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Both NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein and the Ringer’s Danny Kelly drew a comparison between Bears third-round pick David Montgomery and former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who rushed for a league-leading 1,327 yards and caught 53 passes as a rookie while Matt Nagy was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator in 2017.
That’s a lofty on-field comparison to make, and is part of why expectations for Montgomery will be so high in Chicago in 2019. But Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning, who was part of coaching staffs that worked with both Montgomery and Hunt in college, thinks it’s a fair line to draw between the two running backs.
“They both catch the ball really well out of the backfield, they’re a little bit different in their running styles but there’s some similarities,” Manning said. “They’re obviously built a lot alike and I think (they have) the same kind of style, they have the ability to make people miss, they’re smooth in their transitions and they have the ability to put a shoulder down and play calm and be a physical runner and then they both do a great job with catching the football.
“There are some clips that you can go back and forth and watch and say man, (Montgomery) kind of reminds me of Kareem. And you go back cuts from (Hunt) too and you’re like man, that’s kind of strange, it looks a little like David there in that sense. They’re different, but I do think there are some similarities.”
Hunt’s testing numbers at the NFL Combine were similar to those of Montgomery, too, outside of Hunt’s vertical leap being better:
While Manning and head coach Matt Campbell were at Toledo, Hunt never was much of a pass-catcher — he totaled 32 receptions in three years — but after that crew left for Ames, he had 41 receptions his senior year. Montgomery peaked with 36 catches in 2017, a year before Manning left to become the Indianapolis Colts’ tight ends coach (he has since returned to his role as Iowa State offensive coordinator).
Montgomery’s pass-catching acumen comes from a certain natural ability as well as a strong desire to work at it, Manning said. He would run routes with wide receivers during weekly game prep, allowing Iowa State to throw some different things at him (pun intended) in the passing game.
“I could see why people would like him as far as the National Football League goes because he does have the ability to No. 1 catch the ball out of the backfield, but David also has pretty good route running skills,” Manning said. “He has the ability to line up outside the formation and run good routes.
“… I don’t want to say it’s natural ability because he’s worked at it, but he catches the ball very well, has very soft hands, has really, really good feet and has the ability to run routes. I think obviously that translates to that league, finding ways to get mismatches on linebackers and those sorts of things. But yeah, I think he’ll be utilized in a variety of ways and he’ll do a great job in Chicago with what they do offensively. I see David fitting very well in that system.”
Hunt’s promising time with the Kansas City Chiefs ended last season, though, when video surfaced of him kicking and shoving a woman during an altercation earlier in 2018. Hunt, reportedly, was involved in two other violent incidents off the field, and was given an eight-game suspension he'll serve as a member of the Cleveland Browns this fall. While the Bears didn’t rule out exploring signing Hunt in January, the team never seriously considered pursuing him despite the lack of a public denial.
Montgomery, on the other hand, comes to the Bears with a reputation of having good character. It’s not just his former coaches and teammates — in college, he befriended a 6-year-old boy named Hunter Erb, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects, a friendship detailed by the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman. General manager Ryan Pace has focused on bringing in high-character players during his tenure, at least since the team bungled the signing of Ray McDonald in 2015. Montgomery, by all accounts, fits with that approach.
“He’s a great young man,” Manning said. “He’s a gentle, high character guy that’s just a great guy to be around, got a great sense of humor, but I think what’s probably most impressive about David is the extreme focus that he can have on whatever he’s doing. He can make whatever he’s doing the most important thing and becomes laser-focused on that. Really just a joy to be around.”
As Jordan Howard struggled to find his footing in Nagy’s offense last season, it became apparent the Bears’ coach wanted a better fit in his offense — his own version of Hunt, if you will. The Bears may have found that in Montgomery, and the Hunt comparison is one Nagy — like just about everyone who’s seen both play — didn’t shy away from, either.
“There are some similarities for sure,” Nagy said. “You look at them and the size of them. You see how they run between the tackles. They are physical. They run angry, both of them. And the other connection is probably just with the background of the coaches that they both had too. That's an easy tie there.
“But he's going to be his own person. I think that's the best part about David is the fact that the amount of talks that we had with him, you get to dig into who he is and he's going to be David Montgomery, nobody else. And I think that's really important. We love that about him and I'm excited to see really where it goes.”