The summer is here, meaning we're getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2020. However, that latter exercise isn't easy, especially in the case of players who are among the elite at their position or are coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets.
Case in point: In 2018, James Conner emerged into a fantasy superstar as the new lead running back in Pittsburgh. He finished sixth in fantasy points at the position even though he missed three games. That success, plus his versatile skill set, made him a first-round pick in most 2019 redrafts. Fantasy folks just trusted that because Conner was so good in his breakout year, he’d be just as good or better the following year. Unfortunately, those of you who sunk a first-rounder on him found out differently.
Conner missed six games in 2019, and his average stats per game went downhill. His yards per carry average dropped from 4.5 to 4.0, and his fantasy points per game average went from 21.5 to 14.6. The Pitt product finished a very disappointing RB35.
The point here is that very few folks saw this coming because Conner was so good in 2018. That leads me to this series, aptly named "The Fantasy Case Against…" where I’ll do my due diligence in looking at players who everyone in fantasy land seems to think is a sure bet to remain or become uber-productive after finding a high level of success.
Next up, let's look at the 2020 breakout running back, David Montgomery.
The Fantasy Case Against ...
- Justin Herbert
- Zach Wilson (Dynasty)
- Alvin Kamara
- D'Andre Swift
- David Montgomery
- Derrick Henry
- Michael Carter
- Saquon Barkley
- Ja'Marr Chase
- Julio Jones
- Justin Jefferson
- Kenny Golladay
- Kyle Pitts
Montgomery was a league winner last season, finishing fourth in fantasy points among running backs. He bested all of his rookie totals, rushing for 4.3 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns on the ground. He was also far more active as a pass-catcher. In fact, Montgomery more than doubled his target, reception, and yardage totals. He was also among the league leaders in routes run and routes per game among running backs.
Did You Know?
According to Sports Info Solutions, Montgomery's routes run total went from 172 routes in 2019 to 286 this past season. The difference was the absence of Tarik Cohen, who missed last season with an injured knee. He had a total of 344 routes run in 2019. The Bears are expected to have Cohen back this upcoming season, which will affect Montgomery's touches as a pass-catcher. That's something fans should remember.
Also, Montgomery's breakout season in 2020 was a tale of two campaigns. He ranked 21st in fantasy points among running backs in his first nine games and averaged an unimpressive 12.3 fantasy points. At that rate, Montgomery would have finished with 196.8 points. That would have ranked him as the RB15 and just behind Nyheim Hines.
However, he went wild over his final six games, scoring 154.4 fantasy points while averaging 25.7 points. Those were the best totals of any runner during those six weeks. What’s more, Montgomery scored about 58 percent of his points in those six games.
What was different about those six games, you might ask?
Well, the schedule was loaded with matchups against cupcake defenses that couldn’t stop the run. Montgomery's six opponents were all in the top-six during that stretch in terms of allowing the most fantasy points to enemy running backs. That included the Lions (1st), Texans (2nd), Jaguars (3rd), the Packers twice (5th), and the Vikings (6th).
Simply put, the schedule played out perfectly for a back who had no competition for touches to produce at a high level. It was a win for Montgomery and fantasy fans.
Since 1991, the Bears offense has produced a top-10 fantasy back nine different times, including Montgomery’s RB4 finish last season. Former fantasy superstar Matt Forte accounted for more than half (5) of those finishes. Among the other 12 running backs to lead the Bears in fantasy points over the last 30 years, there hasn’t been a single player who finished in the top 10 in back-to-back seasons. Thomas Jones came the closest, finishing as the RB11 in 2005 after finishing 10th in points the prior year.
The list of runners includes Neal Anderson, Lewis Tillman, Rashaan Salaam, Raymont Harris, Edgar Bennett, Curtis Enis, James Allen, Anthony Thomas, Adrian Peterson (the other one), Jordan Howard, Cohen, and Montgomery, who has a shot to break the trend.
On a positive note, the Bears have had a running back finish in the top-20 in fantasy points 21 different times since 1991. Eight of those instances (38 percent) were Forte.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy handed over the play-calling duties to OC Bill Lazor last season, but he’ll be back in that role in 2021. The running back position has had some success under Nagy, as Kareem Hunt (2017) and Montgomery (2020) finished as the RB4 in their respective seasons. What's more, Cohen had an RB11 finish in 2018.
Nagy had said this offseason that he’d like to get Montgomery 20 carries a game, but I’m skeptical. He had 20-plus rushing attempts four times last season, including each of the last three games, but game script was also in his favor during those contests.
The planets aligned last season for Montgomery to have a breakout year (or at least, a breakout six-week stretch). However, the planets typically don’t align like that in back-to-back seasons. Cohen will return to his prior role as the team’s pass-catcher out of the backfield, meaning Montgomery's routes run and targets are destined to decline.
The Bears also added veteran Damien Williams, who was lighting up the scoreboard for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl the last time he was on an NFL gridiron. He knows Nagy's offense, too, so he'll see some touches as well. All of this puts a dent into Montgomery's projected touch share, despite what Nagy said about getting him 20 carries a game.
On a positive note, all these things going against Montgomery have decreased his draft stock. A player coming off a top-four finish among running backs would typically be a surefire first- or second-round choice in drafts the following season. Instead, his current average draft position (ADP) at the Fantasy Football World Championships is 40. That means he’s being picked, on average, in the fourth round as a No. 2 runner.
The rest of the fantasy world feels like I do about Montgomery. He's a good back who can produce explosive plays at times, but he's quite unlikely ever to have another statistical season like the one he had in 2020. So despite his top-four finish, I'd err on the side of caution (don't over-draft him) and grab him as a No. 2 fantasy running back.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!