The heart and soul of the Bears offense, running back David Montgomery continued to ascend in 2021.
Despite missing four games with a knee injury, the 2019 third-round draft pick from Iowa State led the team in rushing for the third straight season, compiling 849 yards and seven touchdowns on 225 carries. He also caught 42 passes for 301 yards.
Due to his performance and leadership, ChicagoBears.com has selected Montgomery the Bears' Offensive Player of the Year for 2021.
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In generating 1,150 yards from scrimmage, Montgomery became just the fourth player in Bears history to produce at least 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, joining Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Matt Forte and Jordan Howard. Montgomery gained 1,074 yards in 2019 (889 rushing, 185 receiving in 15 games) and 1,508 yards in 2020 (1,070 rushing, 438 receiving in 15 contests).
In a Week 13 loss to the Cardinals, Montgomery compiled a season-high 141 yards from scrimmage, rushing for 90 yards and one TD on 21 carries and catching eight passes for 51 yards.
During his postgame press conference, he spoke with passion about fulfilling a childhood dream by playing in the NFL and vowed that he's "never going to stop fighting" when faced with adversity.
"The entire season has kind of been frustrating with the losses we've taken," Montgomery said at the time. "But I'm a fighter. I'm never going to stop fighting. I'm not going to stop giving it everything I've got, along with the guys in that locker room as well."
No one who knows Montgomery was surprised by what he said.
"That's what you're going to get every single day he walks in the door to come in the building," said running backs coach Michael Pitre, "a guy that's passionate about his craft, passionate about his teammates, passionate about this organization, passionate about football.
"In turn, he's going to speak from the heart and he's going to give you everything he has when he's out there between the white lines. He's going to give you everything he has when he's in the meeting room because this opportunity is extremely important to him, and that's who he is."
Another individual who deserved consideration as the Bears' Offensive Player of the Year was second-year receiver Darnell Mooney.
The 2020 fifth-round pick from Tulane registered 81 receptions for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns. His 18-yard reception early in the second quarter of the Week 18 finale in Minnesota enabled him to record the 18th 1,000-yard receiving season in Bears history.
The only Bears receiver to compile 1,000 yards in a season who was drafted lower than Mooney-who was selected with the No. 173 pick-is Harlon Hill, who was chosen at No. 174 in 1954.
Mooney established career highs in the finale against the Vikings with 12 catches and 126 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the year.
As a rookie in 2020, Mooney caught 61 passes for 631 yards and four TDs. His 142 catches are the most by any Bears player in his first two NFL seasons.