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David Montgomery Is Still Being Slept On

It’s 2021 and running backs could very well be the most difficult position in fantasy football to solve on your roster. 10 years ago, you could just draft two running backs in the first two rounds no matter who it was, and barring injuries, you were in the clear.

Now, with the rise in production of wide receivers, you have to balance the need for running backs with wanting to get an elite producer at wide receiver.

So, you split your first two picks at those positions, and you’re now heading into the third round thinking you’re throwing a dart to get your second running back. Except you’re not, because there is a stud running back that is coming off back-to-back top-24 campaigns including a top-five finish last season staring you in the face. 

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Montgomery Still Undervalued

That’s what you have in Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery. Montgomery started only eight games in 2019, and he was splitting the workload with teammate Tarik Cohen. He finished the year as RB24, but when you see the games where he got a big share of the work, he was waiting to have a better finish than he ended up with. In the games where he saw at least 15 carries, he averaged 5.21 more points per game in PPR formats in 2019. That was his rookie season, and it doesn’t even talk about last season when he was the full-time guy all year long.

Montgomery is currently being drafted with the 3.12 pick in PPR formats. That makes him the 21st running back off the board despite the fact that while he isn’t the sexiest player at the position, he’s one of the most consistent. Head coach Matt Nagy has no problem giving him touches, as Montgomery saw at least 10 carries in every single game where he was active last season. There were four running backs last season that could make that claim. The four were Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, Kenyan Drake, and Montgomery. 

 

Tarik Cohen’s Injury

Last season, Cohen went down with a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons when he was hit while fielding a punt. The injury took place in late September. With the average recovery time being right around a year, he should be about three months away from being fully ready for NFL contact. However, as recently as just a few weeks ago, he was still moving rather gingerly with his leg wrapped up. Cohen’s game is largely predicated on his athleticism and explosiveness, and unless he rapidly heals, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Montgomery has played 31 games in the NFL, and 19 of them have come with Cohen in the lineup. In the 12 games where he suited up without Cohen to take touches, which all came last season, he averaged over 19 PPR points per game. Among full-time running backs last season, that would have been the fifth-best mark among running backs. Assuming Cohen starts the year on the PUP list, Montgomery would be seeing at least six games as the full-time running back with nearly all of the touches to himself. 

Even if Cohen were to be on the active roster to start the season, it’s unlikely that he’s going to carry his usual workload which has largely become a pass-catching exclusive role since the team drafted Montgomery in 2019. He hasn’t carried the ball more than nine times in the last two seasons, and of the 19 games he’s played in, he’s seen double-digit touches in just six of those 19 games. All six of those games came in the 2019 season which showed even more touches going away from him. 

 

Nagy’s Plan

In three years as the head coach, there are two things that Nagy has been asked about more than anything. One is former quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and the other is how he handles the team’s running game. He has consistently talked about wanting to “establish the run” and following an interview he did over the weekend, it became very clear that Nagy has big plans to feed Montgomery in 2021-22. 

"That's where they can get those extra four or five carries, which can bump them into the top five, you know, with 20 rushes a game. That's our goal." That’s the quote Nagy gave over the weekend. Last season, Montgomery averaged 16.5 carries per game, which was fourth in the NFL behind Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Josh Jacobs. 20 per game would have put Montgomery into third among all backs. Over the last five seasons, there have been just nine instances of a player averaging 20 or more carries, and those have been carried out by five different players. The lofty goal that Nagy is setting in front of Montgomery is one that’s a recipe for RB1-level play. 

Of those nine running back seasons averaging 20.0 or more carries, seven of the nine seasons were RB5 or better that year, and Elliott’s season where he finished as RB12 saw him play just 10 games. Adding six more games of his average points per game to his total in 2017 would have slotted him into the RB3 slot for that year. The only other season outside of the top five was Leonard Fournette, who finished as RB9 while playing in only 13 games. 20 carries is a true bell-cow workload, and it leads a player to be the cream of the crop in production. 

 

Pass Catching

Through two seasons, Montgomery has 79 receptions on 103 targets. 54 of those 79 receptions came last season with 48 of those 54 coming after Cohen was lost for the season in Week 3. With Cohen coming back, you would assume that his receiving work is going to decrease dramatically. While it will decrease to some extent, the quality of the receiving work should increase due to the consistency of the quarterback play with the combination of Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields under center.

In the 14 career games that Montgomery has caught at least three passes, he’s averaging 18.38 PPR points per game. The Bears had a change under center, and they had some turnover on the offensive line. Whoever the quarterback is will be looking for their running back to dump the ball to, and with Montgomery’s ability to stay on the field for all three downs, he’s in a great spot to see a great workload throughout the year. 

You’re currently getting a player with an RB2 floor for a late third-round pick, and if he gets the volume that Nagy is forecasting for him, he is a near-lock for an RB1 season which is tough to find in the current RB climate. We haven’t even mentioned the red-zone work which is essentially all given to Montgomery. He was third among all running backs in percent of the team’s carries inside the 20 with 66.7 percent of the team’s carries going to him. He was the only player on the team with more than one rushing touchdown last season. Volume, opportunity, and market share all point to you being too low on Montgomery heading into this season.



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