In each of the last four NFL drafts, a running back has been among the top 10 picks—Todd Gurley in 2015, Ezekiel Elliott in 2016, Leonard Fournette in 2017 and Saquon Barkley a year ago. That isn’t going to happen this year—as a matter of fact, it’s possible that no running back will be selected in the first round at all.
However, just because the Class of 2019 lacks a consensus “can’t-miss” pick doesn’t make it bereft of talent. There are going to be a bucketful of tailbacks taken on the draft’s second day, and odds are good at least one of those backs will wind up a starter early in his NFL career.
In the opinion of NFL Network Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah, Iowa State’s David Montgomery has the potential to be just such an early contributor. I think he’s a no-brainer as a second-round pick and I think he’ll be a Day 1 starter,” Jeremiah said, via Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. “Vision, patience and stop-start quickness. He’s got a lot of natural instincts as a runner. And as a pass blocker, he’ll miss some cut blocks — that’s an area he can continue to improve on and get better. “He is just fun to watch. He is one of my favorite players in the draft.”
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David Montgomery Has the Talent to be a Day 1 Starter at the NFL Level
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com is in agreement that Montgomery has the look of an NFL-ready runner after picking up over 1,100 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons at Iowa State.
“One of the safest runners in this draft with a desirable combination of size, vision, toughness and creativity,” Zierlein said in comparing the 5’10”, 223-pound Montgomery to Kareem Hunt. “He runs with impressive calm and instincts in the midst of interior mayhem, weaving and battering his way through traffic. Smart teams will recognize his ability to create yardage for himself with his eyes, footwork, contact balance and power. Should alleviate concerns about his lack of explosiveness. Montgomery has a pro-ready game and Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) value as a good NFL starter.”
In fact, at least one AFC scouting director thinks Montgomery might be the best back in this entire class. “That’s my guy,” the executive told Zierlein. “If he gets with the right team, he’s going to be the best running back to come out of this class and you won’t have to draft him early either.”
Sam Brief of Sports Illustrated didn’t go quite that far—but he did rank Montgomery as this year’s No. 2 tailback—just behind Alabama’s Josh Jacobs.
“Montgomery is one of the most versatile backs in this group,” Brief said, “earning him comparisons to James Conner. Let’s start with one of Montgomery’s most standout strengths: His pass-catching skills. He hauled in 71 catches for 582 yards in his three seasons as a Cyclone, and he has tremendous downfield vision and patience which aids him greatly on screen passes. On short passes and on runs, he takes the time to read blocks before sprinting forward; scouts look for that kind of pro-level patience. Montgomery also boasts impressive balance and tackle-breaking ability.”
The scouting report by Gavino Borquez of Draft Wire echoes a very similar refrain in pegging Montgomery as solidly in the Day 2 mix.
“Montgomery’s got explosive fluidity and lateral quickness,” Borquez said. “He can beat linebackers’ coverage as a pass catcher, even though his route running could use some refinement. Montgomery holds up well in pass protection to keep his quarterback clean, too. But his speed is average and he won’t be able to get away with some of the runs he made in college. Along with that, he needs to develop better anticipation to feel lanes developing. Overall, Montgomery has the traits of an every-down, No. 1 RB at the next level by Year 3 in a heavy zone scheme.”
However, while there’s a lot to like about Montgomery, he’s not the fastest tailback in this class—as evidenced by an uninspiring 4.63-second 40 time at the combine. And that’s led some draftniks like Benjamin Solak of the Draft Network to question whether (despite all his qualities) Montgomery might be better suited to a role in a committee than duty as a workhorse.
“David Montgomery has a truly elite trait in his contact balance, but trading on that ability alone won’t be enough at the next level,” Solak said. “Montgomery’s current profile of strong lateral cuts, excellent footwork and contact balance, and the demeanor to finish make him a strong candidate for teams that like to work their running backs into space with heavy zone flow. Montgomery also boasts of a strong pass-catching and pass-blocking profile, which boosts his stock — but as it stands, Montgomery’s lack of a homerun-hitting profile illustrate the need to pair him with a back with better physical tools in a 1A/1B distribution of touches.”
Solak compared Montgomery to Thomas Rawls and labeled him a fourth-round pick, but this writer will be very surprised if Montgomery makes it to the draft’s third day. He didn’t make it into my recent article here at Fantrax about Day 2 Dynasty Diamonds not because I don’t have confidence in his ability to succeed in the NFL. He was omitted because calling him a “diamond” is stretching it—he’s one of the safer bets in the backfield in the Class of 2019.
That safety comes with a trade-off—Montgomery’s fantasy ceiling could be a bit limited by his lack of straight-line speed. He’s more likely to have a ceiling in RB2 territory than inside the top-12—at least with any consistency. But given Montgomery’s well-rounded skill-set and passing-game chops, he could realize that ceiling fairly quickly.
How quickly will depend a fair bit on which NFL team spends a Day 2 pick on Montgomery. As with restaurants, a lot of any rookie’s fantasy value depends on location, location, location. But he’s a serious challenger to be a top-three rookie tailback who won’t last past the middle of the first round in dynasty rookie drafts.
A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.
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