL defenders are just too big, fast, and athletic to get beat like that consistently.  Montgomery’s other plus trait is his receiving ability.  While the Bears will find ways to use him in the passing game, he isn’t the weapon that Tarik Cohen is as a receiver.  More on that next….

Bears Backfield

The popular (wishful) thinking in the fantasy community is that Tarik Cohen is a specialized satellite back, that is essentially a role player.  Meanwhile, Jordan Howard vacated bell cow duties, and the far more talented Montgomery will step right into that role.  A closer look suggests it won’t be that simple.  There does seem to be consensus that Cohen’s role won’t change.  It won’t grow nor diminish.  Last year he played 46% of snaps – roughly 12% with another back on the field, and 34% alone.

Then there’s the offseason acquisition of free agent Mike Davis (two years – $6 mil.).  Mike Davis is flat good, quietly putting up 728 total yards and five TDs last year in a limited role for the Seahawks.  Davis is a veteran that was hand-picked by this regime, so it’s highly unlikely that they’ll relegate him to the sidelines easily.

In these situations, we typically see the rookie being asked to beat out the veteran before ascending to primacy; and beating out Davis may not be so easy.  Davis is a solid, if not spectacular, all-around back, who showed a nose for the end zone last year.  I expect an even split between the two in the early going, and until Montgomery can display clear superiority to Davis and avoid typical rookie mistakes (missed blitz pick-ups, fumbles, etc.), it should remain that way.  With roughly 65% of snaps available, I’ll be generous and split them up 40% – 25% in favor of Montgomery.

Unless he’s the second coming of LaDainian Tomlinson, he’s not returning anywhere near RB2 value on so few snaps.  As far as the receiving game, I’ll project him for 25-30 catches.  He has some ability and will be a major upgrade over Howard.  But Davis is solid in this area as well, and neither of them is in the same class as Cohen.  When Matt Nagy goes hurry up or on obvious passing downs, Cohen will be the guy out there.  Montgomery’s passing game production will be fine but modest.

Conclusion

I understand the inherent appeal of the unknown in fantasy, but for players considering drafting Montgomery at the 3-4 turn, do it with the knowledge that you are baking in every ounce of his upside.  It would take a minor miracle for you to break even on that investment of draft capital, much less get a positive return.

Like Freeman a year ago, I expect Montgomery to finish outside the top 36 running backs.  The following players being drafted soon after Montgomery are no-brainers to take over him: Mark Ingram, Philip Lindsay, Chris Carson, Kenyan Drake, Sony Michel.  The following players being drafted 2+ round later than Montgomery should also be ahead of him: Tevin Coleman, Rashaad Penny, Miles Sanders, Latavius Murray, and even good ‘ol Royce Freeman.

I would consider Montgomery in Round 8, or Round 7 if I felt like gambling, but with his flagrantly inflated ADP, that’s not a decision I’ll have to make, and you shouldn’t either.

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