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Fantasy Football ADP – Draft David Montgomery or Chris Carson?

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(All summer, Adam Pfeifer will be putting the tightest fantasy football picks under the microscope in our ADP Decisions series.)

Our ADP series continues with a look at two running backs being drafted in the third or fourth round of fantasy drafts. David Montgomery is coming off a fantastic 2020 season (especially the end of it), while Chris Carson once again dealt with injuries, but was also once again fantastic when on the field. So which running back has the edge entering 2021?

Let’s find out.

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The case for David Montgomery

Montgomery is coming off his best season yet in 2020, totaling 1,070 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 247 carries, adding 54 receptions for 438 yards and an additional two scores. He ultimately finished as the RB6 in all of fantasy, as the Bears gave him seemingly all the work. Montgomery’s 247 carries were good for fourth in the NFL, as Chicago didn’t have anyone else in their backfield who warranted many carries. Meanwhile, Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL in Week 3 and after that, Montgomery became heavily involved in the passing game. Montgomery trailed only Washington’s J.D. McKissic in routes run among all running backs last season (391), though he led the league in that department from Week 4 on, averaging nearly 29 pass routes per game. This was a huge reason behind Montgomery’s breakout campaign, but the breakout didn’t really happen until Week 12. He carried many teams to a fantasy championship during that stretch, as no running back in fantasy scored more fantasy points from Week 12 on than Montgomery, who averaged 25.7 fantasy points per game. During that same span, Montgomery also ranked second in carries (116), fourth in 100-yard games (2), third in rushing yards (598) and third in rushing touchdowns (7). Many attribute Montgomery’s great play down the stretch to an easy schedule, and while he did have some fantastic matchups during that stretch, if you just watched him, you’d notice that Montgomery was constantly finding the right running lanes and shaking off tackles, as he averaged a healthy 3.44 yards after contact per attempt to finish the season. Sure, he faced Green Bay twice, Detroit, Houston and Jacksonville, but good players are supposed to produce against struggling defenses, which is exactly what Montgomery did. 

Entering the 2021 campaign, we shouldn’t expect Montgomery to post the high-end RB1 numbers he finished the season with. The Bears actually have some quality backup running backs in Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert, while Cohen will be back at some point this season (he’ll start on the PUP list). And while Cohen’s efficiency has been brutal as of late, it is hard to imagine the Bears won’t play him at all, especially on passing downs. Meanwhile, Williams is still a very strong running back that could warrant 6-8 touches per game. Montgomery handled over 75% of Chicago’s running back carries last year and was the unquestioned goal line back, seeing nearly 63% of the team’s carries from inside the 5-yard line. I still expect that to be the case, but it’ll be interesting to see what this Bears offense looks like when Justin Fields takes over as the starting quarterback, as we have already seen his mobility in full display during the preseason. And Fields is going to open up this entire offense, while Chicago will be more efficient with Fields under center than Andy Dalton. Montgomery is still going to see 15-17 touches per game (at least) this season but I worry that Williams and Cohen take away touches. He shouldn’t be viewed as an RB1, but Montgomery feels like a pretty safe selection in the fourth round of drafts.

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The case for Chris Carson

There are a lot of running backs in the NFL. None is more underrated than Chris Carson.

Carson is coming off another very productive season with the Seahawks in 2020, rushing for 681 yards and five touchdowns on 141 carries (4.8 YPA), while adding 37 receptions for 287 yards and four scores. Injuries are always a talking point with Carson and yes, he missed four games last season (and parts of two other games) but he played 15 and 14 games over the two prior seasons. But per usual, when Carson is on the field, he is fantastic. He was a top-10 fantasy running back in the games he fully played in last season, while Carson was more involved in the passing game this season, especially early on when Seattle went more pass-heavy. Carson averaged nearly four targets per game last year, easily a career-high, while he quietly hauled in at least three passes in eight of 12 contests. Seattle was third in the NFL in neutral-script pass rate during the first half of the season (63%) but that number dropped to 58% in the second half. It sounds like the Seahawks want to play faster under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, while there might be more passing for the full season. That isn’t to say that Carson isn’t going to see carries, however, as we know Pete Carroll still wants to run the football. But an uptick in passing could lead to more of a ceiling in receptions for Carson, which can help push him into that RB1 range for fantasy. Behind Carson on the depth chart is Rashaad Penny — who really hasn’t been able to stay healthy — and Alex Collins. Carson is a lock for 15-17 touches per game and if Seattle plays faster, it will just help the entire offense for fantasy. Like Montgomery, I believe Carson is an extremely safe player to target in the third or fourth round of fantasy drafts. 

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The verdict: Chris Carson

This is very close and while both project as very safe running backs, I do believe there is a slightly higher ceiling with Carson. Seattle’s offense has a much better chance of exploding this season than Chicago’s, while both Carson and Montgomery are going to see similar workloads. And while neither offensive line is elite, I do prefer Seattle’s and if both backs are getting similar volume, Carson, who is the better player in my opinion, should be more efficient on his touches. 

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