Sun, 28 Feb 2021

9 players to watch in 2021: David Montgomery

Chicago Bears
21 Jan 2021, 00:37 GMT+10

Larry Mayer

The following is the first of nine stories featuring an ascending young Bears player heading into the 2021 season:

David Montgomery, running back

How he was acquired

The Bears traded up 14 spots in the third round of the 2019 draft to select Montgomery out of Iowa State with the No. 73 pick.

"His name was high on our board," general manager Ryan Pace said at the time. "We wanted to ensure that we could get him. We didn't have any kind of intel [like], 'Hey, we need to go now.' It wasn't like that. It was, 'Let's make sure we get this player that we all have conviction on."

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The Bears dealt the No. 87 pick and selections in the fifth round in 2019 (No. 162) and fourth round in 2020 to the Patriots in exchange for the No. 73 pick and a sixth-round selection (No. 205). New England chose running back Damien Harris at No. 87 and traded the 2020 fourth-round pick to the Jets, who chose quarterback James Morgan at No. 125. The Bears picked cornerback Duke Shelley at No. 205 in 2019.

Montgomery declared for the draft following his junior season. He played in 37 games in three seasons at Iowa State, rushing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns on 624 carries and catching 71 passes for 582 yards. In 2018, he appeared in 12 games, rushing for a career-high 1,216 yards and 13 TDs on 257 attempts and had 22 receptions for 157 yards.

According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery led the nation in forced missed tackles with 109 in 2017 and 100 in 2018.

"David Montgomery breaks a ton of tackles," Pace said. "There are guys bouncing off him left and right. A lot of guys can break tackles, but then they'll lose their balance. He has the ability to break tackles and keep his feet to continue for positive yards."

Prior to 2020 season

As a rookie in 2019, Montgomery rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns on 242 carries and caught 25 passes for 185 yards and one TD. His 889 yards ranked 19th in the NFL and were second among rookies, behind Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs' 1,150 yards.

"In every game you can always see the violence that he runs with," coach Matt Nagy said late in the 2019 season. "He breaks extra tackles. I like his growth this year. Being able to take it to the next level next year will be really important for us as a unit. I know he's going to be extremely focused. He'll probably take a week or two off just to get away and then he'll be one of those guys.

"The other part of it, too, for him is he won't be a rookie anymore. Sometimes it's hard for these young guys; they come in as rookies and they don't want to step on people's toes. They just go about their business. Being his second year now, I'll be curious to see how much of a leader he becomes."

Montgomery had two 100-yard performances in 2019, rushing for a career-high 135 yards and one TD on 27 carries in a Week 8 loss to the Chargers and 113 yards and one touchdown on 23 attempts in a Week 17 win over the Vikings.

Montgomery's lone touchdown reception of his rookie year was a 3-yarder from Mitchell Trubisky with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving in Detroit, lifting the Bears to a 24-20 comeback win over the Lions. Montgomery's season-long 55-yard run against the Chargers was the longest run by the Bears since Jordan Howard's 69-yarder on Oct. 31, 2016 in a 20-10 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field.

2020 season

In his second year with the Bears, Montgomery rushed for a career-high 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns on 247 carries. Montgomery tied for fifth in the NFL in rushing and became the first Bears back to top 1,000 yards since Jordan Howard in 2017.

After missing a Week 10 game with a concussion, Montgomery returned following the bye week and helped ignite a dormant Bears offense. His return coincided with Mitchell Trubisky being reinstalled as the starting quarterback and a reconfiguration of the offensive line.

In the first four games after the bye, Montgomery rushed for 434 yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries. Only NFL leading rusher Derrick Henry of the Titans had more yards and TDs during that span. Montgomery topped 100 yards in three of those four contests, highlighted by a career-high 146 yards on 32 carries in a Week 15 win over the Vikings in Minnesota.

In his final six regular-season games, Montgomery rushed for 598 yards and seven TDs on 116 carries, more than doubling his output in his first nine contests when he ran for 472 yards and one TD on 126 attempts.

From Year 1 to Year 2, Montgomery made huge strides in his leadership, receiving ability and breakaway speed.

"I think it's hard at times to come in as a rookie and lead," said running backs coach Charles London. "Last year, it was a little bit difficult for him, but as he's gotten a little more comfortable and his personality has come out a little bit, he's taken a leadership role in the offense, which is good to see. He's rallying guys, and guys are feeding off him."

Montgomery has worked tirelessly on his pass-catching ability, and it's paid off. After catching 25 passes for 185 yards and one touchdown in 2019, he had 68 receptions for 438 yards and two TDs in 2020.

"When we were scouting him coming out of college, he had really, really good hands, and he could run the whole route tree out of the backfield," London said. "We thought he could run some routes that receivers run.

"He just continues to work on it every day. After practice, between periods of practice, he's always working with the quarterbacks, trying to perfect his routes. Whether it's a route out of the backfield or a route further down the field, he works on it every day with the quarterbacks."

Another aspect of his game Montgomery focuses on his is breakaway speed. His improvement in that area was evident on the Bears' first play from scrimmage Dec. 13 against the Texans when he raced 80 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest run by a Bears player since Neal Anderson's 80-yard TD Nov. 27, 1988 against the Packers.

"He knows it was a knock on him coming out," London said. "He knows that. He'll be the first to tell you on one of those touchdown runs, he hit 20 miles an hour. So he's definitely aware of it. He does a great job of working at it. In practice, he's finishing 30, 40, 50 yards down the field, and it's really just working on his long speed, working on breaking runs."

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