I don’t see Ty Montgomery as a true No. 1 running back, and as maybe the only person to project the former Stanford star as a ball carrier and not a ball catcher on the day he was drafted in April 2015, I think I have a pretty good feel for No. 88.
I know Montgomery put up really impressive statistics as a running back last season, but those numbers have to be taken with at least a little grain of salt. It’s important to remember that the 24-year-old was the beneficiary of fresh legs. He touched the ball only a couple of times in the first 5 games. And if you don’t think fresh legs matter in the National Football League, you’re obviously too young to remember Samkon Gado.
Along with fresh legs, Montgomery also benefitted from the element of surprise. Opposing defenses had virtually no tape of him being used as a running back in the NFL. He had all of 5 attempts prior to his 9 carries against the Bears in week 7. Give savvy coordinators an entire offseason to prepare, and all of those inviting cutback lanes that Montgomery took such advantage of in 2016 probably won’t be quite so prevalent.
But my biggest concern when it comes to projecting Montgomery as a featured running back is his ability to stay on the field. This is a player who missed three games with a torn PCL in 2012, had shoulder surgery in the spring of 2014 and missed two games with shoulder problems later that same year. He then had ankle surgery as a rookie with the Packers. And since all of these injuries happened while he was used almost exclusively at receiver, it’s hard to feel optimistic about his body holding up as a full-time back?
None of this is to suggest Montgomery won’t be an important part the offense next season. Fresh legs and unfamiliarity aside, there’s no way to minimize the high number of tackles he broke a year ago. That, along with patience, vision and an underrated ability to pass protect, are gifts that many career-long running backs don’t possess. Throw in his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and Aaron Rodgers should have yet another potent weapon around him. I just don’t think he’ll have a legit No. 1 runner behind him.
I’ve always seen Montgomery as an ideal change of pace back in the NFL. Get the ball in his hands 10 to 15 times a game – on the ground and through the air – and he could be a true difference maker. But I’ve never seen him as a starter, and despite a gaudy 5.9 average on 77 regular season carries in 2016, I still don’t.
If GM Ted Thompson were smart, he’d sign inside linebacker Zach Brown acquire a veteran (LaGarrette Blount?) and then draft a back on day 3 (Jeremy McNichols?). That would give Green Bay its best group of runners in years, and just as importantly, it would allow Montgomery to truly thrive in a role that’s best for him.