David Montgomery Deserves More Fantasy Respect in 2021
David Montgomery came into the NFL with a lot of buzz in 2019, getting comparisons to Kareem Hunt because of a potential workhorse role under head coach Matt Nagy, who coached Hunt as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator while with Andy Reid. Montgomery ended up flopping, finishing as RB30 in fantasy points per game (PPR). He became known as a plodding back with limited upside heading into his sophomore season.
Montgomery proceeded to break out in 2020, finishing as RB4 in half-PPR PPG after a late-season surge where he posted 24 receptions, 824 total yards, and eight touchdowns in his final six games. Despite this impressive stretch, Montgomery is currently being drafted as RB20 (39.3 ADP) on Underdog, behind the likes of Miles Sanders and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. It seems as if lingering effects of a poor rookie season are causing fantasy players to be bearish on Montgomery in 2021.
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Montgomery heads into his third season with an improved team context. The Bears used their first-rounder to select quarterback Justin Fields, who was considered by many observers to be the second-best quarterback in this class. Fields has dual-threat capabilities, having rushed for 274 yards on 67 carries in only six games at Ohio State last season. We've seen several examples of how mobile quarterbacks can open up rushing lanes for their running backs. Mark Ingram had his most efficient season (5.0 YPC on 202 carries) with Lamar Jackson. Warrick Dunn consistently put up two seasons with 5.0+ yards per carry with Michael Vick. Alfred Morris went off for 1,613 yards with Robert Griffin III under center.
Fields has the ability to run for 400+ yards as a pro, so Montgomery should benefit from this rushing threat. We could also see the Bears lean more on the running game to make it easier on their rookie quarterback. Montgomery is well-positioned to build on his strong finish in 2020. He deserves some more respect from fantasy players. In this article, I'll address any potential concerns about Montgomery and highlight why he's currently undervalued in season-long leagues.
Concerns over Receiving Volume
Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL, which ended his season back in Week 3. Let's take a look at Montgomery's splits both pre- and post-injury:
As expected, Montgomery took on a much larger role once Cohen was lost for the season. Cohen is a pass-catching specialist who has averaged 67.7 receptions during his three healthy seasons with the Bears. He's now healthy, so it's clear that he'll eat into Montgomery's receiving volume. Last season, Cohen and Montgomery each had nine targets before Cohen tore his ACL. If we projected three targets per game for Montgomery, that would give him 51 targets in a 17-game season, which should be enough for 35-40 receptions, 19 fewer than last season's total of 54.
While that's definitely a cause for concern, this isn't a Damien Harris situation—Montgomery is more than a zero in the passing game. We also have to account for his dominant finish last season. It's likely that the coaching staff trusts Monty more after what he showed down the stretch, so we should project higher volume than what we saw in Weeks 1-3 of last season when he was still fresh off a disappointing rookie campaign.
Exploiting Weak Matchups
Montgomery took advantage of several exploitable matchups during his dominant finish to the 2020 season.
|Week||Opponent||.5 PPR Points||Rank vs. RB|
|12||at Packers||22.8 (RB6)||27th|
|13||vs. Lions||25.1 (RB1)||31st|
|14||vs. Texans||23.0 (RB7)||32nd|
|15||at Vikings||28.7 (RB1)||28th|
|16||at Jaguars||19.1 (RB9)||30th|
It's clear that he had a murderer's row of mouth-watering matchups during this six-game stretch, but good players take advantage of weak opponents. We shouldn't be downplaying this type of production, especially when it's this dominant. This might be an example of a young running back finding his footing at the professional level, similar to Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis.
The Bears seemed to have gotten things on track with their run-blocking, as their offensive line really started to gel during this stretch. We also have to consider that the Bears started Mitchell Trubisky for each of these six games. The Bears went more run-heavy here and should do the same with rookie Justin Fields at the helm. The question then becomes, what does Montgomery's schedule look like in 2021?
According to Sharp Football, the Bears rank 18th in strength of schedule according to opponent's run defense efficiency. While this isn't great, we can see that there are still some enticing matchups during the year. Montgomery gets to face the Lions (26th), Vikings (27th), and Packers (19th) twice. He also has good matchups against the Raiders (31st), Bengals (20th), Browns (18th), and Giants (16th). The overall ranking is skewed by matchups against the Bucs (first), Rams (third), Steelers (fifth), 49ers (seventh), and Ravens (eighth). Avoiding Montgomery because he took advantage of cupcake matchups is a poor decision, especially when you consider that his upcoming schedule still features games against several unimposing defenses.
Montgomery is priced as a mid-tier RB2 on Underdog despite performing like an elite RB1 in a six-game stretch last season and being ranked near to the top 12 here at 4for4. Take advantage of the lingering stench of his rookie season that has suppressed his market value. Although Tarik Cohen is back, Monty will still play a role in the passing game. Montgomery took advantage of a weak schedule last year, but he'll have more good matchups this year.
The Bears also bolstered their offensive line with their theft of offensive tackle Teven Jenkins in the second round, as he was widely projected to go in the first 32 picks. The bottom line here is that this is a running back entering his age-24 season, playing as one of the focal points on offense with a dynamic, dual-threat rookie quarterback. Montgomery deserves more respect.