Williams to the Bears
After opting-out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, Damien Williams agreed in March to terms on a one-year deal with the Bears. It is an unusual scenario to say the least, but a player that has not contributed for an entire year could still have a significant fantasy impact on the Chicago's backfield. Recall that the last time Williams appeared in a game was in Super Bowl LIV, when he rushed for 104 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs. With this signing, Williams reunites with Head Coach Matt Nagy and Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor. Having familiarity with Nagy and Lazor’s vision of the offense makes him a natural fit for the backup role behind Montgomery and ahead of satellite back Tarik Cohen. Fantasy general managers everywhere are wondering how this signing could impact their David Montgomery shares. Sadly for them, the prognosis is not good, regardless of format.
Impact in Redraft PPR Formats
While Montgomery will still earn the majority of touches in this backfield, the addition of a competent rushing option in Williams and the recovery of Tarik Cohen do not bode well for Montgomery carrying the workload as exclusively as he did in 2020. A season-ending ACL injury to Tarik Cohen in Week 3 and the ineffectiveness of Lamar Miller and Ryan Nall were the perfect storm for Montgomery’s uptick in usage last season. It left the Bears little choice but to increase his passing and rushing game workload to previously unobtained levels.
Recency bias is also in full effect in that Montgomery's touches increased dramatically in the final three weeks of the season, which coincided with the fantasy playoffs. It would be folly to count on such a scenario unfolding again. The free agency addition of Williams adds a back who has between-the-tackles prowess and underrated pass-catching ability. While it is improbable Cordarelle Patterson will re-sign with the Bears, Tarik Cohen’s return from injury will fill any potential touch and target void left by Patterson’s exit.
It is also likely that Williams' presence will result in 10-16 carry weeks for Montgomery as opposed to the 22-32 carries he received in Weeks 15-17 of 2020. The last three weeks of last season were something of an anomaly in that Matt Nagy decreased Cordarelle Patterson's touches to almost nothing. Considering that Patterson was averaging almost six touches a game, that is not an insignificant change. Under normal circumstances, when his personnel have been completely healthy, Matt Nagy has shown the propensity to mix everyone in. Although that approach works well for winning NFL football games, it is not a recipe for winning fantasy contests.
The Bears are unlikely to become a better offense that would grow the number of touches and targets to go around. The addition of Andy Dalton is not an improvement at the quarterback position and may even be a slight downgrade from the Trubisky and Foles tandem. The NFL Draft could change the offensive line’s outlook. However, if the unit remains as-is for 2021, it will continue to be one of the bottom-tier NFL units. Montgomery is not a plodder, but neither is he a creative or elusive runner who can thrive regardless of the blocking in front of him.
Many will see Montgomery’s 2020 as a reason to invest in the fourth round of fantasy drafts. However, there are better value propositions around the same selection, such as CeeDee Lamb and Chris Godwin. Only if Montgomery falls two rounds in drafts between now and the fall should general managers consider making him their choice.
Impact in Dynasty Formats
In dynasty leagues, Montgomery’s value has taken a slight hit for this year, but has remained mostly intact. That is not saying much, as his stock has been depressed for some time by the offense in which he landed. He will turn 24 before the beginning of the 2021 season, meaning his most productive fantasy years are likely ahead of him. It will be a matter of Montgomery getting a better opportunity provided either by a team change when his contract expires in 2023 or a new regime breathing life into the franchise before his rookie deal is up. Montgomery is somewhat of a value in startup drafts currently, but one should not go out of their way to trade for him in established dynasty leagues. If this year goes as projected and he is a statistical disappointment, he might be a buy-low candidate next year.