Shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ryan Pace detractors were at it again, claiming the Bears GM “wasted” a pick by trading up to grab Iowa State running back David Montgomery.
The attacks, made by noted Pace-hater Bill Barnwell (among others), are more about Pace’s selection philosophy than his actual selections. Writers often like to live in a dream world where draft picks are more valuable than actually having quality players. Oh, and none of those picks should be used on a running back!
GMs live in the real world. They realize they have to acquire good players and can’t sit back and wait for life to happen to them. That is part of the reason why Phil Emery is a scout for the Falcons, not GM of the Bears. Of course, we shouldn’t expect Barnwell to understand that.
The case of Montgomery was especially delicious to critics because a running back many of them liked more — Alabama’s Damien Harris — went with Chicago’s original pick, 87 overall, to the New England Patriots. Why move up 14 spots to draft a worse player? Well, it’s pretty simple really: they liked Montgomery more. A lot more.
Montgomery and Harris tested almost identically, with the former being a little heavier and faster in 20-yard spurts, while the latter has a higher vertical jump. But for the Bears there was one huge difference: Montgomery’s wingspan is nearly five inches longer than Harris. That means Mitch Trubisky’s margin of error will increase by five inches on every pass attempt and Trubisky will be passing to Montgomery often.
Montgomery also possesses short area quickness that Harris doesn’t. Although Harris certainly has more burst, the ability to make defenders miss in space is going to be key in this offense. Too often in 2018 the Bears had players tackled with blockers in front of them.
While many members of the media and Draft Twitter like to sell their scouting reports as the be-all end-all, the reality is the guys actually making the decisions are the only ones who know exactly what they’re looking for. The Bears don’t just think Montgomery is better than Harris, they don’t think it is close.
The fact the Bears were willing to give up a 2020 fourth rounder to make sure they got their guy is a strong indicator of how often he’ll be used. While Matt Nagy likes to talk about a running back by committee, this investment tells us Montgomery will be The Guy. And at 222 pounds, he should be able to hold up.
There is also the critique of running back value. But smart teams have still invested in the position. The Patriots drafted Sony Michel in the first round in 2018, before taking Harris in 2019. Seattle drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round in 2018, the Saints used a third rounder on Alvin Kamara while they had former first rounder Mark Ingram on his second contract. The Rams took Darrell Henderson three picks before the Bears drafted Montgomery, despite having Todd Gurley. Then, of course, there’s the Eagles. They drafted Miles Sanders with the 53rd pick a month after trading a sixth rounder for Jordan Howard, who they’ll have to pay $2 million.
Running backs may not be extremely valuable, but smart teams seem to be making sure they have good players at that position. The Bears just did what smart teams have been doing.
It’s easy to be an armchair GM. Some have said that Pace’s aggressiveness will cost him in the future, even though the Bears are expected to have seven picks in 2020 and have a full slate every year going forward. It’s true that the Bears will need to replenish their roster, but comp picks should help them do just that. And, while his nature is to be aggressive, Pace has also shown a willingness to move down. He did that twice in 2016 and still came away with Cody Whitehair.
If Montgomery is good the question won’t be why the Bears gave up an additional pick to get him, it’ll be why other teams didn’t draft him before Chicago could. And with Pace’s history, there’s reason to believe that is how it will play out.