It’s only April, but the elusiveness of Ty Montgomery is already in midseason form. The Green Bay Packers running back continues to elude threats on his way to securing the lead back job. First, he juked Eddie Lacy right out of Green Bay. Then, he put a spin move on Jamaal Charles, a jump-step on Adrian Peterson, and a stiff-arm on Latavius Murray. All that’s left between him and paydirt is the NFL Draft, with an abnormally deep running back class threatening to gang-tackle Montgomery and the Packers’ starting job. My belief is Montgomery breaks free yet again.
Converted to Wide Receiver…
Before we get into the situation, let’s look at the player himself. Montgomery was an All-State running back in high school, in Dallas, TX, and didn’t actually convert to wide receiver until he got to the University of Stanford and ran into a logjam at running back. His college career was still spent making plays with the ball in his hands… he just had to catch it first. But after redshirting as a sophomore in 2012, he ranked in the 2013 Pac-12’s Top 10 in receptions, receiving yards, yards per catch and touchdowns from scrimmage. He finished third in the conference with 10 receiving touchdowns, and was one of the nation’s most electric kick returners, averaging over 30 yards per return and scoring twice.
The man knows how to eat up yardage with the ball in his hands. The Packers drafted him in the third round in 2015, but the knock on him as a wide receiver was that he is built like a running back. His strength as a receiver was that he moves like a running back after he makes the catch. Are we noticing a trend? As the Packers amassed an army of receivers, Montgomery slid further and further down the depth chart following the 2015 season. Maybe because he was out of position? Just spit-balling.
…Moved Back to Running Back…
Oh, the difference a year makes. Going into the 2016 NFL Draft, Montgomery was nowhere near the Green Bay running backs’ depth chart. He was getting fitted for jersey number 88 and looking up at an incredibly deep receiving corps of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, and several tight ends who were more likely to hear their number called in the Aaron Rodgers huddle.
Eddie Lacy was the feature running back and newest pitchman for P90X, James Starks had enough compromising pictures of the Packers’ coaching staff to extort his way into the backup job, and big fullback Aaron Ripkowski assumed the John Kuhn, “only-score-one-yard-touchdowns-to-infuriate-fantasy-players” role. Throw in talented rookie receivers Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison, and the offensive depth chart was an iron maiden, with Montgomery stuck in the middle and nowhere to move.
Then it’s like a Disney movie comes to life for Montgomery. Eddie Lacy’s weight issues make a triumphant comeback, and when he hurdles a defender in a Week-6 game against the Cowboys, his ankles mutiny at the hazardous working conditions of his deuce-and-a-half body weight crashing down on them. Ankle surgery and season-ending Injured Reserve, a steady diet of “china food,” an eventual unceremonious departure from Green Bay, and a contract in Seattle with weight loss goals throughout in big, bold letters for Lacy. The Packers promote Don Jackson from the practice squad, trade for Knile Davis… and start giving #88 practice reps as a tailback. The move pays instant dividends as Montgomery rushes nine times for 60 yards, and catches 10 passes for another 66 yards in Week 7 against the Bears. THIS is what an offense can get out of a yards-after-catch receiver in the backfield. Montgomery was slowed by illness and injuries, and Green Bay was slow to commit to him as the lead back, as they lost the next four games while Head Coach Mike McCarthy came to his senses. Montgomery took over lead duties in Week 14 against Seattle, and averaged 13.5 touches and 16.25 fantasy points (PPR) over the last four games of the season, as the Packers ran the table and rolled into the playoffs. Montgomery got an even bigger workload in the first two rounds of the playoffs, rushing 11 times in each game and catching three passes for 41 yards against the Giants, and six for 34 at Dallas. He got just four touches for 19 yards in the lopsided NFC Championship with Green Bay playing the entire game from behind.
…Becomes a Workhorse…
Even that lack of production serves as proof-of-concept; Montgomery’s workload was a key success indicator for the Packers’ offense in 2016. The magic number for Montgomery is 11; the Packers did not lose a single game in which Montgomery got at least 11 touches as a running back. He got fewer than 11 touches in just two of Green Bay’s nine wins after the Lacy injury.
The team still lives and dies with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the unique skill set Montgomery brings has proven to be an important component to the offense. He can pass-protect, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s built for short yardage, and he can carry the bulk of the workload. Couple that with the fact that General Manager Ted Thompson prefers to spend early draft picks on defense (and he’s especially snake bit after the failed Lacy/Johnathan Franklin experiment from the 2013 draft) – and the logical conclusion is this: Dalvin Cook won’t be wearing green and yellow in 2017. Later round rookie running backs like D’Onta Foreman or Jamaal Williams may end up in Green Bay, but the Packers generally don’t split carries, and there is no imminent threat coming for Montgomery’s job. This is the most under-the-radar workhorse RB1 scenario in the NFL.
… And Finally, a Fantasy Stud
So here is the fantasy player’s action item: buy low on the “wide receiver playing running back,” because the secret is this is a running back who snuck through as a wide receiver, and he’s ready to break out as an RB1. His current Average Draft Position is 90.79 (source: MyFantasyLeague.com), making him a mid-7th-round pick and the 25th RB off the board. All four of the top rookies – who don’t even have teams yet – are going ahead of Montgomery, as are inconsistent backs like Latavius Murray (RB24), Spencer Ware (RB21) and C.J. Anderson (RB20). His low ADP indicates that fantasy players have a hard time trusting a running back wearing #88, but a jersey number in the 20s is the only thing Ty Montgomery was missing. The Packers finally have their feature running back, and they didn’t have to pay for him in free agency; they don’t have to take him early in the draft. He was just hiding among the wide receivers.