NFL News: David Montgomery to the Detroit Lions | Fantasy Fallout

by Joe Beldner · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

The new league year has officially kicked off in the NFL. After an exhilarating first week of free agency, many familiar faces around the league will be playing in new places in 2023. This movement has shifted the landscape of the league like tectonic plates after an earthquake. A specific deal in free agency that has created diverse fantasy implications for several players is the signing of  David Montgomery by the Detroit Lions. In this article, we will dive into the domino effect that this deal has created and explore the opportunities and obstacles that have been established. 

David Montgomery | Detroit Lions

Montgomery agreed to a three-year, $18 million contract with the Lions. The talented running back is set to stay in the NFC North where he has spent his first four professional seasons. His new contract has $11 million guaranteed. The only contracts with similar amounts of money guaranteed in recent memory were James Conner and Leonard Fournette. What does this mean and why does it matter? Simply put, this is a lot of money to provide for a running back. We know the team is now fully committed to him.

For reference, Jamaal Williams’ original deal with the Lions was for two years, $6 million with only $3 million guaranteed. The team was also willing to pay Montgomery a lot more than they were to bring back the services of Williams. Now his replacement will be making significantly more money and should be expected to handle a similar workload with room for growth. 

Montgomery was my favorite running back available on the market this year, outside of the obvious ones who were inevitably franchise tagged. He is often under-respected due to his game being mundane, lacking flashy home run plays. He instead hits a ton of singles at an extremely efficient rate. His high character and demeanor should fit in perfectly with the locker room atmosphere that Dan Campbell has created in Detroit. There are few players in the league who can pick up ten yards on any given down as effortlessly as Montgomery.

Metrics and Comparisons

He tied Nick Chubb for the highest forced missed tackle rate among all running backs with 125+ carries (0.31). David Montgomery is additionally incredibly efficient around the goal line. With that said, he has yet to eclipse more than eight rushing touchdowns in a season in his career. It is more than respectable to assume that this will change in a big way in 2023. 

Last season, Jamaal Williams not only posted his first 1,000+ rushing yard season of his career but also broke Barry Sanders’ franchise rushing touchdown record. He had an NFL-leading 17 rushing touchdowns on the year and finished as the RB8 in half-PPR scoring. Williams (RB8) and D’Andre Swift (RB22) both finished top-25 at the position despite sharing a backfield and having a snap percentage average below 45-percent. Last season, Williams led the league with 45 carries inside the 10-yard line. The next highest was 29. Although it would be close to impossible to replicate these opportunities, Montgomery should be able to secure ten or more rushing touchdowns for the first time in his career.

Without taking anything away from Williams’ historical 2022 season, David Montgomery is a far more dynamic player. Last season, Montgomery received the lightest workload of his career. Even with the lack of opportunities, he still managed to run for 801 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on only 201 carries. David Montgomery added 316 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. He is a far better pass catcher than Williams and is a legitimate threat to steal a decent-sized chunk of that role from Swift.

The Swift Factor

Even though David Montgomery is more than capable in the passing game, if Detroit chooses to provide Swift with the bulk of the targets it could hinder his fantasy upside. With that said Montgomery is better than him in pass protection. Montgomery should force his way onto the field by doing things that Swift simply cannot due to physical limitations.

In Chicago, David Montgomery played in an offense with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Bears only attempted 377 passes in 2022 (the lowest in the NFL). Additionally, they ranked in the bottom five in completion percentage. This lack of a passing offense often led to defenses stacking the box against him. Even with these obstacles, he was able to produce at an extremely high level every year he was with the team. Next season, he will be playing in an evolving offense with plenty of weapons and one of the strongest offensive lines in the league.

It is not difficult to envision this turning into a very successful year for the talented running back. At the very least, Montgomery and Swift should form a formidable 1-2 punch for the team out of the backfield. It is worth noting that Swift has had an abundance of difficulty staying healthy in his career. If Swift were to go down with an injury or get traded, Montgomery would immediately enter the conversation of being a top-5 fantasy running back next season. The entire Detroit roster looks to be headed in a positive direction in 2023. I expect Montgomery to be an integral part of the team’s success. 

D’Andre Swift | Detroit Lions

Can you hear that noise in the distance? It is the collective whimpering of the once hopeful fantasy managers praying this would finally be the year D’Andre Swift would become the unquestioned bell-cow back in Detroit. At this point, this fading dream will never come to fruition unless he finds himself in a more lucrative situation where he can carve out the role. With that said, he is still only 24 years old. Also, he has proven to be one of the most electric players in the league when healthy.

D’Andre Swift Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The problem is the young running back has failed to stay on the field. He has missed at least three games per season due to injury so far in his young career. Swift has additionally moved from around 12 carries per game in 2021 to only seven in 2022. His targets per game went down slightly as well. Heading into his fourth professional season, it is respectable to wonder if Swift’s body can withstand an increased workload than already provided. 

Is Montgomery Similar to Williams?

Similar to Williams, Montgomery is both bigger and stronger than Swift. He is also more dynamic in the passing game than Williams. This could create major problems for the projected fantasy upside for Swift in 2023 and beyond. With that said, he should still have around 45-60 receptions next season. The lack of touchdowns and the potential for competition on passing downs could create unforeseen obstacles for Swift. Although his talent alone should provide some high-scoring weeks, the barriers he must overcome in 2023 create a very uncertain floor.

The best-case scenario for his fantasy upside would be for the team to move on from his services and find him a new home. If the Los Angeles Chargers choose to trade Austin Ekeler this offseason, Swift would profile as a worthy replacement. Even in this dream scenario, Swift would have to continue to get better in pass protection and short-yardage plays to increase his fantasy upside. If Swift stays in Detroit, he will be off of my fantasy radar in redraft at projected ADP. Additionally, I would rather select Montgomery when given the choice of the two. 

Jamaal Williams | New Orleans Saints

Fan-favorite, Jamaal Williams, agreed to a three-year deal of his own with the New Orleans Saints. As stated previously, Williams was the NFL leader in touchdowns last season. On top of this, he accumulated 262 carries for a career-high 1,066 rushing yards. He should be a tremendous boost to the locker room for the revamped Saints’ offense. Williams is also the clear second option to Alvin Kamara out of their backfield. Although Kamara is still one of the better running backs in the league, his production and health have sounded off alarms over the last couple of seasons. After having a career-high 16 rushing touchdowns in 2020, he has combined for only six over the last two seasons. 

While on the field together, Williams should compliment Kamara similarly to how he did with Aaron Jones while playing for Green Bay. He should still handle the bulk of the short-yardage and goal-line work. The Saints have not had as capable of a tandem out of the backfield since Mark Ingram was on the team. The two running backs should complement each other nicely and take immense pressure off of Derek Carr and the passing attack.

Damien Harris?

Although I do not think that Williams’ historic production last season was a total fluke, it is difficult to not raise comparisons to that of Damien Harris a year prior. In 2021, Harris led the NFL in with 15 rushing touchdowns. Last season he only produced three rushing touchdowns and was considered a bust from a fantasy perspective. Williams will also turn 28 in early April. This is around the age when running backs begin to display a significant decline in production. It is possible, however, the veteran running back has watched enough Naruto in recent years to overcome mother nature’s odds. He did reveal that he is the “First Swagg Kazekage” on Monday Night Football last season. 

Kamara could be seeing a four-to-six-game suspension next season for conspiracy to commit battery and substantial bodily harm stemming from a February 2022 incident. Although the time frame of the inevitable suspension is currently unknown, it is all but assumed that Kamara will be missing a decent amount of time in 2023. Williams should thrive while Kamara is sidelined. Although it would be difficult to replicate his 2022 production, Williams could serve as an RB1 for your fantasy teams while he is the lead back for the team. This makes him a tremendous value at the current ADP and one I would recommend targeting in your drafts. 

Khalil Herbert | Chicago Bears

The last running back who was significantly impacted by the David Montgomery deal is Khalil Herbert. He is almost 25-years-old and has shown tremendous promise when given the opportunity. It is worth noting that Herbert is less than a year younger than Montgomery. This might come as a surprise to many as Herbert seems to just be entering the prime of his career. Last season Herbert ran for 731 rushing yards on only 129 carries and added four rushing touchdowns.

Herbert averaged 5.7 yards per carry and increased his rushing attempts per game average to 10 vs. Montgomery’s 12.5. The gap between the two running backs seemed smaller than ever. There was an abundance of enthusiasm for Herbert by the fantasy community when Montgomery signed with a new team. Travis Homer and Trestan Ebner looked to be the only competition in the backfield at the time. The pathway to fantasy success looked well within reach for Herbert heading into 2023.

This initial optimism quickly simmered down when the team chose to add the services of D’Onta Foreman. Weighing 235-pounds, Foreman is built like a bowling ball and should be the better-suited candidate for short-yardage and goal-line work. He might also assume a large portion of the early down responsibilities if he continues his recently high level of production. On paper, this looks to be a major limitation to Herbert’s fantasy upside next season.

Is Fields Running Too Much?

It is additionally worth noting that Justin Fields will continue to wreak havoc in the rushing game on opposing defenses. Fields had the No. 2 most touchdowns by a quarterback (8) to only Jalen Hurts (13) in 2022. There are few teams where the quarterback can outpace the running backs in rushing touchdowns scored in a season. This is certainly one of them. Although I would rather have Herbert than Foreman on my fantasy rosters, if one of the two were significantly cheaper than the other, I would choose that option. 

Herbert additionally brings little to the table in the passing game. He only had nine catches for 57 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown in 2022. Homer and Ebner specialize in this department and should receive almost all of the passing work and third-down responsibilities. It is looking more and more like Chicago will deploy a dreaded running-back committee. The best-case scenario for Herbert in 2023 would be a similar version of the Dallas Cowboys offense.

Herbert would take on the Tony Pollard role in this hypothetical scenario. Although he will most likely be forced to split carries and touchdown opportunities, his big-play potential should be intriguing enough to provide a decently high fantasy ceiling. With that said, without passing or goal-line work, it would take home-run plays for Herbert to keep fantasy managers satisfied on a weekly basis. 

Final Thoughts

It is astonishing how many players can be impacted by a specific signing in free agency. There are still several uncertainties following the Detroit Lions’ decision to bring in David Montgomery but several puzzle pieces seem to be falling into place. Although most running backs have their peak seasons early on in their careers, Montgomery seems to have found the perfect setting and scenario to maximize his diverse skill set. His free agency decision additionally created unique avenues for several other players. It is ultimately up to each player impacted by this signing to maximize their new situations and overcome the obstacles ahead.