The first big signing in what is a deep NFL free-agent running back market is a massive shift in the fantasy football landscape.
David Montgomery has signed with the Lions on a three-year, $18M deal. The broad early market has opened at a much more conservative clip than previous years, and Montgomery’s contract is another solid value with Detroit, making him the 15th-highest-paid RB by current yearly salaries.
Montgomery’s fantasy projection with Detroit Lions
Since joining the league in 2019, Montgomery has been a consistent compiler with at least 800 rushing yards in each of his four seasons. Montgomery’s 13.5 fantasy points per game since 2019 places him as RB19 in this span, which is respectable. However, his average efficiency on the ground is the main reason Montgomery only has one top-12 finish on his ledger (RB6 in 2021).
The thing is, Montgomery has always been a shifty, elusive runner, and he was arguably better than ever last season.
Per @FantasyPtsData new #Lions RB David Montgomery was tied for the highest forced missed tackle rate among all backs with 125+ carries. (.31)— Brett Whitefield (@BGWhitefield) March 15, 2023
t1. David Montgomery - 0.31
t1. Nick Chubb - 0.31
However, Montgomery has a career 3.9 YPC… so what gives?
Well, by the numbers, he has suffered behind some of the worst offensive line play in the league in recent years.
Per Fantasy Points Data, the Bears' offensive line generated just 1.32 yards before contact – which was 20th in the league last season. The year prior? Their run blocking was marginally worse (1.27 yards before contact – 24th).
The 2022 Lions offensive line mauled their opponents on the ground, generating 1.84 yards before contact – third-best behind only the 49ers (1.93) and Jaguars (2.04). And that was a nice improvement from their 10th-best run-blocking line in 2021 by yards before contact (1.64).
This is a massive improvement for Montgomery’s rushing outlook.
This all brings us to the elephant in the room — one D’Andre Swift. There were moments of excellence mixed with head-scratchers for Swift last season, and a nagging high ankle injury ultimately limited him to a part-time role all year.
Swift finished as the RB17 in 2022 thanks to a few huge spike games, but even those were tough to predict. There is no way to spin this Montgomery signing as good news for Swift, who has seemingly worn out his welcome in Detroit. The team didn’t trust him beyond as a rotational runner and a guy they schemed up (great) looks for in the passing game.
Montgomery should slide right into the early-down, red-zone role that Jamaal Williams thrived in last season. Williams is expected to land elsewhere per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, marking a short – but legendary — run for Williams in Detroit.
If Montgomery does end up being the goal-line back, he has a pathway to high-end RB2 fantasy numbers as the Lions leading TD scorer. Williams was the RB13 in total fantasy points last year, and that was thanks in large part to their stellar offense overall.
Last year, Detroit reached the red zone on 67 of their drives – a number only bested by the Chiefs (72). The Lions were legitimately great on offense, and this is an unreal scoring opportunity for Montgomery.
While the Lions ranked second in red-zone drives (67), the Bears were 18th (50 total RZ drives).
I think we’ll see Montgomery jump up to the 35-45 overall ADP range on Underdog, and I will be ahead of consensus with my personal rankings.
There is a real chance this coaching staff is through with Swift as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Montgomery has 10 TDs well within his range of outcomes to go along with more receiving upside than Williams ever provided.
As for the Bears backfield, they just signed Travis Homer to a two-year deal, and they likely aren’t done adding. Khalil Herbert had a few monster games last season, but it remains to be seen if he is ready to be anything more than a rotational running back.