At the end of the season, the Jets signed several players to futures contracts for the 2021 season. We’re going to take an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses for each of them over the next few weeks, starting today with wide receiver DJ Montgomery.
The 24-year old is listed at 6’1” and 201 pounds and was undrafted out of Austin Peay in 2019. Montgomery played in two preseason games with the Browns last year, but then missed the entire season due to injury. He spent the entire 2020 season on the Jets’ practice squad but was never elevated to the active roster.
Montgomery initially went down the junior college route as he attended Holmes CC. Although he caught just 11 passes in his first season, he showed some big play capabilities as he averaged over 26 yards per catch and scored twice. In year two, he build on this and caught 36 passes for 991 yards and 10 scores earning first team all-state honors from the MACJC.
The three-star JUCO prospect earned a transfer to Austin Peay, where he again gradually settled into his role, catching 19 passes in his junior year, for 228 yards and three scores.
As a senior, Montgomery broke out for 42 catches, 797 yards and 10 touchdowns despite playing in a run-oriented offense. However, he wasn’t really regarded as a draft sleeper until he put together a solid performance at his pro day.
The Browns signed Montgomery as an undrafted rookie and he got plenty of chances to play on the second unit in the first two preseason games due to injury, impressing with five catches for 124 yards and a score. However, he got injured and missed the rest of the preseason and the entire regular season.
In 2020, he attended camp with the Browns again and was released in final cuts. The Jets claimed him off waivers but then released him before the season opener and signed him to their practice squad. He remained there all season but was not activated for any games and then signed a futures deal the day after the season finale.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Montgomery brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Montgomery has average size and will perhaps need to adjust with the jump in competition between the FCS and the NFL. A lack of strength is a concern after he managed just seven bench press reps at this pro day.
The rest of his pro day was excellent as he ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, posted good explosiveness numbers and went under 6.7 in the three-cone drill. His short shuttle was poor though.
Montgomery primarily plays on the outside although he’s lined up in the slot or at least been in motion at the snap from time to time.
At AP, he would occasionally get carries on jet sweep runs. He gained 31 yards on eight carries in his two years with the Governors.
Montgomery was obviously a big play threat at the JUCO and FCS levels. He averaged over 25 yards per catch in both his seasons at Holmes and almost 19 yards per catch in his second year with the Governors, which included 16 plays of 20 yards or more.
The film shows that Montgomery locates the ball early and tracks it well in addition to having good straight line speed. In college, he made a lot of downfield catches where he had to go up over a defender, perhaps because the quarterbacks routinely underthrew him. This may have helped him to develop those tracking abilities.
He showed his ability to get deep on this play, where he set up the cornerback at the line, accelerated quickly, positioned his shoulder pads between the defender and the sideline to prevent him from getting back into the play and then got his hands up late to make the over the shoulder catch.
Any time a player comes up from a lower level, you expect them to be rough around the edges as a route runner, but Montgomery has flashed some signs of sound technique in his limited action at this level.
He’s balanced and with quick feet at the line of scrimmage, giving him clean releases, but has perhaps not yet had a chance to display the ability to make quick breaks, utilize deception or a mastery of the full route tree.
On this play, he gets a good release and is again aided by the fact he locates the ball a lot earlier than the cornerback.
As noted, Montgomery made a lot of plays in college where he had to go up over a defender or make a contested catch. He can high-point the ball well enough, but doesn’t really have any highlight-reel type diving catches, one handers or sideline toe-tappers in his film.
This was a nice catch as he went up to get it on a back shoulder throw. Once again, you can see how much earlier he locates the ball than the defenders.
In preseason, he had one play where he dropped a catch with a defensive player draped all over him.
With two double-digit touchdown seasons in college and one touchdown in two preseason games, Montgomery has proven to be a good threat in and around the red zone.
Again, his ability to go up over defenders helps him here and he had several touchdowns on fade routes at Austin Peay.
After the catch
In college, despite having a size and athleticism advantage over most of his opponents, Montgomery didn’t do as much after the catch as you’d like. He span out of a couple of tackles to break free for extra yardage against lesser opponents, but didn’t have any success against FBS opposition or, when he got into the NFL, in preseason.
He is an option on receiver screens or quick passes where he can turn upfield and get some easy yardage, but perhaps not much of a threat to break or elude tackles.
As noted, Montgomery played in a run-oriented offense at Austin Peay so he has plenty of experience as a blocker, albeit that he probably just relied on his size advantage on the outside most of the time.
His limited preseason film shows that he’s a willing blocker and gives a good effort to stay on his man. He moves and resets his feet well here so his man can’t fight off his block.
As noted, Montgomery came into the league knowing that he’s going to have to build up his strength to be able to compete at this level.
Here’s a play where he gets his body in front of the defensive player to release with an inside leverage advantage. He also hangs on despite a big hit from the safety.
In preseason, he drew pass interference penalties on two downfield throws in the same game.
With the Browns, Montgomery saw some action rushing punts and also on the kickoff coverage unit. He had this key block on a punt return touchdown.
In college, he played on the punt coverage unit, albeit in punt protection rather than as a gunner. He had three special teams tackles in two seasons at Austin Peay. He does not have any experience as a return man.
Instincts and Intelligence
The Governors obviously didn’t have a complicated passing game, so Montgomery will have to adjust to the vagaries of the NFL. He displayed some understanding of how to find an open area on this third and long conversion.
Montgomery has a positive attitude towards hard work and no signs of any off-field issues. Any time a player comes to the NFL via the JUCO route it’s a double-edged sword because they clearly displayed real determination to make it against all odds, but at the same time teams may wonder why they weren’t heavily recruited from the outset.
Montgomery’s 2019 hamstring injury, although it kept him out for the whole season, likely wasn’t a particularly serious one. It just gave the Browns an adequate excuse to put him on injured reserve and keep him in the program for a year to prepare for camp in 2020.
While he was on the Jets’ practice squad, Montgomery had a spell on the injured list, but the nature of that injury was not disclosed. He eventually came off the list within a month.
As already noted, Montgomery has already had to spend some time getting used to the complexity of an NFL system. He projects to be an outside receiver and downfield threat.
JT Hassell is the only current Jet who was a teammate of Montgomery’s when he was with the Browns, although Montgomery has been with the Jets for longer than he has.
Montgomery impressed a lot of people with his performances in the two preseason games last year but hasn’t had any opportunities to build on that since.
The Jets will bring him back next year, but there are several players who got reps ahead of him in 2020 that he’ll need to leapfrog to have a chance of getting any playing time. That’s especially true since the Jets figure to be looking to upgrade at this position with at least a couple of offseason additions.
As a player who doesn’t contribute much on special teams, preseason will be vital to him and he might have to produce with the third unit to really start to turn some heads. Another year where he starts off on the practice squad realistically seems like a best-case scenario for him, barring an injury crisis.