Time could be right for Packers to move Ty Montgomery back to receiver

After transitioning from receiver to running back, Ty Montgomery could not stay healthy in 2017, carrying just 71 times in eight games for the Packers. AP Photo/Matt Ludtke

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Between the end of the 2016 season and the start of training camp in 2017, the stories about Ty Montgomery's full-time transition to running back numbered in the double digits on ESPN.com's Green Bay Packers page.

And not all of them were about Montgomery keeping No. 88 on his jersey; it only seemed like that was all anyone wanted to talk about.

It's time for the first one about a return to receiver for Montgomery.

It might be what is best for both the Packers and the fourth-year pro in 2018.

Yes, Montgomery and his coaches devoted more than a year to his development as a running back after he made the midseason position switch in 2016. But if last season showed one thing, it's that the Packers found two capable players who are running backs by trade in Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. It might be the one position on offense where former general manager Ted Thompson didn't leave a hole.

Meanwhile, Montgomery's durability at a more physically demanding position proved to be an issue.

Even though Montgomery said last offseason that he could handle far more than the 77 carries he got in his transition year of 2016, the 2017 season proved him wrong. He was limited to just 71 carries in eight games because of rib and wrist injuries, the latter of which landed him on season-ending injured reserve and required surgery.

Despite all Montgomery's training to build his body into running back shape, he could not stay healthy at that position.

It was a good thing that in his last draft as GM, Thompson picked three running backs -- Williams (fourth round), Jones (fifth round) and Devante Mays (seventh round). Williams led the Packers in rushing (556 yards), while Jones produced the best running average (5.5).

Montgomery sounded all-in on the move to running back last year, saying: "Would I rather be trying to be someone's No. 1 running back than being somebody's fourth, fifth or sixth receiver? Would I rather be trying to make someone's team as a fourth, fifth, sixth receiver and potentially not making as much money as I could if I played six to eight years in the league and have the potential to make the amount of money I could at the running back position? It all came down to quality over quantity, and I want the quality of years to be what I want."

Now, he might be the No. 3 back behind Williams and Jones.

Nevertheless, he showed that no matter how coach Mike McCarthy got the ball into his hands, good things usually happened.

That's why McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin should consider reinventing Montgomery as a receiver who, in a pinch, also could fill in at running back rather than a full-time backfield player.

Call him a passing back if you must, but the best way to get Montgomery the ball might be through the air.

In the last two seasons combined, Montgomery has averaged 8.24 yards after the catch, which ranks tied for 10th among all NFL players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. To be sure, it makes sense that running backs are going to dominate that category -- the top-24 players in yards after catch the last two years were all backs -- because they typically catch the ball near the line of scrimmage and take off running on screens or dump-off passes.

But Montgomery might be able to replicate that out of the slot as well in a role similar to what Randall Cobb has played over the years. There's no indication the Packers plan to move on from Cobb, who has one more year left on a contract that averaged $10 million per season, but moving Montgomery back to receiver might give general manager Brian Gutekunst more roster flexibility given that behind Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Cobb, there isn't much proven depth.

It's a critical year for Montgomery to establish an identity because he's entering the final year of his rookie contract.

And if that identity is back at receiver, well, at least he still has No. 88 on his jersey.