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David Montgomery to Lions: Fantasy Football Impact (2023 NFL Free Agency)

David Montgomery to Lions: Fantasy Football Impact (2023 NFL Free Agency)

The Chicago Bears recently traded the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft for WR DJ Moore and a slew of draft picks, and they have subsequently flexing their muscles throughout the first two days of the NFL’s legal tampering period. On Tuesday evening, however, we learned that they’re expected to lose RB David Montgomery to a division rival, as Montgomery has reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with the Detroit Lions. Our analysts break down the move and take a look at the fantasy impact.

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Lions Sign David Montgomery

The Lions have bolstered their RB situation and poached a division rival in the process, signing ex-Bear David Montgomery to a three-year deal worth $18 million, including $11 million in guaranteed money, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Montgomery will presumably fill the role that Jamaal Williams played for Detroit last season, taking a lot of the early-down snaps. Williams turned that gig into a fantasy bonanza in 2022, racking up a league-high 17 TD runs. But Williams’ touchdown luck would be nearly impossible to replicate, as 13 of those 17 TD runs were 1- or 2-yarders.

The question is whether the Lions will marginalize Montgomery in the passing game the way they did with Williams. Before arriving in Detroit, Williams had averaged 30.5 receptions a year during his four seasons in Green Bay even though he was sharing a backfield with Aaron Jones. Williams averaged 19 receptions a year in his two seasons in Detroit and caught only 12 passes in 2022. Montgomery averaged 38.8 receptions a year during his four seasons in Detroit and had 54 catches in 2020.

Montgomery could be a three-down back if the Lions needed him to be one, but the Lions also have D’Andre Swift, a talented but exasperating fantasy asset whose usage is heading in the wrong direction (at least from the perspective of Swift investors).

Swift whet our appetites in his 2020 rookie season with 878 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. In 2021, Swift had 1,069 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in 13 games. He also had 62 receptions. Fantasy managers expected a step forward in 2022, but Swift disappointed with 931 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. He had just 99 carries — an average of 7.1 carries per game.

It seemed as if the departure of Jamaal Williams might mean a bigger role for Swift, but now the Lions have brought in a more versatile and arguably more talented running back than Williams. As a result, it’s hard to see Swift as anything more than a low-end RB2 or high-end in redraft leagues. The fact that Swift is only 24 years old offers a little more optimism for his dynasty value, but it’s hard to see how Swift escapes the confinement of the role the Lions have chosen for him.

In 2020, Montgomery finished RB4 in half-point PPR scoring as the Bears’ do-it-all running back. Montgomery doesn’t have that sort of ceiling with Swift around, but he should offer midrange or low-end RB2 value. It’s worth noting that Swift finished RB22 in half-point PPR scoring last season, and Montgomery was RB23. In dynasty formats, Montgomery is a hold.

With Montgomery leaving the Bears, Khalil Herbert is the top running back in Chicago — at least temporarily. Herbert is an intriguing talent. After rushing for 433 yards as a rookie, he had 129 carries for 731 yards and four touchdowns last season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Herbert hasn’t been used much in the passing game yet — just 28 targets and 23 receptions in 30 NFL games — and he wasn’t much of a pass catcher in college either. But Herbert is a tough, shifty runner who displays patience and instinctiveness.

Herbert measures 5-9 and 212 pounds, so he isn’t going to be a workhorse for the Bears. The question is whether Chicago brings in a complementary running back or two, or the sort of running back who poses a more existential threat to Herbert’s role. After trading the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers last week, the Bears now own the No. 9 pick in the draft, and if they were to select Texas RB Bijan Robinson, fantasy optimism for Herbert would quickly dissipate. But for now, Montgomery’s departure has given Herbert’s redraft and dynasty value a shot in the arm.
– Pat Fitzmaurice

Well, we just saw Jamaal Williams finish as the RB18 in fantasy points per game in the Lions’ offense, and now Detroit has signed an upgraded version of Williams to be the early-down hammer (plus). After posting RB6 and RB12 seasons in 2020 and 2021, David Montgomery’s 2022 season as the RB27 will be viewed as a “down year.”

This couldn’t be farther from the truth from an efficiency standpoint. Last year Montgomery was 26th in yards after contact per attempt (2.90), logging the second-highest mark of his career for this metric (minimum 100 carries per PFF). Montgomery was also 12th in PFF’s elusive metric (minimum 100 carries). Montgomery will never be a breakaway runner, though, as he ranked 53rd in breakaway run rate last season. That’s not why Detroit signed him, though. He’s being brought in as the early down grinder that can be the short porch touchdown specialist while also contributing something in the passing game.

That’s the biggest difference between Williams and Montgomery. Yes, Montgomery is a better rusher than Williams, but his pass-game utility is where he really puts some distance between him and Williams. Last year Montgomery was 22nd in yards per route run among running backs while drawing an 11.8% target share (11th-best) in Chicago. D’Andre Swift’s role for 2023 is up in the air, but we have a pretty good idea of what Montgomery will be asked to bring to the table after watching Williams in 2022. Montgomery is an RB3 with RB2 upside in 2023.

With David Montgomery moving on to Motown, Khalil Herbert looks primed to take over most of the work for Chicago’s rushing attack. Herbert has six games in his career in which he’s played at least 50% of the snaps, averaging 21.5 touches and 109.6 total yards with RB1, RB26, RB40, RB11, RB6, and RB33 weekly finishes. Herbert has been one of the best rushers in the NFL over the last two seasons, ranking 25th and third in yards after contact per attempt (minimum 100 carries per PFF).

The Bears inked Travis Homer to a two-year deal. Homer could pair with Herbert as the passing-down complement. To this point, Homer’s calling card in the NFL has been his pass game utility, with 1.43 yards per route over his four-year career. Although Herbert should be projected to lose passing-down snaps (0.62 career yards per route run), he can still be an RB3 in fantasy that could be an RB2 if his stellar efficiency remains and he hits the touchdown jackpot.
– Derek Brown

David Montgomery signed a 3-year deal worth $18 million with the Detroit Lions, setting him up to be the new Jamaal Williams on the ground for the foreseeable future. In Montgomery’s 15 healthy games played last season, he averaged 10.9 fantasy points per game as the RB26. But in 11 games, he played alongside a healthy Khalil Herbert, Montgomery saw an even bigger decline in production averaging 9.2 fantasy points (RB35), 13 carries, and 48 rushing yards per game. Monty’s rushing EPA of -15.3 ranked 32nd while Herbert’s 1.17 rushing EPA ranked 12th.

Even so, it’s hard to envision Montgomery as anything less than a fantasy RB2, with the highly-coveted goal-line role likely his to lose on his new team. Keep in mind that last season, Williams carried the ball a league-high 41 times inside the 10-yard line for 13 rushing TDs. Williams would finish the year with a league-high 17 rushing TDs; not too far off his 16.4 expected touchdowns. The scoring production fueled an RB12 finish for Williams.

A similar red-zone role will lead to more scoring for Montgomery which will no doubt fuel another season of solid fantasy production at a relatively cheap price tag. Williams’ 262 carries (6th), 16.1 touches per game (higher than Swift‘s 10.3) and his newly signed contract suggest the team will be featuring plenty of Montgomery at Swift’s expense.

Swift is entering free agency in 2024, and it’s pretty clear up to this point that the current regime doesn’t view him as a feature back or as a piece in their long-term plans. Wouldn’t be shocked to see him get traded. The Lions also re-signed Craig Reynolds and inked special teamer Travis Homer to their backfield.

As for the Bears, its wheels WAY up for Khalil Herbert as the team’s projected starter. Now it comes with the caveat that I anticipate with a strong RB draft and FA class available, the Bears aren’t done adding to their backfield. New general manager Ryan Poles came from KC, where they have been willing to mix up starting running backs week by week. 

But any back that ends up in Chicago will be facing an uphill battle. Because Herbert is that good. 

Herbert was better than Montgomery in nearly every single rushing metric in 2022. The second-year rusher averaged 5.7 yards per carry to Montgomery’s flat 4.0 yards per carry average. Herbert rushed for just 70 fewer yards on 72 fewer carries. Herbert’s 1.17 rushing EPA ranked 12th. Had Herbert not gotten hurt in Week 10 versus the Detroit Lions, there was a non-zero chance he would have completely usurped Montgomery as the team’s lead back. After Montgomery returned from injury (Week 15), Herbert led the Bears backfield in rushing yards until his own injury.

– Andrew Erickson

Check out these other breakdowns of major moves:

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