'Sonic' Sam Montgomery entered this season as one of the highest profile players in the entire NFL Draft and projected to be a top ten pick by the vast majority of experts and draftniks. Montgomery entered the season with added strength, looked great in Spring ball, and had a ton of hype along with his teammate, Barkevious Mingo, as a devastating pass rushing duo and the best pair of defensive ends in the country. Montgomery posted 13 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 pass break ups; a solid season by most accounts but not quite what was expected out of Montgomery, especially given his up and down play throughout the year in terms of his impact in games. He had 8 sacks but they felt relatively empty. Montgomery came out and said at the combine that he was taking it easy against LSU’s weaker opponents and played his hardest against the toughest. Nevertheless, his physical potential is impressive, his technique is pretty good and continues to get better, and he has the ability to be a franchise pass rusher. However, in a draft class with so much depth and the questions surrounding Montgomery’s motivation, he becomes a true wild card in the draft and has an enormous range where he could be picked as early as the top ten or as late as the early second round, possibly as a huge steal.
Sam Montgomery became one of the biggest stories at the combine when he made comments to the effect that he did not go all out against all of his opponents this season; specifically not going all out against weaker, overpowered opponents. Many are criticizing Montgomery and calling this move stupid. From Montgomery’s point of view, the situation was simple; he could either be thought of as lazy and still possessing the ability to be the early first round pick many projected before the season or be thought of as not being the franchise player people thought he was and simply not the player the hype made him out to be going into the year. So, between lazy or unable, Montgomery chose lazy. Critics and teams will have to evaluate that and will address it in meetings with him.
Montgomery was a redshirt sophomore after this past year and perhaps he should have gone ahead and declared for the draft. This is the move that should have been criticized. If he was not planning on going back and giving it everything he had this year, he probably should have gone ahead and declared. Having said that, he opted to stay, added bulk and opted to be somewhat of a part time player for LSU this year, saving his energy for their bigger opponents and protecting himself against the weaker ones. Montgomery suffered a season ending knee injury as a redshirt freshman so he has an idea of the risks that come with playing and potentially getting hurt as it relates to the NFL Draft. The people criticizing Montgomery now are also discussing whether JaDaveon Clowney should sit out his junior year to save himself for the NFL. Anyone who is saying Clowney should sit and is now criticizing Montgomery for playing some and then protecting himself at other times is being hypocritical. Criticize Montgomery’s decision to go back for his redshirt junior year rather than the decision to protect himself. Montgomery had the choice to come out last year and stayed in school while Clowney does not have that same choice.
It is unclear what if any impact this will have on his draft stock, but last year a player did something similar to Montgomery. While he never openly admitted it, it was commonly believed that Quinton Coples opted to stay at North Carolina for his senior year and he did not give it his all, protecting himself as Montgomery did, resulting in a disappointing season in terms of his production. Despite that, Coples went through the draft process and was drafted 16th overall by the New York Jets. Coples was not punished for not going all out every game and protecting himself last year, but never admitting it in the public. Will Montgomery be punished for simply being honest about it or will this just be fodder for meaningless discussion? It remains to be seen. And nothing about this vaccinates Montgomery from the flaws he has shown on tape, but it does give his year some context. He wants teams to believe he is a stud and just did not play up to his potential last year. Teams will have to decide how credible that claim is. It is a smart and calculated move by Montgomery and his representation to go this route. Now, to talk about Montgomery, the player on the field and what he offers teams in the NFL.
Montgomery measured in 6’3” 262lbs at the combine. Physically, he looks the part of a franchise defensive end. He has an impressive build and strength. Montgomery is remarkably athletic with quickness, agility, and acceleration. After last season, Montgomery proceeded to add about 10-15 pounds of added bulk and maintained his athleticism. It is remarkable how well his body has taken to newly added bulk, but it is possible he will be even smoother in the future as he acclimates better to the added bulk. Even now, he still possesses a good amount of physical potential. Although there will be some natural questions raised about it, Montgomery’s motor and stamina look good on tape for the most part.
As a tackler, Montgomery is such a big, wide body that he engulfs opposing ball carriers. He does a good job wrapping up and is strong enough to easily bring them down. He has the ability to lay the wood when the opportunity presents himself but has the sense to know that he does not need to launch himself to do it and will hit with good power as long as he tackles with good form. Montgomery plays low to the ground anyway so he naturally hits runners in the torso and is rarely up around the shoulders. He rarely lets a ball carrier get away and this is a consistent area of his game.
As a run defender, Montgomery is stout at the point of attack and holds up well against opposing blockers. He displays good agility in small areas and can is a good tackler when he is in position, often engulfing opposing ball carriers. He has a decent amount of range for a defensive end and can track down ball carriers from behind at times when the play goes down the field. He consistently plays with good leverage and body angle. The one area Montgomery needs to improve at most is shedding blocks. Holding up at the point of attack and being stout is great and works out well for his teammates behind him, but he can be a better player at shedding to make more plays himself.
When it comes to rushing the passer, Montgomery displays a ton of ability and could continue to improve at the next level. He has shown the ability to rush outside with speed, crash inside, or use power right at his opponent on the way to the quarterback. Montgomery runs the arc well and he plays low and with good pad level allowing him to get around the corner effectively and efficiently, making it difficult for offensive tackles to keep up with him as well as be low enough to block him. He shows impressive power in his bull rush due to his strength, pad level, and good use of leverage and can drive back both offensive tackles and guards back towards the quarterback. Montgomery is effective when coming inside as well and part of the reason he is effective is because he keeps opponents off balance with the amount of ways he can attack. He also has a nice spin move he continues to develop. Montgomery’s speed in pursuit and his closing speed are impressive.
However, his snap anticipation is mediocre at best, often the last one off the line. His first step is average and clouds how impressive an athlete he actually is. Once he gets going, he is impressive but his first step gives opponents the chance to stop him before he starts. Montgomery actually comes off the line quicker from a two point stance than with his hand on the ground. Combine that with the bad snap anticipation and there are times when Montgomery looks criminally slow. This also means that if he can improve in these areas and get off the line quicker, his effectiveness and production could sky rocket. He needs to do a better job protecting his legs and avoid ending up on the ground as much as he does. And just like against the run, he needs to keep working on improving at block shedding and how he uses his hands. Montgomery, when he wins, he will win at the initial point of contact. He certainly has shown abilities where he beats blockers later in the play, but he needs to do it more quickly and with more regularity. There are also times when Montgomery has decided he cannot make a play and will go ahead and gear down.
In terms of fit, Montgomery is the classic 4-3 end, but he actually could play as a 3-4 OLB as unlikely as that might be. Montgomery could play either the left or right side or both depending on the team that picks him. Whoever picks him, he should be the starter at one of those sides immediately. If he plays up to his ability and is the player he should be, he has the ability to be a franchise pass rusher and a game changer who should be able to get to double digit sacks each year that not only makes plays on his own but creates plays for teammates due to the amount of attention he demands.
Sam Montgomery’s situation has become so similar to that of former Florida Gator and current Cincinnati Bengal Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap was projected to be a top five pick at various times at his career, but never seemed to consistently show why he should be that franchise defensive end. He came out with several red flags and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Under Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer, Dunlap is working on becoming the player many envisioned he could be. It remains to be seen if he will become a franchise defensive end, but that scenario is where Sam Montgomery finds himself now. He may still go in the first round, but he could find himself in the second round with a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove and the opportunity to prove everyone who passed on him was wrong.
Sam Montgomery has made his play as far as what he wants teams to believe happened this past year and it will be interesting to see if one buy in and opt to take him in the first round and where they take him. Montgomery will likely go into these meetings with NFL personnel and tell them to put on the Alabama tape and talk about how he gave what many believe will be a future first round pick Cyrus Kouandjio all he could handle. Everything with Montgomery depends on what teams believe about him and how he is in meetings making him a wild card in the upcoming draft. Physically, Montgomery has just about everything a team could want in a defensive end and his technique is solid but improving with the potential to be a franchise player. Combining that with what teams determine about his motivation and figuring out what makes the kid tick could result in Montgomery going in the first or second round of the draft. In a normal draft, he is a lock first rounder and still could be, but the depth of this class could push him down later than expected.
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