The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, RBs Montgomery & Jacobs

Updated: February 10th 2019

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Winter and Spring as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

In this week’s entry in my NFL Draft Previews series, we’ll be taking a closer look at running backs David Montgomery and Josh Jacobs.  I purposefully put these two backs in the same preview because I thought their paths to this point in the 2019 NFL Draft process are contrasting.  It will be interesting to see which player ends up with the better draft pedigree: the guy whose been on dynasty owners’ radars for three years, or the guy whose workload was limited by a talented supporting cast but recently showed his full potential.  Let’s get to it!

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

  • Listed at: 5110/216 (per www.sports-reference.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Iowa 2018, Washington State 2018
  • Stats:
Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece Scri Scri Scri Scri
Year School G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
2016 Iowa State 12 109 563 5.2 2 13 129 9.9 0 122 692 5.7 2
*2017 Iowa State 13 258 1146 4.4 11 36 296 8.2 0 294 1442 4.9 11
*2018 Iowa State 12 257 1216 4.7 13 22 157 7.1 0 279 1373 4.9 13
Career Iowa State 624 2925 4.7 26 71 582 8.2 0 695 3507 5.0 26
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2019.

David Mongtomery was my first love of the 2019 running back class from way back in late 2016.  I did a rudimentary Twitter search and count that I have tweeted about him seventeen different times.  I am positive that is the most of any player I’ve covered.  I’ve also written about Montgomery a number of times for the site, with my 2018 Big 12 preview being my most in-depth treatise.  In that piece, I concentrated on a few talking points: 1) his break-tackle ability, 2) his boom or bust tendency and 3) his contributions as a pass catcher.  This clip of Montgomery is one of my favorites and sums up just how hard it is to tackle him:

As that clip illustrates, Montgomery is tough to bring down.  He caught the 3rd and 1 swing pass and was destined for a loss.  Instead he made multiple defenders miss, deployed a killer spin move, set up a block well and dragged a defender for extra yardage.  In addition to his balance, his ability to break tackles is improved by his low center of gravity and leg strength.  Look at how compact he makes himself on this attempted tackle by a Wazzou defensive back.  The blow momentarily knocks him back but he has the power to keep himself upright and finish the run.

I was also looking for further evidence of Montgomery on passing downs as a blocker.  After all, if he may be the top back off the board in your fantasy draft you want to ensure you’re getting somebody with three down capability.  Unfortunately, I did not find too many instances of Montgomery in pass protection.  He’s on the field on passing downs but he’s often faking a handoff, running a route out of the backfield or lining up as a receiver.  In the three instances I took note of Montgomery’s blocking, he lost twice and won once.  This attempted cut block on 4th down against Iowa was a particularly bad example.

The most discussed knock on Montgomery is his speed.  He’s definitely not a burner with long speed, but I think he has enough functional speed to be productive in the pros.  My eye tells me he’ll probably run in the 4.55-4.60 range (i.e. Jamaal Williams or Wayne Gallman). What is most concerning to me is the fact that Montgomery seems to get bottled up for no gain far too often.  He can be very boom or bust.  My initial assumption was that it was due to a lack of vision but I found some advanced stats from Football Outsiders that made me pause and reconsider my judgment.  Per Football Outsiders, Iowa State’s offensive line ranked 105th (of 128) in Standard Downs Line Yards.  This stat essentially shows how many yards the offensive line helped create on a standard rushing down.  When you look at Opportunity Rate, which takes the running back’s performance more into account, the Cyclones rank moves up to 61st.  So, I’d like to optimistically think that Montgomery was mostly a victim of poor line play.  (For what it’s worth, Josh Jacobs’ Alabama ranked 2nd and 5th, respectively).

Since Montgomery has been my top prospect at the position for awhile, I know I am being harder on him than I will be on future evaluations.  I also know that the Josh Jacobs hype train is coming on strong which will bring more attention to Mongtomery’s flaws.  I still see value in Montgomery’s balance, pass catching and durability.  I also think that teams will love to see how often he lined up as a receiver.  I think that pick 50-65 is about right for Montgomery because he’s unlikely to move up draft boards after the combine.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 1-2

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

  • Listed at: 5100/216 (per www.sports-reference.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Tennessee 2018, Clemson 2019, Highlights 2018
  • Stats:
Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece Scri Scri Scri Scri
Year School G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2016 Alabama 14 85 567 6.7 4 14 156 11.1 0 99 723 7.3 4
*2017 Alabama 11 46 284 6.2 1 14 168 12.0 2 60 452 7.5 3
*2018 Alabama 15 120 640 5.3 11 20 247 12.4 3 140 887 6.3 14
Career Alabama 251 1491 5.9 16 48 571 11.9 5 299 2062 6.9 21
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2019.

Josh Jacobs is a very interesting contrast to David Montgomery because he’s only been ballyhooed for months rather than years.  That doesn’t mean he’s any less of a prospect though, so don’t disregard him on a “sample size” or “work load” basis.  A lot of very knowledgeable experts will end up with Jacobs as their top back in the class and I’m okay with that because I am considering it strongly myself.

When I watched Jacobs live during the season, specifically at the end of the season, two things stood out more than anything else: 1) his burst and power as a straight ahead runner and 2) his success as a pass blocker.  Let’s investigate these two strengths further.

One of the best examples of the difficulty of tackling Jacobs came on a kick return against Louisville.  I had forgotten about this play but was thankfully reminded by a highlight reel I found on YouTube.  Jacobs receives the kick at about the 25 yard line and patiently lets his blocks develop.  He gets narrow through a hole, stiff arms a defender, breaks two tackles, maintains his balance along the sideline and manages enough speed to get to the endzone before the defenders catch him.  There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle in the run, just a lot of forward momentum that propelled him to the promised land.

A seemingly minor 2nd and 9 early in the contest against Tennessee really illustrated just how well Jacobs creates yardage after contact by keeping his feet moving and falling forward.  On this play he squeezes through a small hole at the line of scrimmage and is first contacted about four yards short of the line to gain.  He breaks through the arm tackle and then lowers his shoulder to allow himself to rebound over the second defender who is going for a low tackle.  Ultimately he lands about twelve yards down field, getting the first down and putting the Tide well inside the red zone.  Jacobs did this a number of other times in my study and while each felt similarly unimportant, those additional yards add up on the stat sheet and on the defender’s body.

Against Clemson in the National Championship game, Jacobs was deployed as the Wildcat quarterback on multiple short yardage plays.  This replay angle of one of those plays wonderfully shows just how hard Jacobs had to work for that single yard.

After watching Jacobs live, I had very positive takeaways regarding his pass protection.  When I went back and re-watched some of the film though, I was less impressed.  I do believe that Jacobs has the instincts and intelligence to protect well, but he’ll need some work on timing and technique.  Sony Michel set a high bar for me in 2018 as a back who could block well which ultimately helped him earn a first round selection.  I don’t think Jacobs is on that level but he’s closer than many others in the class.  Here’s a play from the Clemson game in which Jacob finds his assignment and makes the block.  I’d like to see him take a sooner step towards the defender instead of letting him get into his body but the block was still effective enough.  What I enjoyed most was that after making the initial block, Jacobs does not give up on the play and hits the defender again to ensure that he opened a lane for his scrambling quarterback.

Jacobs has a chance to leapfrog the incumbent Montgomery as RB1 but I’m not quite ready to make the switch yet.  One of the consequences of Jacobs not having much tape is that he doesn’t have much bad tape.  Is that because he’s the best back in the class?  Or is it because Montgomery had more touches in the first nine games this year than Jacobs had in the last two seasons combined? Regardless of whether he’s the first or fifth running back off the board, it’s clear that Jacobs will be highly sought and could end up being a first rounder.  I think he will have immediate value in the NFL because of his ability to play on passing downs.  Draft prediction: Rounds 1-2


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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