Matt Waldman shares a sample scouting report on Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery from the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.
David Montgomery, Iowa St. (5-10, 222)
Depth of Talent Score: 85.85 = Starter: Starting immediately with a large role and learning on the go.
In October, ESPN went viral with an overzealous graphic hyping Montgomery’s skills. The graphic indicated Montgomery had the feet of Saquon Barkley, the vision of Le’Veon Bell, the strength of Ezekiel Elliott, and the athletic ability of Sony Michel.
I learned my lesson after big media football analysts compared Reggie Bush to Gale Sayers. Comparisons are rarely meant to be direct correlations of talent, but rather a commentary about similar styles of play. Of course, these subtleties are only reserved for programming scheduled for the wee hours of the morning.
Comparisons are made in most performance mediums. Jazz musicians are subjected to them all of the time.
“He sounds like Coltrane…”
“No, he sounds like Sonny Rollins…”
“I hear a lot of Joe Henderson to his playing…”
“That style of high-octave honking is just like Stanley Turrentine…”
“He even owes a debt to James Brown!”
The more you study performers in a performance medium and learn its history, the more you realize that performers are an amalgamation of several influences.
The example above is a partial list of influences for one of my favorite musical performers, Michael Brecker. A Grammy Award-winning jazz musician, he played on over 900 albums from every genre of music ranging from Horace Silver to Steely Dan to Joni Mitchell before making his first solo album in the mid-1980s. Known as one of the great modern jazz improvisers, he also had an indelible R&B sound.
According to my wife, Steve Harvey once committed the sin during his nationally syndicated radio show of ending Cameo’s hit, “Candy” before Brecker’s iconic solo. The national audience called up in mass to chide Harvey on-air for the omission.
When I listen to Brecker, I hear several of the influential musicians he studied to create his musical persona. In one sense, he sounds like all of these musicians, but because he expresses these influences through the lens of his personality and musical sensibilities, he has a unique musical voice and language that has led to others borrowing from him.
The range of ESPN’s comparisons bestowed on Montgomery may seem ridiculous, but only if you’re making a direct correlation to talent. A big network using this comparison at the beginning of a game is meant to draw viewers and maintain interest. They don’t mind if the viewer sees the analysis as a direct correlation to all of these players—even if the spirit of the comparison is meant to be merely stylistic.
I played the saxophone. I had peers tell me I sounded like a mix of Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Ben Webster. No one ever meant I played anywhere near their level of musicianship. They could hear the influences despite all of us knowing that Blue Note Records wasn’t ever going to knock on my door with a recording contract.
Football fans would benefit from this perspective. Here’s a hot take for you: Montgomery doesn’t have to be as talented as the players assigned to him in each of these areas of his game to be one of the better prospects in this class of runners. He doesn’t need to be fast, either.
The greatest difference between him and Jacobs is footwork. Montgomery is more creative and dramatic with his moves, which occasionally has a downside of him losing yards. Jacobs is more economical, which may not lead to as many larger creases that Montgomery can access.
Montgomery worked in shotgun, pistol, and one-back offenses with gap and zone play. Like Jacobs, Montgomery will hit creases hard when the scheme calls for it or he’ll show patience to set up the hole with a good press deep into the line or some creative movement. If there’s no crease and a bounce is too risky for the down-and-distance situation, Montgomery will bury his frame into the backside of a blocker and generate push to get the pile moving. He’ll also take what the defense gives him.
In addition to successful initiations of scrums and the ability to carry larger men on his back for significant yards through contact, Montgomery is an excellent finisher. This sets him apart from most of his peers.
Montgomery can widen his stride and lower his pads into a crease or a defender so he’s generating optimal momentum to drive through contact. Montgomery’s quickness, leverage, sense of balance, and creative movement makes him capable of breaking multiple tackles on any play.
His low center of gravity reminds me of Doug Martin and Ray Rice and bounces off contact to his frame—even early in runs while still in the backfield. He’s strong enough to pull through wraps—don’t even try to wrap him high. His stiff-arm is good enough to ward off the reach of defensive linemen.
The stiff arm isn’t Montgomery’s only successful tool against defensive linemen. He has the balance to bounce off hard hits from indirect angles. This is a rare trait for a college running back.
Montgomery even weaponizes his pad level, using his shoulder to uppercut through contact from linebackers. He’ll drop his pads low to knock linebackers to the turf and continue downfield.
When he can’t win direct collisions, he’ll spin off contact, attack with contact and then spin away, or balance-touch to regain his footing. He finishes with a good extension of his upper body to earn yardage at the end of a play. Montgomery’s vision supports excellent movement solutions against problems defenses pose. He reads penetration quickly and finds bounce-out opportunities. His quickness is good enough to stop, reverse his field, and cut downhill just inside edge containment for positive yards.
More dramatic movements allow linebackers to react with greater ease to Montgomery’s movement. When he keeps his steps short, he wins more often in these situations.
Although his acceleration allows him to reach the secondary, he lacks the deep speed to separate from defensive backs. He relies on his change-of-direction quickness and stamina to work from one side of the field to the other.
Montgomery is fast enough to outrun linebackers and some safeties—or at least maintain separation he earned against them early in the play. He will get run-down by backside linebackers before he reaches a crease if penetration forces Montgomery to execute multiple moves before accelerating through a downhill crease.
Off-tackle runs are effective, but working around the edge is difficult for Montgomery unless he’s earning an option toss. He can beat linebackers to the corner, but defensive backs are tougher assignments.
While Montgomery is quick and fast enough to employ multiple moves in sequence while behind the line of scrimmage or in a crease, he’s even more effective in the open field. Jukes, stop-start moves, cuts, spins, shakes, and head fakes are all weapons in Montgomery’s arsenal.
When he employs adjustments to his stride length, he navigates expertly through traffic and he’s especially difficult to bring down. Montgomery will avoid shots to his legs, dip away from pursuit, and even stop over wraps coming from odd angles.
There’s a tendency with Montgomery to hop and turn from penetration, but that hop takes him closer to the penetrating defender and in an off-balanced position. Instead, he should slow his pace and bend his path away from the opponent. This will keep him outside a defender’s radius of attack.
A skilled receiver, Iowa State used Montgomery wide, from the slot, and from the backfield. He extends well for the target, snares the ball quickly, and often transitions to a runner efficiently. He’ll take a hit while securing the ball and maintain possession—this includes one-handed, over-the-shoulder targets in the short range of the field.
He can also make difficult adjustments to targets arriving into his frame at awkward angles. Tracking the ball over his shoulder is not a challenge.
Montgomery is a competent blocker with room to improve. He can use a one-arm technique on defensive backs off the edge with good leverage. He’s willing to throw his body across the pocket to reach a blitzing edge defender.
Cut blocks often arrive at knee height and could be a little higher. He has an effective outside-in approach versus edge assignments in the pocket. In play-action situations, Montgomery squares his targets and delivers his arms into the opponent. With double teams or chips, he’ll lead with his pads. He can shield defenders from his quarterback off the edge but needs to be a beat faster with his decisions to set up against the pressure.
Montgomery must begin punching against linemen or he’ll risk getting pushed backward. His hand position is solid but the force behind them is something he must cultivate.
Montgomery has Star Caliber ball security, fumbling once per 208 touches. He uses the correct arm to carry the ball based on his path and the pursuit. His carriage is high and when necessary, he’ll use both arms to protect the ball.
An Eagle Scout, Iowa State coaches call Montgomery a culture changer. In addition to whatever off-field leadership Montgomery has, his hard-running, tackle-breaking style gets teammates excited on the field.
ESPN may see an amalgamation of Barkley, Michel, Elliott, and Bell, but I also see a combination of stylistic influences that resemble Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Devonta Freeman. Expect Montgomery to earn immediate playing time. If he performs well, he should become a productive feature back. Imagine him as the heir-apparent behind Freeman in Atlanta or spelling James Conner in Pittsburgh.
RSP Boiler Room: Smart Footwork—Montgomery and Arian Foster
RSP Boiler Room: Open-Field Decision-Making
RSP Boiler Room: Depth of Step
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Montgomery will be a top-five back in most rankings although his lack of speed could generate some variability in pre-draft rankings around the industry. If he’s available as a late first-round pick, he’s a bargain.
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