The Bears' 2019 NFL Draft class earned high marks despite being without a first or second-round pick largely because of the selections of running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Riley Ridley in the third and fourth rounds.
Both players were viewed as value picks who could immediately contribute to the Bears' offense this season.
Montgomery, despite going through the expected peaks and valleys of a first-year running back, did just that. Ridley, on the other hand, spent most gamedays inactive and entered Week 17's finale against the Vikings with just three catches for 15 yards.
But when Chicago needed a play to be made on offense in Minneapolis on Sunday, the Bears turned to Montgomery and Ridley.
Montgomery enjoyed his second 100-yard game of the year, finishing with 23 carries for 113 yards and a 14-yard touchdown run. Ridley secured three catches for 54 yards, including a critical late fourth-quarter reception that kept the Bears' game-winning drive alive.
It was a positive development in a season that's been one disappointment after another. Hope for a brighter future is usually found in a team's younger players, and with the offense expected to be the primary rehab project this offseason, building the running game around Montgomery and counting Ridley in the passing game's plans certainly helps expedite that process.
Montgomery's rookie year ends with 242 carries for 889 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged just under 3.7 yards per carry, which isn't great, but remember: Walter Payton averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in his rookie season. Chargers Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson averaged just 3.6 per tote in his first year.
This isn't to say Montgomery will have a Hall of Fame career, but his box score will improve as the offense finds its way. He proved in Week 17 how effective he can be when the offensive line opens holes.
Ridley didn't have nearly the level of production that Montgomery had, finishing his rookie season with just six catches for 69 yards. But he was clutch on Sunday, and he looked the part too. He ran good routes, showed sure hands and did some damage with the ball in his hands. He just needs more opportunities, which he'll get in 2020.
The book on Chicago's 2019 season closes with a win and an 8-8 record. It wasn't anywhere near as exciting or successful as Bears fans expected. But for all the lows this team has produced over the last four months, two rookies provided a source of hope as the 2020 offseason kicks off.