Scouting Report | David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

01/03/2019
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Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell has done a terrific job at Iowa State. They have two players that have potential to go in the top-50 of the NFL Draft; wide receiver Hakeem Butler and running back David Montgomery are legitimate players and could each be the focal point for a team’s offense. Let’s focus on the running back that has been troubling defenses for the last two seasons.

Coming out of Mt. Healthy High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, David Montgomery was ranked as a three-star recruit. Despite having some Big Ten offers on the table from Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana, he chose Iowa State. But you can tell from the way he runs that he would have been good no matter where he went.

During his first season with the Cyclones, he played in all 12 games and ended up starting the final four. He finished the season with 5.2 yards per carry (YPC) and ran for 563 yards on 109 carries. With the way he ended the season, it certainly looked like he was going to be promoted into a starting role. Since earning the starting job, he hasn’t looked back.

Over the last two seasons, Montgomery has run for over 2300 yards and 24 touchdowns and has caught 58 passes. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed to terrorize defenses, but he does a good enough job between the tackles to make up for it. He has a tendency to do too much but, much like Saquon Barkley, Montgomery has played behind a really inconsistent offensive line. Both players are incredibly different, and Barkley is the superior player, but the situation is similar. Both of them have had to find ways to create and trust their vision, instinct, and ability to make something out of nothing. Since his arrival in Ames, Iowa, that’s exactly what David Montgomery has done. He’s made something out of nothing.

Pass-catching ability 

You won’t see David Montgomery catching passes at the same frequency as Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley, but he’s certainly got the ability to do it. Like I’ve mentioned, he’s caught 58 passes over the last two seasons. Not everything is designed to go his way, but when it does, man, can he make something happen.

This was a great play design, with the defense biting on the potential of the quarterback keeping it and following his blockers to the left. However, you can see Montgomery get up the field and gain a ton of yards after the catch (YAC). One of the biggest downsides is the defensive back (#26) chases him down and tackles him to stop him from getting into the endzone. There will certainly be questions in regards to his “breakaway speed,” but overall, he should move well between the tackles.

So many times we see running backs run the designed angle route out of the backfield. Montgomery does that here, and it certainly looks like it’s by design. The quarterback looks left and sees nothing, but as he’s getting into the last step of his drop, you can see that he’s waiting for Montgomery to break out of the route. Once he does, the pass is thrown and he gains five or six yards on the play. These plays won’t “wow” you, but they’ll be effective for an offense to move forward down the field.

Becoming a check-down for a quarterback is always a plus. David Montgomery serves that purpose here. Nothing is open downfield, and with the zone coverage look from the Hawkeyes, he’s clearly open underneath. This allows him to even cut and create after the catch.

Lateral cuts and the truck stick 

Last year, Montgomery exploded against Baylor with 27 carries for 144 yards. In 2017, he had eight games of 20 carries or more, and in 2018 he had seven games of 20 carries or more. Of those 15 games, only four of them were for 100 yards or less. It’s clear that if you feed him the rock, he will produce at a high level.

On the play above, you can see his ability to see downfield and to cut upfield and gain additional yardage. In the process, look at that power and his ability to absolutely level a defender. There are very few runners who run as aggressively as he does in this draft class, and I’d be surprised if there are many that can develop into his aggressive but smooth style of play.

Tendency to bounce and create 

Plenty of other evaluators will tell you that this bouncing from left to right doesn’t do you any good. I’ll agree, but I’ll also disagree because it’s obvious that there are a lot of runs from Montgomery where he has nowhere to go. His only choice is to bounce, and if you watch the games, you can see that he does a good job taking what’s given to him. There are times that his games will bore you when he runs between the tackles and only does the north and south routine. But then we get these cuts, this ability to see, bounce and create.

This is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Earlier in this game and earlier in the season, he runs up the middle and gains two or three yards. For most, that’s boring, but that’s what good running backs do. Then this happens and this is what really good running backs do. I don’t want to say David Montgomery is great and is going to be the next best thing, but he’s really good.

On the play above, the right tackle pulls into the opposite B-gap. The interior offensive linemen (LG-C-RG) all block down to their right. As he gets behind the right tackle, you can see an opening to the right, but this opening looks limited and could lead to a lesser gain. Montgomery puts trust in himself and bounces to the outside but then shows the burst to get the edge and up towards the numbers.

This is one is simple. He reads the linebacker (#44) and the defensive back (#21) and realizes that if he cuts this up, there’s very little he can do. He bounces this to his right, puts a cut on the safety (#3), who takes a bad angle and over-pursues, and then he gains a few extra yards before being dragged down.

Even though he can be his own worst enemy by doing too much, Montgomery can also be his own best friend. The tendency to cut and bounce plays while in the box are obvious for Montgomery. It’s something that he’ll have to work on at the next level, but there’s no question that his cuts can be razor sharp and he has no problems embarrassing a defensive player with his ability. Having the ability to stop on a dime, read what’s happening that quickly, and then have the short area burst to find additional yardage is impressive.

Ability in space 

It’s probably a good time to talk about what Montgomery can do in space. We’re going to question his overall long speed and his tendency to bounce plays to the outside, but what about designed plays that take him to the outside?

What’s important on this play is that it’s a designed toss, but the blocking from the wide receivers on the outside were crucial to this play. Before the blocks develop, Montgomery shows his ability to get the edge and get out into space, but then once the blocks are developed, he cuts and takes the yardage that is there with adequate burst.

Making more defenders miss 

Like normal, I went through all the clips I have from watching film throughout the season and couldn’t help myself but add some more to this. Making defenders miss is what David Montgomery does. If you send one man into the foxhole to attack Montgomery, you might as well bring the whole platoon. There’s a very good chance that he’s making someone miss or running right through them. Below are some prime examples of what I mean:

On the play above, Montgomery takes the handoff and is immediately met at the LOS by a defender. Don’t close your eyes or you’ll miss it. Montgomery spins right out of the tackle and has enough control to barrel forward for additional yardage. One issue I see with this run is that when he spins off the tackle, he carries the ball out and away from his body, but he re-establishes himself right before more contact.

I counted two missed tackles. How many did you count? Once the defensive lineman becomes present to Montgomery, he quickly plants and cuts upfield. During the run, the linebacker completely whiffs as Montgomery hesitates laterally and then gets upfield where there’s a slight opening. It’s clear that his style isn’t about his breakaway speed; it’s about game speed.

Maybe Texas Tech just wasn’t good at tackling this game? We could go with that, or the fact of the matter is that Montgomery has a unique ability in the box to make defenses look like child’s play. He spins off the tackle, maintains control, and in the process has the ability to continue upfield. These are runs that happen by plenty of starting running backs in the NFL.

Final Thoughts

Near the end of last season, David Montgomery was approaching an impressive feat and was joining stellar company. Making defenders miss is something he does regularly, as you can tell. His running style has its own dynamic to it, and he can certainly find ways to make defenses look bad.

With 624 career carries through 37 career games, he averages 16.86 carries per game. However, it’s clear that Montgomery can handle the workload as an every down back and can easily handle 20+ carries or touches per game.

His running style is aggressive but shifty between the tackles with good contact balance and overall vision to create. He has a tendency to bounce, and many will question him athletically, but as you can tell, Montgomery is going to be one of the better running backs in this class. There will be a few guys that make their case to be the top running back, but it should be well noted that Montgomery is my top running back in the 2019 NFL Draft. Teams that need a running back on the second day of the 2019 NFL Draft will strongly consider him. Until then, we wait for him to officially declare.

Quick Notes: 

  • Locker room leader
  • First-Team All-Big 12 (2017, 2018) x2
  • Doak Walker Award Watch List (2017, 2018) x2
  • Consecutive seasons with 1,000 rushing yards (2017, 2018)
  • Child, Adult, Family Services major
  • Eagle Scout
  • Listed at 5’11” – 219 pounds
National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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