I was excited when the Green Bay Packers drafted Ty Montgomery in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. A physically unique player with the ability to add value on special teams, out of the backfield, and in the slot, I saw his upside as sort of a Darren Sproles/Anquan Boldin hybrid. Montgomery is compact, bulky, and quick, and able to dish out as much punishment as he took. He showed flashes of that promise early on, bringing a needed spark to kickoff returns and serving as a surehanded matchup nightmare, often forcing some poor linebacker or defensive back to choose between him and Randall Cobb. That said, Montgomery’s numbers were pedestrian and he struggled outside of the numbers.
I want to begin by saying that there was nothing wrong with Montgomery’s performance, and under normal circumstances I would probably be writing about him as a huge breakout candidate as he enters his second year with the best quarterback in football, but I think there are some real reasons to be concerned about Montgomery.
1. His ankle injury was extremely severe.
Against the Chargers in week 6, Montgomery suffered the high ankle sprain that ended his season, but that is just the beginning of the story. High ankle sprains are debilitating injuries, especially for receivers, and they are also quite common. While everyone is obviously quite different in healing, the time frame on these is never clear. Montgomery attempted to come back twice but hit a setback every time. He was eventually forced to have surgery to repair “ligaments and cartilage” in the ankle, and his recovery has famously been extremely slow (though caution is certainly justified here). Repairs to ligaments and cartilage in an ankle signal a very severe injury, and while everyone is hopeful he will be back to 100% early this season, it’s not a sure thing. By all accounts Montgomery is a smart, determined player set on coming back, and I wouldn’t bet against him, but this is a real concern.
2. Montgomery wasn’t that good in his rookie season.
And that’s OK. He certainly wasn’t bad, and most rookies drastically improve in subsequent seasons. All I really want to see out of a rookie are flashes of greatness (or at least averageness), and Montgomery showed plenty of that, but he wasn’t exactly indispensable. In his best game he caught 4 of the 5 passes thrown his way for 59 yards and a touchdown, but he also accounted for 15 yards or fewer in four of his 6 games (though in fairness that discounts a critical 50-yard pass interference penalty he drew against Richard Sherman). Promise may very well keep him on the team if he’s healthy, but promise only gets you so far. His valuable special teams play should also help him stick, but it’s worth noting that rookie Trevor Davis was more of a return man than anything in college and could step into that role as needed. Trevor Davis brings us to perhaps the most critical point.
3. The Packers have a lot of receivers.
Most teams carry five or six receivers. Here are the names of 6 Packer receivers: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, and Trevor Davis. I grant you it’s easy to see Abbrederis, or Adams, or even Janis not making the team. However, the team seems to like Adams more than anyone else outside of the organization, Abbrederis wasn’t completely incompetent, and Jeff Janis already has a plaque in Canton. If Montgomery is compromised medically in any way, he could become a casualty of their depth (or spend another season on IR).
Would the Packers give up on a third round pick this early? Perhaps not. They do have a history of giving guys a long rope, but my big worry with him is that ankle becoming a permanent problem. He’s a short, stocky player (relatively speaking) and his ankles consequently have to withstand greater force in his cuts. He is reliant on quickness and powering through tacklers for his effectiveness. All receivers need strong ankles, but Montgomery can’t fall back on height or straight-line speed. His style of play and body type may be prone to recurrence of this injury if it even heals in the first place, and it has a unique ability to render him ineffective.
I’ve written about Montgomery before, about how unusual he actually is in the NFL. At the time I had high hopes for what the Packers might do with such a player. Now I find myself asking the obvious question of why there aren’t more short, 220+ pound receivers in the league, and I'm worried we may get our answer shortly.