In the first part of this series on David Montgomery, we looked at how he compared to other running backs in his class as well as the impact of his offensive line on his statistics.
For part two, we will explore how college success has translated to the NFL for some other recently drafted running backs, specifically Kareem Hunt, who not only played in the same professional offensive scheme but also the same college offensive scheme.
Here is a chart analyzing the NFL and collegiate stats for some rookies who were either taken around the same part of the draft as Montgomery, have similar college stats, performed well during their rookie years or a little bit of everything.
The college statistics for each player are in parenthesis, and for everyone besides Hunt, it is from their last year in college only.
When looking at the above table, you may notice that all but one of the player’s percentage of yards after contact went up despite every player in the table’s yards after contact per attempt going down.
At the same time, all of the players did see their missed tackles forced per attempt go down by 25.9 percent.
So, while fans should not expect Montgomery to maintain his rate of 0.39 missed tackles per attempt like in his senior year, he should still be able to force his fair share of missed tackles.
In fact, if we use Montgomery’s forced missed tackle rate from his two years as the starting running back, he would still force 0.27 missed tackles per attempt even with a proportional drop similar to those above.
Not only would that number be the best of the players listed above, but it also would have been the best rate in the entire NFL last year.
While guys like Alvin Kamara and Hunt have both been touted for their outstanding contact balance, Montgomery’s might be even better.
Can Montgomery Breakout Like Hunt?
By shipping Howard to Philadelphia in late March for a late draft pick and trading multiple picks to move up 14 spots to grab Montgomery, Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy placed high expectations on Montgomery going into 2019.
However, unlike Hunt during his rookie year, Montgomery is going to be part of a crowded backfield. Last year Tarik Cohen had 99 carries over the course of the season and new additions Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson had 112 and 42 carries respectively, with their previous teams.
Add in the miscellaneous carries given to wide receivers like Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller as well as Mitch Trubisky and it is tough to gauge exactly how many carries Montgomery might have.
Nonetheless, despite Nagy stating he wants to take a running back by committee approach, his actions say differently. Keep in mind that in the five games where Hunt played and Nagy called plays, Hunt averaged just under 20 carries per game.
But even in the case that Montgomery does somehow reach the same number of carries as Hunt, is it reasonable to expect 4.9 yards per carry like Hunt produced during his rookie year?
Well, in 2017 Hunt averaged 1.8 yards before contact per attempt and 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, which means about 63 percent of his yards came after contact.
During Nagy’s first year as head coach, the Bears offensive line averaged 1.3 yards before contact, which will need to get better if the run game is going to improve.
Accounting for the better fit at running back, likely an improved passing game, as well as overall comfort in the scheme, averaging 1.6 yards before contact is likely a reasonable goal for the offensive line.
If that happens, Montgomery will need to average 3.3 yards after contact just a touch under the 3.5 he averaged in college. It would also mean that 67.3 percent of his yards would need to come after contact, which is well below the 74.4 percent he averaged in college.
While it is rare for players to maintain the same number of yards after contact from college to the NFL, the difference between his yards before contact compared to the other players could make Montgomery the rare exception to the rule.
If the Bears offensive line improves even slightly, Montgomery could see his best blocking since high school, and it could mean he is primed for a breakout year much like the one Nagy oversaw in Kansas City.
The Passing Game
Averaging 4.9 yards per carry was not the only reason Hunt was on his way to superstardom as a rookie. He also caught 53 passes on only 62 targets for 455 yards, a far cry from Howard’s numbers in 2018.
During that rookie year, 52.9 percent of Hunt’s plays came in the passing game either out on a route or as a pass blocker. While 50.9 percent of Howard’s plays came on passing plays, far less involved him actually going out on a route, making him less of a threat as a pass catcher.
Undeniably, having a running back that is a threat to catch a pass as well as run the ball well puts the entire running game in a better position to have success, which bodes well for Montgomery.
On the surface, Montgomery’s receiving numbers from 2018 are nothing extraordinary. He only caught 22 passes on 25 targets for 157 yards. Much like with Iowa State’s running game, the stats do not tell the whole story.
Due to pass blocking issues across the line as well as a freshman quarterback, many of Iowa State’s passes were play action, which involved Montgomery giving fakes, and even on the straight drop backs Montgomery was typically asked to block or check then release.
Montgomery did a little more as a receiver in 2017 catching 36 passes on 46 targets (37 deemed catchable) for 296 yards.
Former coaches have lauded both Montgomery’s hands as a receiver as well as his route running.
Remember, just because a player was not asked to do something does not mean they cannot do it.
Montgomery has absolutely proven he can be a threat in the passing game as shown below.
— Nick Petro (@PetroTLS) April 27, 2019
As detailed in part one of this series, Montgomery was not the most explosive running back, in terms of carries that went 10 or more yards, during his time in college.
During his final year of college, Hunt had 49 carries of 10 yards or more over his 262 total carries (18.7% vs. 15.5% for Montgomery). In 2015 Hunt’s number of explosive carries was actually worse, as he only had 27 carries of at least 10 yards which was only 15.1 percent of his 178 total rushing attempts.
In Hunt’s rookie year, he had 35 explosive runs out of his 272 carries (12.9 percent). Only 18 of Howard’s 250 carries (7.2 percent) were considered explosive by SharpFootball.com’s metrics, so this is an area that needs to be better for the Bears in 2019.
Raising the amount of yardage to at least 15 yards, which is what Pro Football Focus describes as a breakaway run, and Montgomery had 19 rushes that went for 15 or more yards in 2018, out of 257 carries (7.4%). In his last year in college, Hunt had 16 rushes of at least 15 yards out of 262 rushes in 2016 (6.1%).
During his rookie year, Hunt’s percentage of runs that went at least 15 yards actually improved to 6.9 percent, 19 out of 272 carries.
This is important to note especially when considering how poor Iowa State’s offensive line performed in front of Montgomery and the possibility that he gets better blocking at the NFL level.
Despite the lack of breakaway speed, Montgomery has the ability to improve the number of explosive carries for the Bears’ offense in 2019 whether it be carries of at least 10 yards or 15.
This is going to be a vital part of the Bears taking that next step as an offense like fans are hoping and, to some degree, expecting.
Even though he may not have run the fastest, jumped the highest, or even had the most on-field production, he did extremely well given his situation.
While it is unrealistic to expect Montgomery to lead the NFL in rushing as Hunt did during his rookie year, he can absolutely make a big impact from the start of the season due to his uncanny ability to break tackles, his potential in the passing game and his well-documented work ethic.
When the book closes on his rookie season, do not be surprised to see Montgomery as the leading rusher on a team with very high aspirations.