The Debate Series of the SI/4for4 Fantasy Football Draft Kit will pit two top minds in the fantasy industry against one another. They will take opposing sides of a decision many fantasy owners will face during their drafts, and make the case for their guy. In this installment, 4for4’s T.J. Hernandez and SI’s Michael Beller debate Dalvin Cook vs. Ty Montgomery.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings (ADP: 60.75)
T.J. Hernandez makes the case for Cook over Montgomery…
When given the opportunity, running backs have excelled as rookies in the NFL more than any other position. Opportunity is exactly what Dalvin Cook will have in Minnesota. Perennial touchdown vulture Matt Asiata is no longer on the roster, while Latavius Murray, Cook’s only real threat to a featured-back role, started training camp on the PUP list. After undergoing ankle surgery, Murray is in danger of missing the entire offseason, which would surely solidify Cook as the starter going into Week 1.
Even if Murray is active to start the season, he’s been one of the most underwhelming backs in the league. He has struggled to create yardage despite running behind an elite offensive line, as highlighted in research done by 4for4’s Joe Holka.
Cook, on the other hand, is a player that many pundits graded as the top running back in the 2017 draft class. However, he is being drafted as the fourth rookie running back in fantasy drafts after falling to the Vikings in the second round of the NFL draft.
The comparison of Cook to Ty Montgomery simply comes down to potential touches. Last season, Minnesota running backs combined for just 424 touches because the team didn’t have any reliable backs on its depth chart. After signing Murray, drafting Cook and overhauling their offensive line, the Vikings’ running back pie is likely to grow in 2017. If Cook can secure even 60% of Vikings running back touches, a 250-touch season is his floor.
Over the past five seasons, only 23 of the 75 running backs to see at least 250 touches have failed to reach 173 standard points and just 19 scored fewer than 200 PPR points, or approximate RB12 numbers in the respective formats (based on scoring averages over that span).
As for Montgomery, there isn’t a clear path to a workload for him which would consistently produce top-12 numbers. Green Bay ranked dead last in running back touches in 2016, and Montgomery saw double-digit touches just seven times all year, surpassing 15 touches only twice. None of Aaron Rodgers’s teams have ever afforded a running back more than 55.8% of its touches—a share bested by 18 teams last season alone.
Due to his pedestrian touch totals, Montgomery would need a massive amount of scoring opportunities to outpace his asking price. Those opportunities are not guaranteed, even in this high-powered offense. Montgomery’s 27 red-zone opportunities (rushes plus targets) ranked 32nd among running backs in 2016, and 13 of those opportunities were targets. With his team’s addition of tight end Martellus Bennett to an already deep receiving corps, Montgomery’s targets near the goal line could be in danger.
Montgomery offers a nice floor in PPR leagues, but may prove to be a boom-or-bust player who is tough to predict on a weekly basis. That’s not what I’m looking for from a running back being drafted in the top 20 at his position.
Dalvin Cook finds himself in a situation where he could see one of the most substantial workloads in the league, as he is seemingly the solution for a Minnesota team that has spent the entire offseason looking to improve its running game. Cook’s workload projects to be greater than Montgomery’s, which makes Cook the more likely of the two to outperform ADP.
Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers (ADP: 61)
Michael Beller makes the case for Montgomery over Cook…
Montgomery is going to win people fantasy leagues this season, and the case for him stands entirely on its own merits.
Montgomery made the transition to running back from receiver last year out of necessity. Eddie Lacy went down with a season-ending ankle injury in mid-October, and none of his possible replacements on the depth chart, from James Starks to Christine Michael to Don Jackson, were suited for a big role in the Green Bay offense. With Davante Adams emerging opposite Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb still a capable slot receiver, Mike McCarthy had the flexibility to move Montgomery, who had already become one of the team’s best playmakers, to running back on the fly. The results speak for themselves.
Montgomery ended up with 77 carries last season for 457 yards, good for 5.94 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. He had six or more totes in seven games, totaling 423 yards on 64 rushes, bumping his yards per carry to 6.61. Montgomery showed how lethal he can be on the ground when the team commits to him as the primary rusher in the one game in which he received double-digit carries. In that contest, a 30–27 Packers win over the Bears, Montgomery rumbled for 162 yards and two scores on 16 rushes.
A lot of the Montgomery doubters want to focus on his size, suggesting that he’s too small to handle a running back’s workload. They don’t seem to understand that being a small receiver doesn’t automatically make someone a small running back. Montgomery checks in at six feet tall, and bulked up this offseason, weighing in at 223 pounds at the start of training camp. By comparison, the Cowboys list the hulking, bruising, powerful Ezekiel Elliott at six feet and 225 pounds. That should put the hand-wringing over Montgomery’s size to bed. This isn’t the Rams experimenting with Tavon Austin as a lead back. This is a guy who’s more than big enough to handle starting running back responsibilities.
I don’t see any substantive reason to worry about the rookies behind him on the depth chart, notably fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, and fifth-rounder Aaron Jones. Both had strong college careers at BYU and UTEP, respectively, but they’re low-value rookies who will spell, not supplant, Montgomery. The incumbent has a leg up on them in literally all facets of the game, especially with a coach like McCarthy, who loves Montgomery’s versatility, which makes him all the more dangerous on third down.
We know for a fact that Montgomery is going to be a capable receiver out of the backfield. He caught 44 passes for 348 yards last season, and was considered a good enough receiver to be a third-round pick in the 2015 draft. He may be a running back first and receiver second, but McCarthy is going to find plenty of ways to get him the ball, including lining him up as a receiver multiple times per game. Lacy and Starks combined for 63 catches in 2015, 84 in 2014 and 57 in 2013, and Montgomery is a far superior receiver to either of them. It’s not crazy to think that Montgomery could approach 300 carries plus targets in one of the league’s most potent offenses.
And that brings us to our final point. Aaron Rodgers took over as the starter in Green Bay in 2008. In the nine seasons since then, the Packers have finished outside the top 10 in total yards twice, and outside the top 10 in points once. Last year, a season in which the Packers didn’t figure out their backfield until almost November, they were eighth in yards and fourth in points. Rodgers-led offenses rack up yards and points, the lifeblood of fantasy production.
All things being equal, I want a meaningful stake in the Green Bay offense wherever I can get it. This year, that means owning Rodgers, Nelson, Adams or Montgomery. Given the back’s ADP, he’s going to be the easiest to get. Do so, and he’ll help you win your league.