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NFL Player Profile

Can David Montgomery boom with elite volume?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: May 21, 2020, 10:32 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The most infamous graphic ever created in the history of organized sporting events involved then-college RB David Montgomery and his professional comparisons:

Thus Montgomery was appropriately nicknamed 'Frankenstein'. This isn't to say he didn't deserve the honor ... in college, but an underwhelming rookie season on an 8-8 Bears team that was capable of so much more wasn't exactly how anyone hoped he'd open up his career.

The good news for Montgomery is that he's again looking like a bell-cow RB that won't cost potential fantasy investors a top pick to acquire. What follows is a breakdown on the Bears' second-year back and what we should expect from him next season.

Montgomery wasn't as bad as you thought in 2019

Montgomery didn't fulfill lofty expectations as a rookie, but his 267 touches wound up being good for the 12th-highest mark in the league. The main issue was a lack of both big-play and tackle-breaking ability. The latter factor in particular was surprising considering Montgomery was lauded for leading all of college football in broken tackles from 2018-2019 (PFF). His standing as the 53rd-best RB in yards after contact per attempt was nothing short of awful:

And yet, Montgomery actually ranked 12th in broken tackles per attempt among this same group.

Like most running games, the porous performance of the Bears in 2020 should probably be chalked up mostly to the offensive line:

  • Adjusted line yards per rush: 3.86 (No. 29)
  • Adjusted line yards over left end: 3.19 (No. 28)
  • Adjusted line yards over left tackle: 4.84 (No. 6)
  • Adjusted line yards over middle/guard: 4.03 (No. 25)
  • Adjusted line yards over right tackle: 2.72 (No. 32)
  • Adjusted line yards over right end: 3.3 (No. 24)

Throw in both Mitchell Trubisky's standing as a true bottom-five passer in virtually any category as well as his reluctance to run the ball himself for most of the season, and it's a bit easier to see why Montgomery struggled to get much of anything going last season.

He did begin to come on strong towards the end of the season, averaging more than four yards per carry in four of his five final games after doing so just twice in Weeks 1-12 combined.

The good news for everyone involved in this run game is that ...

The Bears *should* be a better offense in 2020

Last year's porous offensive line returns four starters in 2020, but losing RG Kyle Long to retirement is probably a positive at this point; he finished 2019 as PFF's single-worst guard among 87 qualified players. G James Daniels was the only Bears guard or tackle ranked among PFF's top-30 players at their position in 2019, so we shouldn't necessarily expect a massive upgrade out of nowhere, although the decision to hire long-time o-line coach Juan Castillo certainly can't hurt.

New OC Bill Lazor regularly utilized committee backfields in previous stops with the Dolphins and Bengals. Don't expect this to change in Chicago.

Still, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears somewhat take their collective foot off the break from their Tarik Cohen experiment. The 5-foot-6 and 179-pound RB set career-low marks in yards per carry (3.3) and yards per target (4.4) in 2019. This pass-game efficiency in particular was absolutely brutal. Only 2003 Az-Zahir Hakim averaged fewer yards per target in a single season since the metric began being tracked in 1992. Cohen is the only reason why Leonard Fournette wasn't the league's least-efficient receiver last season. And yet, Cohen joins Christian McCaffreyAlvin Kamara and James White as the only RBs with at least 200 receptions over the past three seasons.

It'd be hard for the passing game to not take a step forward after upgrading from Trubisky to Nick Foles. The former-Super Bowl MVP has largely succeeded whenever his coach wasn't Jeff Fisher or Doug Marrone, and it's not like this passing game has anywhere to go but up after what we saw in 2019.

  • Trubisky completion rate: 63.2% (No. 21 among 42 QBs to throw at least 100 passes in 2019)
  • TD rate: 3.3% (No. 36)
  • INT rate: 1.9% (No. 19)
  • QB Rating: 83 (No. 32)
  • Yards per attempt: 6.1 (No. 40)
  • Adjusted yards per attempt: 5.9 (No. 36)
  • Deep-Ball Rating (PFF): 62 (No. 30)
  • Under Pressure Rating (PFF): 55 (No. 32)
  • Kept Clean Rating (PFF): 93 (No. 33)

Montgomery wasn't used as a receiver much in 2019, but he largely offered positive results when the Bears did dial up his number in the passing game. Overall, he caught 25-of-35 targets for 185 yards and a score, averaging 1.6 additional yards per reception than Cohen. The rookie dropped just two passes along the way, regularly displaying soft hands in both the screen game as well as on deeper wheel-route shots.

This Bears Offense doesn't have much room to go but up, and they seem to have declared Montgomery as one of their featured players.

Bet on volume, not talent

250 touches seem more than reasonable for Montgomery in 2020. This number, like most statistical thresholds, is fairly arbitrary, but there has been a strong history of success from players that manage to reach this "milestone". Overall, only 9-of-153 RBs with at least 250 touches in a season failed to finish better than the PPR RB24. Yes, 2019 featured three of those players in Montgomery himself, Carlos Hyde and Sony Michel, but the potential for the Bears' featured back to continue to improve his efficiency and pass-game role adds a bit of a ceiling for 2020.

Montgomery is the last available back in drafts that should easily flirt with 300 touches if health prevails. The fact any rookies are going in front of him is questionable, let alone four of them. Very few backfields in the league are as clear as the Bears, and Montgomery is the undisputed lead back after the Bears declined to add any sort of veteran or rookie competition.

Zero-RB drafters should attempt to come away with Montgomery if they can. This wouldn't be the first time a young back rebounded from a disappointing rookie season, and Montgomery should have every chance to do so.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.