The Detroit Lions have been re-signing several of their key free agents and made a couple of splash signings at cornerback, but on Tuesday night, they went to the offensive side of the ball to deliver their latest cannonball—signing running back David Montgomery to a three-year contract.
Much like Jamaal Williams—the player Montgomery is expected to replace—Montgomery is a power back who thrives between the tackles. He is capable of playing all three downs, showing terrific hands as a receiver and solid efficiency as a pass protector. Montgomery is most known for his ability to break tackles and is one of the best at it in the league right now.
Per PFF, over his four seasons in the NFL (51 starts), Montgomery has broken 185 tackles, the fifth most in the league over that time. Per friend of POD Brett Whitefield (Director of Fantasy Points Data), Montgomery was tied for first in forced tackle rate, among all backs with 125+ carries last season.
Also worth noting, Montgomery was the beneficiary of one the worst run blocking units in the league last season.— Brett Whitefield (@BGWhitefield) March 15, 2023
On runs that featured Montgomery they generated a near league worst 1.19 yards before contact per carry. https://t.co/S5xutfvXDY
Additionally, as Whitefield points out in the above tweet, the Bears had one of the worst rushing offensive lines in football last season, while the Lions boast one of the top units in the NFL. The combination of open gaps and a runner that can not only get through them, but break tackles along the way, had to be very appealing for general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell.
David Montgomery tackle breaker pic.twitter.com/ucuCpwhRhc— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) March 15, 2023
Another angle on the Montgomery run vs GB pic.twitter.com/uUHpaeKTT3— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) March 15, 2023
Montgomery will pair up with D’Andre Swift in the Lions' platooning, starting backfield and form a complementary thunder-and-lightning duo. The pair's ability to both stay on the field in all situations makes them situationally interchangeable, even though they are different styles of back. That luxury of being able to open your entire offensive playbook, regardless of which running back is on the field, is something offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has to be drooling over.
Don’t get too caught up in trying to project if Montgomery or Swift is the “starter”: the way the Lions operate, the expectation will be that the pair both see starter-level snaps.
After Montgomery and Swift, recently re-signed Craig Reynolds will enter his third season with the team and currently is the team’s RB3. After Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson appears to be next in line, and while he flashed as a rookie, he only landed on the practice squad last season. Greg Bell injured his hip less than a week into his rookie season and spent the year on injured reserve. His contract still appears to be attached to the team, but there have been no updates on his status with the organization since 2022 training camp.
With four, possibly five running backs on the roster, the Lions will look to add at least one or two more players to the competition. Add in that Swift is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the Lions may very well be looking to draft his replacement this season. Adding a player who can challenge Reynolds for the RB3 role and possibly replace Swift as a co-starter in 2023 is still very much on the table for the Lions.
So when might the Lions target a back in the draft?
I’d say the conversation about spending draft capital to select Bijan Robinson in the first round is probably over, but drafting a back on Day 2 could certainly be in the realm of possibilities. It’s also possible the Lions wait until Day 3 and look to develop a young back—and the UDFA market post-draft is typically full of diamonds in the rough that are worth bringing into camp.
Like with most of Holmes’ signings this offseason, he filled a vacancy on the roster in free agency, but the supporting players in that position group are in a contractual situation that their replacements could be selected at any point in the draft if the value is there.