After a pedestrian start to the 2018 campaign -- 126 yards on 38 rushes in two games -- Montgomery, who exploded onto the scene last year with one of the most extraordinary showings of elusiveness for a college running back in recent memory, has found his groove. In the Cyclones' last three contests, he's toted the rock 73 times for 397 yards -- 5.43 yards per carry -- including a monster 28-carry, 189-yard outburst in his team's drubbing of West Virginia on Saturday night.
Iowa State's star running back is currently averaging 4.7 yards per carry in his Cyclones career, which, given the blocking he receives on a regular basis, seems like 8.7 yards per carry.
Last season, per Pro Football Focus, Montgomery averaged 3.43 yards after contact per rush, forced an eye-popping 86 missed tackles on rushing attempts, and set a PFF record with 109 total broken tackles (counting receptions).
Back to the Conner comparison. In 2014, the best season the former University of Pittsburgh star had, he broke 88 tackles on the ground.
Like Conner, Montgomery isn't a burner by any stretch of the imagination. But the two backs have been blessed with tremendous "contact balance." Hits of any kind from any angle just don't impact their equilibrium as much as the majority of runners. It allows them to stay on their feet to gain extra yards without being risky lower-the-head, look-for-contact ball-carriers.
Though only a minimal gain, here's how Montgomery's elite contact balance can be the difference in possession.
After his initial jump cut, he was hit by three different Oklahoma defenders but was able to lunge forward to get the first down on 4th and 1.
Beyond his ability to absorb contact and keep his legs churning, Montgomery wins in small spaces between the tackles, which isn't particularly flashy but turns three-yard gains into six- and seven-yard gains often. Huge difference between 2nd and 7 and 2nd and 3 or, as was the case against West Virginia, he can morph 1st and 15 to 2nd and short instead of 2nd and long.
Notice how he slipped through an arm tackle after cutting then carried a defender -- who later got help -- an extra four yards before being brought to the turf.
Before I get to the Barkley similarities, here's one more example of the luxuries that come with Montgomery's contact balance.
After narrowly beating the linebacker to the corner, he cut back inside and was met by the Sooners defensive back, who promptly tried to spin him to the ground.
Nice try. Montgomery was even able to use his hand as a stabilizer and fall forward for an extra four yards.
Barkley too has rare contact balance, but he combines it with ridiculous cutting ability to elude any type of defender at any area of the field. Montgomery shows that insane jump-cut ability at times too. I'm talking a Jamal Crawford crossover, and the capability to plant and not only quickly "hop" laterally but cover a ton of ground while doing so.
This play features Montgomery getting some air but note how rapidly he went from hitting the frontside of this outside run to finding the cutback lane.
Not impressive enough?
How about this play from 2017 against West Virginia, a run that features three separate jump cuts, two of which came back-to-back at the line of scrimmage.
I've saved the best for last. And it comes as a disclaimer.
You do not want to be the second-or third-level who meets Montgomery unimpeded in the hole with no help around you. This will happen.
Look, Saquon Barkley is an absolute freak of nature. Just one year removed from Leonard Fournette running 4.51 at 240 pounds, Barkley ran 4.40 at 233 pounds, a faster time than 179-pound Tarik Cohen, who ran 4.42. Barkley's 41-inch vertical put him in the 96th percentile among all running backs who've participated in the combine starting in 1999. Montgomery isn't Barkley 2.0.
Ironically, Conner also weighed 233 pounds at the combine and ran a 4.65. Montgomery will probably run closer to that range, and he's currently listed at 5-foot-11 and 216 pounds.
But teams that fell in love with Barkley's contact balance, amazing shiftiness, and vision in tight quarters but picked after the Giants in Round 1 of the 2018 Draft may want to target Montgomery in the early stages of the second round in 2019.
At the very least, the club that drafts him will get a more agile version of Conner. Heading into Week 7, the second-year member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is fifth among running backs in yards from scrimmage per game with 118.3.