Fantasy Court: The Case for David Montgomery

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This article is part of The Fantasy Court series. Be sure to check out The Case Against David Montgomery by Aaron Larson (@KurtKnowsBest).

Opening Statement

It’s the summer of 2019. The Ballers are touring the country in live shows and the Panderbear himself has eloquently named the Bears rookie running back “David Mopportunity”. Jason even compared his career outlook to The Infinity Stone himself, Frank Gore and Montgomery is being drafted as the highest rookie running back off the board in the third-round at RB-17.

Fast-forward 3 years and the now veteran Montgomery is still being drafted as a low-end RB2 like a top-5 isn’t on his resume. The time has come for fantasy managers to take advantage of the incredible – potentially league-winning value – that David Montgomery offers as a late 3rd-Round value.

Montgomery enters the last year of his rookie deal looking to prove to Chicago he is the future to lead their backfield in this new era and prove to fantasy managers that he is the key to their winnings ways in 2022.

2021 Performance

Montgomery finished 2021 as the RB-21 after playing just 13-games, averaging 13.5 points per game in half-point PPR scoring. While the year-end result is not what we might have expected after he finished as RB-4 in 2020, when you take a closer look at Montgomery’s output and the workload he received, you’ll see his finish could easily have been much higher.

Even though the season-long finish places Montgomery as a back-end RB2, his stranglehold on the work in the Bears backfield is impressive. Let’s do a blind review of Montgomery’s amount of work he received compared to another lead NFL back:

The two backs we see here have nearly identical workloads coming from their backfield, with each getting more than 74% of all the rushing work on their team and a decent amount of the team’s total targets. The running back in graph two, however, outworks the other in nearly every category outside of both rushing and receiving touchdowns – the most unsticky of stats from year to year.

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Let’s end the suspense. David Montgomery is the back whose market share is shown in Graph 2.

Graph 1’s running back? Your 2021 RB1, Jonathan Taylor.

The point here is even with missing 4 games due to injury, in 2021 Montgomery saw plenty of work to be consistently contributing to your fantasy team. How consistent was he? When you look at running backs in 2021 who played at least half of the season’s games (9 or more) he is the RB13 in points per game.

Not only that, Montgomery had the ceiling to be able to win you weeks with 5 top-10 finishes at the position. That’s more than Leonard Fournette (2021 RB7), Aaron Jones (2021 RB12), and D’Andre Swift (2021 RB19).

The Justin Fields Effect

Another argument against David Montgomery that will be raised is the fear of Justin Fields being the full-time starter in Chicago and that taking away from the work that we have seen make Montgomery successful in his first 3 seasons. Due to his injury that held him out for 4 games, we only saw Montgomery in the lineup with Fields taking the majority of the snaps for 7 games in 2021.

Snap % Opportunities Rushing Att. Rushing Yards Rushing TD Fantasy Rank
Week 2 80 24 20 61 0 26
Week 3 82 14 10 34 0 40
Week 4 62 23 23 106 2 5
Week 9 85 15 13 63 0 35
Week 11 95 15 14 58 0 28
Week 14 84 17 10 42 0 19
Week 15 70 24 18 60 0 26
Average 79% 18 15 60 < 1 25

The idea that Fields, who can use his legs as a weapon, would take work from Montgomery on the ground just isn’t supported by the sample size we have. Montgomery’s work rate as a runner is spot-on with Fields compared to where it was with Andy Dalton. The only dip in the workload with Fields is when Montgomery left the game in Week 4.

Montgomery’s pace of production when you consider the yardage he produced with Fields in 2021 is exactly on point with where he was in 2020 when he finished as the RB4 on the season. 

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Targets Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs
Week 2 4 3 18 0
Week 3 4 3 21 0
Week 4 4 2 0 0
Week 9 2 2 17 0
Week 11 1 1 9 0
Week 14 7 6 39 0
Week 15 6 5 23 0
Average 4 3 18 0
Totals 28 22 127 0
17-game Pace 68 53 308 0

Fields also turned to Montgomery in the passing game consistently as well, targeting him at the same pace that Andy Dalton did as the starter. The 53-reception pace would have finished Montgomery 6th among all running backs in 2021, ahead of the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Aaron Jones, and Ezekiel Elliott.

The Khalil Herbert “Problem”

There’s a growing sentiment that Khalil Herbert is due to take some of the work away from David Montgomery in 2022. The 2021 6th-round pick got a chance to show what he could do with lead-back snaps while Montgomery was out due to injury in weeks 5-8. In that stretch, Herbert posted two impressive weeks with RB11 & RB9 finishes in Week 6 & 7 respectively.

While these performances were great for fantasy managers who took the risk, after Montgomery returned from injury in Week 9, Herbert never saw more than 30% of snaps again the rest of the season. Montgomery had a stranglehold on the work in the Bears’ backfield post-injury, logging 81.4% of the RB Fantasy output, along with 14% of the team’s targets and 20% of the team’s receptions.

Based on his profile as a smaller, quicker running back, one would expect Herbert to profile well in the passing game, but he logged just 16 targets on the season and just 2 receptions a game as the lead back. Compare that to Montgomery’s nearly 4 targets per game and it doesn’t appear Herbert is a threat to take that work anytime soon.

Herbert won’t be taking any goal line work from Montgomery anytime soon either. In 2021, Montgomery dominated the Bears 10-zone (61.8%) and 5-zone (70.6%) carries, 7th and 5th highest in the league for a single team.

While Herbert has a cluster of supporters to see him on the field more, the best chance for him to see prime snaps regularly in the Bears backfield may be in 2023 if Montgomery isn’t re-signed by Chicago.

2022 Expectations

Coming into 2022, the Bears don’t project to be very good and for whatever reason and that seems to be playing a role in the underselling of David Montgomery as a fantasy asset.

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It shouldn’t.

There are plenty of valuable fantasy assets even on the worst teams in the league. In the last 5 seasons, there have been 26 players on non-playoff teams that finished as RB12 or higher in half-point PPR leagues. If you take that a step further, 28% of RB1s have come from teams that ended in the bottom-15 by record in the NFL, and 21% were on teams in the bottom 10.

Not having a great team around Montgomery will be aided by their schedule since the UDK projects Chicago to have the 2nd easiest schedule for running backs in 2022. The Bears don’t have an ideal start, hosting San Francisco and traveling to Green Bay to start the year, but that’s followed up with a nice stretch of Houston, at the New York Giants and at Minnesota.

As for the new coaching staff in Chicago, new head coach Matt Eberflus addressed having David Montgomery earlier this offseason, saying he’ll “fit right in”. When you consider the Bears’ new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy came from Green Bay where we’ve seen them utilize backs like Aaron Jones at an extremely high rate during his time in the offense.

On top of having the lion’s share of the rushing work, Montgomery should expect to see some positive touchdown regression in the passing game in 2022 as well.

NFL RB Receiving Yards 2021 20587
NFL RB Receiving TDs 2021 110
Yards Per Touchdown 187
D. Montgomery’s Rec. Yards 2021 301
Expected TD per Rec. Yards 1.6
D. Montgomery’s Receptions 2021 42
Expected TD per Receptions 1.75
Actual Receiving TDs 0

Montgomery’s 2021 receiving TD totals grade low against the league average based on both receiving yards and receptions. Against the average, Montgomery should have had between 1 and 2 receiving TDs last season. He was only one of 3 running backs in the league last season to have at least 40 receptions and 300 yards not to record a receiving TD (Josh Jacobs and Chase Edmonds were the other two). The other 16 backs that meet those reception and yardage requirements averaged nearly 3 TDs each.

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Conclusion

David Montgomery will be a steal in drafts given his current ADP. The other running backs going immediately before Montgomery in ADP all have flags that Montgomery lacks: James Conner – Negative TD regression coming?; Cam Akers – does he have the juice still to take 75% of the backfield?; Ezekiel Elliott – An actual RB behind him that can threaten his workload in Tony Pollard.

When you’re drafting your team’s RB2, you’re looking for guys who you know will have the opportunity of an RB1. Andy (like me) has his faith in “Mr. Mopportunity” ranking him as his RB-7, and sees the path to drafting an RB1 as the 18th running back off the board.

 

Do yourself a favor, and use a Sharpie on your draft board for David Montgomery.

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