Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery is one of the most divisive fantasy commodities heading into the 2017 football season. Some are excited to see what he’ll look like if Mike McCarthy truly installs him as the Packers’ feature back, while many aren’t convinced he has the skills to be a starting-caliber NFL running back. Detractors also cite Green Bay’s pass-heavy, Rodgers-centric offense and the fact that Green Bay drafted three running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft. Most aren’t viewing Montgomery as having elite upside and are scared of his potentially basement-level floor. Essentially, some believe skills, snaps and carry/target volume are all working against Montgomery this year. I’m here to tell you why all of that is wrong.
Let’s start with TyMont’s floor. When you’re drafting a running back in the third, fourth or fifth round (where Montgomery is being drafted), ideally your selection has elite tier upside with a safe, projectable floor. Opportunity is everything in fake football, which is why players with tons of volume typically have a safe floor.
Per Footballguys.com’s Matt Waldman: “Bilal Powell had fewer (than 190 touches) in an even worse offense than anything we should fear for Carolina and Powell (finished) as RB17 in PPR formats. Tevin Coleman was RB20 with 149 touches and Darren Sproles and Theo Riddick were RBs 24 and 25 with 146 and 145 touches, respectively.” Do you expect Montgomery to get fewer touches than any guy on that list? If you don’t think so (you shouldn’t), then you can see how even with only 150 touches this year, Montgomery’s absolute floor is a low-end RB2 thanks to his pass-catching abilities. Credited with only six starts, TyMont registered a meager 121 touches (carries + receptions) in 2016, yet he was still the PPR RB18 after week six on only 10.6 touches per game. Even in one of the best point scoring running back years in a while, Montgomery was a mid-level RB2 on a paltry 121 total touches. Stick around below and we’ll discuss how he can obliterate that volume this season.
But he plays in a committee!
With three new rookie running backs in the fold (Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays), none of whom are former wide receivers, many are projecting a full-blown RBBC (running back by committee) in Green Bay with the small possibility Williams overtakes Montgomery for the lead role. This is doubtful for numerous reasons.
Ted Thompson waited to select all three backs until the third day of the draft, showing his priority was in bolstering the defense. If he’d truly wanted to replace Montgomery as the starter, he likely would have done so in one of the first four rounds of the draft. It makes sense the Packers loaded up at running back considering they planned to let Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Christine Michael all walk in free agency.
All of these three are rookies who will need many reps and days to learn the nuances, pace and pre-snap adjustments of an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. Williams is the best pass protector of the three but showed almost zero pass-catching ability in college. Jones is a change of pace back with a bright future, but his skill set overlaps with Montgomery’s considerably and he’s making a big leap in competition from Conference USA. Mays is the biggest of the bunch but only started eight games in two years at Utah State and may not even make the 53-man roster. While the future for all three backs is promising, it’s unlikely any of the three will carve out a big role. Rather, it would make more sense Williams and Jones each receive a smattering of snaps and touches while serving to give Montgomery rest when he needs it.
Montgomery’s biggest crux is his pass-protection deficiency, which saw him come victim to a few in-game benchings last season, the nightmare of fantasy owners everywhere. Don’t forget, however, that Montgomery had played wide receiver for his entire career prior to week six last season. Pass protection is often the hardest skill to learn for running backs at the pro level, so it makes sense Montgomery struggled here after a midseason position switch. He was also learning a brand new set of plays and working on every facet of being a running back, which meant he couldn’t focus enough time specifically on pass blocking. Now with a full offseason preparing to be a running back, it’s reasonable to project improvement from Montgomery as a runner and, importantly, as a pass protector. He certainly has the body for it.
Seriously, does that look like the body of a wide receiver? Ty is clearly committed to getting his body ready for the rigors of playing in the backfield in the NFL. Montgomery is a full-blown running back now, and having the extra muscle he’s added will help his durability, ability to drive piles and aid him as a pass blocker. This summer, head coach Mike McCarthy has gone so far as to say Montgomery “is the full package. That guy’s a stud now. He’s got it in his body.”
TyMo only received 77 carries last year, which seems to be scaring potential drafters off the most. But there are a ton of carries missing from last year’s team that Montgomery is now in line to takeover. Check out all the vacated carries from last season’s roster:
Eddie Lacy: 71
James Starks: 63
Christine Michael: 31
Don Jackson: 10
Knile Davis: 5
Right off the bat, there are 180 carries ready for the taking. If Montgomery were to maintain his 77 carries from last year and assume 75% of those vacated carries, he’s looking at 212 carries. That’s a relatively modest estimate that doesn’t account for carries from Rodgers (67), Aaron Ripkowski (34) and Randall Cobb (10). Rodgers’s 67 carries were a career high, 16 more than his career average of 51 rushes per season. Meanwhile, 34 is likely on the high end of rushes for Ripkowski, considering John Kuhn averaged 19.2 carries per season in the same role on the Packers. If we take 10 carries from each player and add them to Montgomery’s projected total we’re at 232, which would’ve ranked 13th in the NFL last year.
But we’re forgetting one of the most important parts. Recency bias has led to analysts describing Green Bay’s offense as decidedly pass-first, yet historical evidence paints an entirely different picture.
Last season Green Bay lost Lacy and Starks to injury early in the season, forcing the team to put the ball in Rodgers’s hands as much as possible. While obviously effective, it was also predictable and put Rodgers at more risk in the pocket and scrambling outside it. From 2013 to 2015, however, McCarthy’s offenses had ranked 12th, 14th and 12th in rush attempts. In fact, if we stretch it all the way back to 2009 – the second year of the Rodgers/McCarthy era – we see just how anomalous last season was from a rushing perspective.
2016 was a full 5.32 percent rushing attempts below Green Bay’s seasonal average, a difference of approximately 52 rushing attempts, a significant number. For perspective, in Lacy’s two seasons as Green Bay’s healthy workhorse, he averaged 265 carries, good for 59.28 percent of Green Bay’s total rushing attempts. If we project 2017 based on the average numbers (bottom of the above chart) for McCarthy’s offenses and slide TyMo into that same role, he’ll be receiving 250 carries in 2017, more than LeSean McCoy had last year. Of course, everything we calculated above doesn’t even account for projected receiving volume. TyMo averaged four receptions per game last season as a running back, which would equal 64 over a 16-game season. 300 total touches is in a clear range of outcomes for Montgomery in 2017, usually a touch category received for only the elite fantasy running backs.
Is he a good running back?
All that potential volume is juicy, but until it’s married with efficiency and touchdown scoring, it’s a lot less meaningful. So is Montgomery good at this whole running back thing? Per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, Pro Football Focus charted Montgomery as the most elusive running back in the league from week seven on, exemplified by his sterling 5.9 yards per carry average. Many are afraid his production is fluky given the reasonably small sample size. While it’s fair to reason TyMo won’t rush for such a high yards per carry with more volume this year, it’s unlikely his ability to read defenses and hit holes was a fluke. Rather, it’s more likely Montgomery should have been playing running back for his entire life, as many pundits wondered ahead of his entry into the 2015 NFL Draft.
Per Silva, referring to the Packers’ offense as a whole last season, “Everything seemingly clicked during a Weeks 7-8 window in which Jordy Nelson rounded into post-ACL-tear form and wide receiver Ty Montgomery was installed at running back.” Albeit in a limited sample size, Montgomery crushed many crucial, predictive advanced metrics last year like yards after contact and missed tackles forced. So yes, he’s pretty #good.
Conclusion and Projections
Let’s review. Montgomery was the RB18 last season despite only receiving 10.6 touches per game and has only rookies to fight off for carries this year. He’s an elite pass catcher out of the backfield (who can line up anywhere, which I neglected to mention) and displayed absurd efficiency last year despite a midseason change to a brand new position. He’s had a full offseason to prepare his mind and body to play running back at the NFL level. He’ll rarely face eight-man boxes as defenses turn their entire focus to slowing down two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers and runs behind an above average offensive line. Crucially, Green Bay’s 2016 rushing percentage was an eight-year low, an anomaly that Mike McCarthy and natural regression will surely correct.
As calculated above, if things break right for Montgomery he’s potentially looking at 250 carries and 64 receptions, which would put him in elite territory. At an average of 4.5 YPC (much below his 5.9 average from last season, but a fair projection based on increased volume) and 8.2 yards per catch (career average), he’s projected for 1,125 rushing yards and 524 receiving yards. If we toss in six total touchdowns, probably on the lower end of outcomes given Green Bay’s offensive prowess, he’s projected for 264.9 PPR fantasy points, which would’ve ranked him the RB7 last year. Seven!
Even with a more modest but still reasonable projection of 220 carries and 50 receptions, at the same projected averages and 6 touchdown total, Montgomery’s looking at 220 PPR points, good for the RB11 last year. Unfortunately, drafters are catching on too, as TyMo’s Average Draft Position has skyrocketed over the last over the last two weeks. Still, Montgomery is going as the PPR RB15, after Isaiah Crowell, Lamar Miller, Marshawn Lynch, Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley, all of whom have a lower ceiling than Montgomery and play in worse offenses. Packers fans and fantasy drafters should get excited, because the year of Ty Montgomery is coming.
Statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, fantasypros.com, rotoworld.com, nfl.com and espn.com