Coming into the 2012 season, Sam Montgomery was one of the highest profile defensive ends in the country and part of a dynamic duo with his LSU teammate Barkevious Mingo. Montgomery was relatively productive recording 13 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 pass break ups; a solid season by most accounts, but not quite what people were expecting from Montgomery, especially in terms of impact on games. Nevertheless, Montgomery’s physical gifts are incredible, his technique continues to improve, and his potential is off the charts. Nevertheless, his ordinary season and the questions Montgomery raised at the combine could cloud where he goes in the draft.
Physically, Montgomery has everything a team wants in a defensive end; he has a great combination of size, strength and speed. After putting on about 15lbs in the offseason of bulk, Montgomery responded remarkably well athletically and did not appear negatively impacted. Still, Montgomery could end up being more athletic as a rookie after having acclimated better to his new found size.
He has shown he can keep offensive tackles off balance with his willingness to attack inside, outside, and right at the opponent. Montgomery plays with a great pad level and takes advantage of his leverage which helps him maximize his strength and make it more difficult for opponents to block him. Montgomery is continuing to develop an effective spin move, has a great bull rush, and he slants inside effectively. He has shown to be able to speed rush outside and because of his low center of gravity and low pad level, he runs the arc efficiently for someone his size.
Again the run, Montgomery is extremely stout at the point of attack, holds his ground well, and has flashed the ability to collapse the pocket. In doing so, he creates opportunities for teammates to make plays. When he is in position to make tackles, he is extremely consistent, simply engulfing the ball carrier with his wide body and doing a good job as a wrap up tackler with a giant wing span. Montgomery does not make the mistake of launching himself to try to make highlight tackles, realizing that with his strength if he makes contact, they are going down pretty hard.
Montgomery can play on either end position in a 4-3 or both depending on how a team wants to use him. He has the skills to be moved around to create mismatches but may ultimately end up finding a home at right end as that is typically the more sought after commodity to attack a quarterback’s blind side.
Montgomery’s snap anticipation is poor and he was often the last player off the line for LSU. He also has a first step that needs to be improved. These two issues combined make it easier for opponents to stop Montgomery before he starts and he looks far less athletic than he is. He needs to do a better job protecting his legs and ends up on the ground too often. And he needs to continue developing his ability to shed blocks. He usually wins at initial contact but has flashed the ability to shed blockers once engaged, but needs to do it with more consistency. Combined with this, Montgomery needs to keep working on bettering his hand use.
The other question with Montgomery is his motivation. Montgomery did not perform as many expected after being projected as a top 10 pick almost universally by experts coming into the season. Montgomery came out and said he did not go all out against overpowered opponents, opting to tell teams and the media that he was protecting himself and would prefer to look lazy than simply unable. Montgomery wants people to believe that he is still that top 10 player but he was not giving it everything he had and teams should look at games like Alabama to see what he really brings to the table. Teams will have to decide how believable this claim is.
Montgomery looks the part of a classic 4-3 end that can be a franchise pass rusher in terms of his athletic ability and potential. Still, teams will have to decide how much they believe Montgomery’s claims and that might impact his draft status. In a pass rushing class this deep, Montgomery becomes a huge wild card in the process and could go anywhere from the Top 10 to the Second Round as a result. The situation Montgomery has found himself is so similar to that of Carlos Dunlap who was projected by many to be a Top 5 pick as a franchise defensive end coming out of Florida. Numerous red flags along similar lines as Montgomery dropped him into the second round where the Bengals took him and while Dunlap has not quite been a franchise pass rusher but he has been a great value and productive player.