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The Value of David Montgomery: Volume III, Proposed Role & Contract

| February 2nd, 2023

Proposed Montgomery Role

Based on everything we’ve seen so far; we can say this about David Montgomery’s NFL profile:

That has a place on an NFL roster, but it should not be as an every down back who gets 200+ carries a year, which has been his role for the last 4 seasons. A ratio of 201 carries to 41 pass targets, like Montgomery saw in 2022, makes him a net negative for the offense, but he could be valuable if used correctly. The Bears last year insisted on using all of their running backs in an every-down situation, rotating them on a per-drive basis. The lead back (Montgomery if healthy) would play every snap for 2 drives, and then the backup would play every snap for 1 drive. This doesn’t play to either Montgomery or Herbert’s strengths, as it forces both to play in situations where they are not effective.

If the Bears insist on using both of their main backs on a per-drive basis, then they need to find a better runner than Montgomery to be their lead back. If, however, the Bears decide that they want to bring Montgomery back, they will need to reconfigure how they use their running backs. They can rotate them situationally, such that Herbert is naturally on the field in more run-heavy situations and Montgomery is naturally on the field in more pass-heavy situations, and thus use both their strengths better.

Take, for instance, this very basic situational split:

  • Khalil Herbert could play in more neutral situations that will favor the run:
    • 1st and 2nd down for the 1st 3 quarters, except the last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
    • When the Bears have a lead in the 4th quarter and are trying to run out the clock.
  • David Montgomery could play in situations that favor the passing game and short yardage runs:
    • 3rd and 4th down for the 1st 3 quarters.
    • The last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
    • When the Bears are trailing in the 4th quarter.

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The Value of David Montgomery: Volume II, Pass Game

| February 1st, 2023

This is the 2nd in a 3-part series looking at David Montgomery. In part 1, we saw that Montgomery is bad at running the football. Today, we’re going to explore his impact in the passing game. 


Receiving

Let’s start by looking at how effective each Bears running back is catching the ball. The table below shows a host of advanced statistics for Montgomery and Herbert, as well as how they compared to the 67 running backs who ran at least 100 routes in 2022. All data is from Pro Football Focus, and values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while values in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • This is a complete reversal from the running data. David Montgomery is one of the better receiving backs in the NFL, while Khalil Herbert is one of the worst.
  • Montgomery’s efficiency here makes sense. Even though he’s slow for a running back, he’s still faster than most linebackers, who are the defenders typically covering him. And when he does break a tackle, he doesn’t have the whole defense already flowing to him from nearby, so he’s able to pick up more yards. Throwing him the football is a way to get him the ball in space, which lets him take advantage of his strengths while minimizing the lack of speed that makes it hard for him to get to open space on a handoff.
  • I find it very odd that Montgomery saw so few pass targets considering how bad Chicago’s WRs were and how good he is as a pass catcher. And this isn’t just due to the Bears not passing much; Montgomery was solidly below-average in routes run/target, which means the ball didn’t go his way very often even when they did throw it.
  • Khalil Herbert is a mess here, which is why I don’t think the Bears can count on him as their primary running back going into 2023, regardless of how good he is running the ball.

Pass Blocking

Catching the football isn’t the only part of the passing game a running back impacts; they are also tasked with helping in pass protection. Let’s take a look at how effective Montgomery and Herbert were in this area, once again using PFF for statistics. Ranks are compared to 59 running backs with at least 25 pass blocking snaps, and once again top 25% values are highlighted in green, while bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • These are small sample sizes, so it’s hard to say too much definitively about the data. But I did find it interesting that Herbert was asked to block more frequently than Montgomery when they were on the field for passing plays, even though Herbert is a worse pass blocker. I am going to guess that is largely due to Montgomery being so much more useful as a pass catcher than Herbert.
  • I put blocking grades in here because there’s just not much data otherwise. I find it odd that Montgomery and Herbert had similar blocking grades despite Montgomery giving up 4 pressures on 54 blocking snaps, compared to 4 on 32 snaps for Herbert.
  • No matter how you look at it, Montgomery is an adequate pass blocker, but doesn’t seem like anything special. Herbert, on the other hand, seems to struggle here a bit as well.

Tomorrow, a potential role and contract for Montgomery.

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The Value of David Montgomery: Volume I, Run Game

| January 31st, 2023

After four productive years in Chicago, David Montgomery is now a free agent, which leaves the Bears in the difficult situation of trying to figure out how much they are willing to pay to keep him around. On the surface, he has the case to command a sizable contract. Since entering the NFL, Montgomery has 915 carries (6th in NFL) for 3,609 yards (10th) and 26 rushing touchdowns (15th). Montgomery has also contributed 155 receptions for 1,240 yards and 4 touchdowns, bringing his rookie contract totals to an impressive 4,849 yards from scrimmage and 30 TDs.

Of course, volume stats don’t tell the full story, so this week I want to take a closer look at David Montgomery’s performance to see if we can get a better idea of how good he is, and thus how large of a contract he might be worth. We’ll start today by looking at his contributions in the run game, follow-up tomorrow with a look at his role in the passing game, and finish with an examination of what a realistic free agent contract could look like.


Advanced Rushing Statistics

Volume stats are nice, but to really understand a player’s value, we need to examine their efficiency. Thankfully, we have a whole host of data available to us, including a number of advanced statistics.

Before we look at the data, I want to mention that RYOE is Rushing Yards Over Expected, which is based on both the position and the movement of all 22 players on the field at the time of handoff. Basically, it projects how many yards an average NFL running back would get in a given carry based on historical data, and then compares how that specific running back did on that play. RYOE % is then the % of carries where a back exceeds the expected rushing yards.

The table below shows how Montgomery fared in a host of advanced rushing statistics compared to 48 running backs with at least 90 carries in 2022. Khalil Herbert’s statistics are also shown for good measure. All RYOE stats are pulled from Next Gen Stats, while yards before run, after run, and broken tackles are from Pro Football Reference. Any values in the top 25% (top 12) are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are in red.

A few thoughts:

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2023 Off-Season Primer: Plenty of Money, Plenty of Needs

| January 10th, 2023


The 2022 season is finally over, meaning it is time for fans to shift their attention to the off-season, that magical time of year when every team turns all of their weaknesses into strengths and enters training camp as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

I kid, of course, but the offseason is a time to improve the roster, and the Bears showed this year that they need plenty of roster improvement. To give us an idea of what might be possible in the next few months, I want to take stock of where the Bears currently are. We’ll explore:

  • Who is still under contract vs. entering free agency.
  • What upgrades are needed.
  • What the salary cap situation looks like.
  • What players could be eligible for extensions.

Current Depth Chart

Let’s start by looking at who the Bears currently have under contract for 2023. This is based on players currently signed as of January 9.

As you can see, the roster is going to undergo a significant overhaul this offseason for the second year in a row. As of right now, there are only 41 players on the roster, and many of them are fringe guys who may not make the team next year.

(Quick side note: there are 2 players that did not fit on this depth chart: TE Chase Allen and safety Adrian Colbert. I didn’t want to add a 3rd string just for them, and they’re practice squad guys who likely won’t factor into the 2023 roster anyway).

Though the Bears can at least pencil in a “starter” at most roster spots, many of those players should not be starting in 2023, and the team should be looking to add new starters at the following positions this offseason:

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Grading the Roster: Defense and Specials

| July 22nd, 2022

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.


Defensive Tackles: 3

Key Players: Angelo Blackson, Justin Jones, Mario Edwards Jr.

Roster Depth: Khyiris Tonga, Mike Pennel Jr., LaCale London, Auzoyah Alufohai, Micah Dew-Treadway

Justin Jones is the highest paid defensive tackle on the roster, but his underlying statistics suggest he is a poor pass rusher and mediocre run defender. He was a panic signing after the Larry Ogunjobi deal fell through, and expectations for him should be low. Angelo Blackson is Chicago’s best defensive tackle, and he is pretty much the definition of average both from a rushing the passer and stopping the run standpoint. Mario Edwards Jr. can provide some pressure as a situational pass rusher, but struggles with stupid penalties. The fourth defensive tackle will likely come down to Khyiris Tonga, a 7th round pick in 2021, and veteran Mike Pennel Jr., both profiling more as traditional nose tackles that can stuff the run but don’t offer much rushing the passer. This group isn’t terrible, but they also don’t really have anybody who’s all that good, which is a problem in a league that more and more needs disruption from the interior of the defensive line.


Edge Rushers: 6

Key Players: Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson, Al-Quadin Muhammad

Roster Depth: Dominique Robinson, Sam Kamara, Charles Snowden, Carson Taylor

Robert Quinn was a good (but not great) pass rusher last year, and he has a history of following strong seasons with poor ones. He’s also a bad run defender. Trevis Gipson showed real promise in a part-time role last year, and I am excited to see what he can do in an expanded role as he enters the third season of his career. New head coach Matt Eberflus brought Al-Quadin Muhammad over from Indianapolis with him, but he was bad against the run and pass there, so expectations should be low. Rookie 5th rounder Dominique Robinson is an intriguing player with all sorts of physical tools, but he is still incredibly raw after switching from WR to DE two years ago, so I don’t think it’s fair to expect much from him as a rookie.


Linebackers: 6

Key Players: Roquan Smith, Nicholas Morrow

Roster Depth: Matt Adams, Joe Thomas, Jack Sanborn, Caleb Johnson, Noah Dawkins, CJ Avery, Christian Albright

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Grading the Roster: Offense

| July 21st, 2022

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.


Quarterback: 3

Key Player: Justin Fields

Roster Depth: Trevor Siemian, Nathan Peterman

I should start here by noting that I’m grading based on past production and trying to minimize projecting what I personally think will happen in the future. Accordingly, Justin Fields was statistically one of the worst starting QBs in the NFL last year. That is common for rookie QBs. Underneath the really bad stats, there was actually quite a bit to like about Fields’ rookie season, so I’m excited to see how big of a sophomore leap he can make. Hopefully he will be viewed as at least an above-average starter by the end of 2022.

Trevor Siemian is a quality backup with plenty of experience, which helps the grade here a bit. Nathan Peterman has thrown 135 NFL passes, with less than 6x as many completions to his own team (71) as the opposing defense (12). I seriously hope I never have to watch him play a regular season snap for the Bears. I don’t understand why the Bears didn’t give that spot to an undrafted rookie, because we already know Peterman is terrible and doesn’t belong in the NFL.


Running Backs: 5

Key Players: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert

Roster Depth: Triston Ebner, Darrynton Evans, Khari Blasingame, De’Montre Tuggle

David Montgomery has put up solid volume numbers through three NFL seasons, but a closer look at his performance reveals he’s been one of the least efficient high-usage running backs in the NFL. Khalil Herbert had a quality rookie season last year, and the Bears also brought in Darrynton Evans and Triston Ebner as guys who possess a different skill set than Chicago’s two lead backs. Fullback Khari Blasingame was also signed, and the Bears say they want to use him as more than just a blocker. It’s hard to give this group too high of a rating due to the lack of a premier player, but quality depth makes it a solid room overall. I fully expect we’ll see much more of a rotation this year than the last few seasons, which should be good for the offense overall.


Wide Receivers: 2

Key Players: Darnell Mooney, Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle

Roster Depth: Equanimeous St. Brown, N’Keal Harry, Dante Pettis, Tajae Sharp, David Moore, Dazz Newsome, Isaiah Coulter, Chris Finke, Kevin Shaa, Nsimba Webster

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Data Entry: Zooming in on the Run Defense

| July 1st, 2022

 


Wrapping up our look at returning players and new veterans on defense, today we’re going to explore stopping the run.

This can be difficult to quantify, because much of what goes into run stopping doesn’t get measured. When Eddie Goldman holds his own against two blockers, he frees up a linebacker to make the tackle, but nothing Goldman did there shows up on a stat sheet. So I want to be clear from the start that this is not going to be a perfect science, and I make no claims that it is.

However, Pro Football Focus (PFF) does track some data that can give us an idea of how often a defender is directly involved in stopping a run play. We’ll look at basic metrics that are fairly self-explanatory, like how often a player makes a run tackle or misses a tackle, but also some more advanced data including how far downfield the average run tackle they make is.

One unconventional stat PFF uses that I want to briefly discuss is a “run stop.” PFF defines this as a solo tackle that counts as a “win” for the defense. I can’t find anything definitively saying what makes a play a “win,” but you can imagine this is probably similar to success rate, where it keeps the offense from picking up a certain % of the yards needed for a 1st down. In other words: a defender made a tackle to keep the run short and force the offense behind the chains.

I will examine every Bears defender who had at least 200 run defense snaps last year, whether in Chicago or somewhere else. This allows for a large enough individual sample size that the values have some meaning, but also a large enough sample size for comparing players from a position to their peers. The 200 snap threshold gave a sample of 74 interior defensive linemen (2.3/team), 52 edge defenders (1.6/team), 66 linebackers (2.1/team), 75 cornerbacks (2.3/team), and 70 safeties (2.2/team). That adds up to 10.5 defenders/team, or roughly those who played starter-level snaps.


Interior DL

Let’s start with a look at the defensive line, where the Bears return Angelo Blackson and added Justin Jones in free agency. The table below shows how they both fared in a variety of run-stopping metrics last year, as well as their rank compared to 74 interior defensive linemen who played at least 200 run snaps. To give a broader frame of reference, the best, average, median, and worst values among that 74-player sample are also provided for each statistics. Categories highlighted in green indicated the player was in the top 25% relative to their peers, while red indicates the player was in the bottom 25%.

A few thoughts:

  • Angelo Blackson seems like a decent enough, if not great, run defender. He’s not overly good or bad in any of the areas. His missed tackle rate is a little higher than you would like to see, so hopefully that can improve a bit going forward.
  • Justin Jones is very active in run defense, as evidenced by his high amount of run-defending tackles. However, he struggles with missed tackles, and very few of his tackles count as “wins” for the defense, which means they’re happening farther down the field than you would like.


Edge Rushers

Let’s switch gears and examine the edge rushers now, where the Bears have three notable players: returnees Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson and newly signed Al-Quadin Muhammad. The table below shows their performance against the run in a variety of metrics, including their rank compared to 52 positional peers.

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Data Entry: Zooming in on Coverage Players (LB and S)

| June 30th, 2022

 


Today we’ll switch to look at how linebackers and safeties have fared in coverage.

Like I did with cornerbacks, I’m using data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) that looks at how frequently and effectively individual players are targeted in coverage. I chose to set a threshold of 250 coverage snaps because it both gives a decent enough sample size to judge an individual player and gives a big enough grouping of players at each position to evaluate how somebody performed relative to their peers. This threshold gave a sample size of 68 linebackers (2.1/team) and 82 safeties (2.6/team).


Linebackers

Let’s start with a look at linebackers, where the Bears return Roquan Smith and bring in Nicholas Morrow. The table below shows how they fared in a variety of coverage metrics last year, as well as their rank compared to 68 linebackers who had at least 250 coverage snaps. To give a broader frame of reference, the best, average, median, and worst values among that 68-player sample are also provided for each statistic. Categories highlighted in green indicated the player was in the top 25% relative to their peers, while red indicates the player was in the bottom 25%.

Note: Since Morrow missed the 2021 season with an injury, his data is from 2020, but he is still ranked against his peers in 2021. I know this is not perfect, but these values shouldn’t change that much league-wide year over year, and it saved me a ton of work.

A few thoughts:

  • Overall, both Roquan and Morrow appear to be very good in coverage. This should be a real strength of Chicago’s defense.
  • The two main stats I would use to evaluate effectiveness are yards/target and yards/coverage snap. These encapsulate a bunch of the other metrics to show how many yards the defender gave up overall.
    • In those areas, Roquan is solidly above average, but not great, which honestly surprised me.
    • Morrow, on the other hand, ranks near the top in both. The Bears haven’t had a good coverage linebacker to put next to Roquan since he was a rookie in 2018, so the thought of pairing him with somebody who excels in coverage is enticing.
  • Some of the other stats can give us a glimpse into playing style. For instance, Roquan gives up plenty of catches (high catch %), but they are mostly very short (low target depth and air yards/catch). This is a common trade off in coverage, since shorter passes are easier to complete. Unfortunately, Roquan struggles a bit with giving up yards after the catch – though it’s not due to missed tackles – which is what brings him down overall. In general, Roquan is good at limiting the yards/catch allowed, but the high catch rate brings his yards/target and yards/snap ranks down a bit.
    • Morrow, on the other hand, keeps the catch rate low despite giving up short passes, which gives him stellar coverage marks pretty much across the board.

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Data Entry: Zooming in on Coverage Players (Corners)

| June 29th, 2022

 


Today we’re going to shift from examining players who rush the passer to those who defend passes that are thrown. We’ll start by looking at the CBs, with an upcoming article to look at linebackers and safeties.

In order to do this, I’m using data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) that looks at how frequently and effectively individual players are targeted in coverage. I chose to set a threshold of 250 coverage snaps because it both gives a decent enough sample size to judge an individual player and gives a big enough grouping of players at each position to evaluate how somebody performed relative to their peers. This threshold gave a sample size of 106 cornerbacks, or 3.3 per NFL team.


First Look

The Bears have four notable veteran cornerbacks: returners Jaylon Johnson, Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley, and newcomer Tavon Young. The table below shows how they fared in a variety of coverage metrics last year, as well as their rank compared to 106 cornerbacks who had at least 250 coverage snaps. To give a broader frame of reference, the best, average, median, and worst values among that 106-player sample are also provided for each statistic. Categories highlighted in green indicated the player was in the top 25% relative to their peers, while red indicates the player was in the bottom 25%.

A few thoughts:

  • Let’s start with Jaylon Johnson, who is probably not as good as many Bears fans have made him out to be. To be fair to Johnson, he often shadowed the other team’s best WR in 2021, so quite a bit was asked of him, but his overall profile here shows a CB who is more average starter than great. Still, he is at least an average starter, and that’s something.
    • You can also see Johnson’s stylistic approach to CB show up through a few of the stats. Passes thrown at him are generally pretty deep because he plays tight man coverage and doesn’t give up easy stuff underneath. That leads to a low catch percentage, but also a high yards/catch value.
    • Overall, Johnson ends up around average in both yards/target and yards/coverage snap, which are probably the best 2 overall metrics to go to when evaluating CB play.
  • It’s a very different story for Kindle Vildor, who was the worst CB in the NFL in yards/target. Like Johnson, he likes to play tight coverage, which gives him a high average target and catch depth. Unlike Johnson, Vildor gave up a really high catch percentage, which is really bad when passes are deep. One good thing is that teams didn’t throw at him very often, but they were hugely successful when they did.
  • Finally, let’s take a look at Duke Shelley and Tavon Young, who have similar profiles because they both primarily play nickel. That means they see more short passes (low target depth and air yards/catch) but give up more catches (high catch %). Young was appreciably better at limiting yards after the catch, which meant his overall metrics (yards/target and yards/coverage snap) were around average, while Shelley’s were terrible.
    • It seems weird that Shelley was the worst CB in the NFL giving up yards after the catch despite being very good at avoiding missed tackles. That must mean many players who caught the ball had so much space between them and Shelley that they could keep moving without him having an attempted tackle to miss.

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Data Entry: Zooming in on the Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2022

Almost everything I’ve looked at so far this offseason has been about the offense, so now I want to shift gears and give some attention to returning players and new veterans on defense. That starts today with a closer examination of the pass rush.

In order to do this, I’m using data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) that examine pressures, wins, sacks, and pass rush productivity. Here’s a quick explainer of what PFF means by some of those that are less obvious:

  • Pressure: This is a measure of how often a player bothers the QB – makes him move off his spot, hits him, or sacks him.  It will be defined through the % of pass-rushing snaps that count as a pressure, QB hit, or sack.
  • Win: this is a measure of how often a player beats their block to impact a play within 2.5 seconds. It will be defined through the % of pass-rushing snaps that count as a win.
  • Pass Rush Productivity: this accounts for all sacks, pressures, and QB hits on a per-snap basis, with an added weight given to sacks. PFF doesn’t give an exact formula for how much extra sacks are weighted, but generally a higher number is better.

I’ll examine both all pass rushing snaps and only what PFF defines as true pass sets. These are basically set up to only look at 4-man rushes on standard passing plays, so all screens, play action, designed rollouts, blitzes, 3-man rushes, and exceptionally fast (ball thrown in <2 seconds) or slow (ball thrown in >4 seconds) plays are removed. PFF says that these values tend to be more stable year-to-year, since they are more indicative of actual pass rushing ability.


Edge Rushers

Let’s start by examining edge rushers, where the Bears have three notable NFL veterans: returners Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson and newly signed Al-Quadin Muhammad.

The table below shows how all three fared in a variety of pass rushing stats in 2021, as well as their rank compared to 93 NFL edge rushers with at least 200 pass rush opportunities. To give a broader frame of reference, the best, average, median, and worst values among that 93-player sample are also provided for each statistic.

Categories highlighted in green indicated the player was in the top 25% of edge rushers (top 23), while red indicates the player was in the bottom 25% (bottom 23).

A few thoughts:

  • If you ignore sacks and look more at the pressure and win rates – which are more stable season to season – Quinn was more good than great as a pass rusher in 2021. That feels weird to say for somebody who finished 2nd in the NFL in sacks, but the extremely low pressure/sack ratio tells us that he produced more sacks than expected based on the pressure he generated, and pressures are generally more consistent than sacks.
    • This tracks with other data showing that Quinn generally took longer to get to the QB than the NFL’s elite pass rushers.
    • Quinn also has a fairly established track record of season-to-season inconsistency. He’s never produced an above-average pass rush productivity ranking in two consecutive years during his career, and he hasn’t had back-to-back seasons with 8+ sacks since 2014.
    • Add it all up, and I think a regression from Quinn is highly likely in 2022. The Bears would be wise to sell high on him now rather than waiting for the trade deadline if they are hoping to get value in return.
  • Trevis Gipson honestly was fairly comparable to Robert Quinn in most of these statistics, which is pretty impressive. He had a very solid year in 2021. His sample size was much smaller (229 pass rush snaps vs. 402 for Quinn), so I’m eager to see if he can repeat that performance. It’s worth noting, however, that his pressure/sack ratio was about as low as Quinn’s, so he could play better this year and still see a dip in sacks.
  • Al-Quadin Muhammad is a bad pass rusher. I really hope the Bears aren’t planning on him doing much to bother the QB, because 2021 was actually the best season rushing the passer of his career, and it was still bad.

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