LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Former Mount Healthy High School star David Montgomery used to draw inspiration watching highlights of Walter Payton on his grandfather’s VCR, so consider this a moment of sweetness.
The Chicago Bears addressed one of their biggest needs with their first pick in the draft, trading up with the New England Patriots to take the star running back from Iowa State on Friday night.
Montgomery said he felt “grateful, blessed.” And being drafted by Chicago was particularly special.
“I watched Walter Payton when I was younger,” he said. “Seeing how he ran, trying to correlate a lot of the ways he ran into my game.”
Chicago moved up 14 spots to grab Montgomery at No. 73 overall, making him the first Cyclones player drafted since 2014. The 5-foot-10, 222-pound Montgomery ran for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons. He had 1,216 yards rushing and 13 TDs as a junior.
“He’s just a well-rounded back,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “It’s everything you look for in a running back, starting with his instincts, his vision, his ability to make people miss. He’s just a well-rounded player. Good hands. He fits the offense very well.”
The Bears had a long wait with no picks in the first two rounds for the first time since 2010. They sent their first-round pick this year to Oakland in the blockbuster deal for All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack just before the start of last season. And they dealt their second-rounder to New England a year ago when they traded up to get receiver Anthony Miller in the second round.
Montgomery is known as a calm, patient runner with size and toughness and a knack for breaking tackles. He ranked third in the Big 12 in yards rushing per game at 101.3 last season.
Montgomery also had 71 receptions over three years despite playing in a run-based offense. And Pace sees someone with “natural hands” who can be a good route runner.
His ability to catch passes out of the backfield is a big plus, considering Nagy’s system favors running backs who can do just that.
Howard’s deficiencies in the passing game made him an odd fit and helped punch his ticket out of town, with the Bears trading him to Philadelphia in March.
In Montgomery, Pace believes the Bears will have an immediate contributor. As impressed as he was with his physical skills, something else stood out.
“There are incredible stories about his work ethic,” Pace said. “Going up to the facility late at night and bringing teammates with him to watch additional tape and get extra work in. You just hear one thing after another about his professional approach to the game, how important it is to him and his work ethic is off the charts. And how infectious that was to the entire team there.”