Rookie running back Khalil Herbert, a sixth-round pick in this past spring’s NFL Draft, is the latest example of GM Ryan Pace (and his staff) unearthing some memorable Day 3 fliers who’ve turned into legitimate game day contributors.
And his journey has been impressive.
Herbert began the season as the Bears’ top kick return specialist, which is a bigger deal (and larger vote of confidence in the rookie) than it may appear on the surface. After that, when David Montgomery went down with an injury, Herbert added backup RB duties to his resume. And this past weekend, he was forced into the starting role, and did not disappoint:
Khalil Herbert had a day!
🔹77.1 rushing grade
🔸97 rushing yards
🔹1 rushing TD
🔸3 missed tackles forced pic.twitter.com/sxDTbk5TK9
— PFF CHI Bears (@PFF_Bears) October 18, 2021
From an observational standpoint, you can get an idea how much a coach likes and trusts any rookie based on his pre- and regular season usage, what personnel packages he appears on, and which roles he’s given throughout the regular season. Well, we’re just six weeks into his NFL career, and the Bears have thrown a TON on Khalil Herbert’s plate.
Admittedly, it’s early. We’re looking at a six-game snapshot of 98 offensive snaps. But the rookie has been underscoring his draft darling status (he was PFF’s fifth-ranked running back in this most recent class). And do you remember the strengths in his pre-draft profile?
• “Runs with easy tempo and good decisiveness.”
• “Ball security.”
• “Runs behind his pads and falls forward as a finisher.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s awfully similar to what Head Coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Justin Fields were saying after Sunday’s game: “When he makes the one cut and sticks that left or right foot in the ground he gets vertical,” Nagy said in his postgame press conference. “We know how talented he is and we know what he brings to this offense,” Fields told reporters. “He’s a power back. He has great instincts on running the ball and juking moves.”
How can you not love this running style?
Rookie RB Khalil Herbert. 37 carries in his last two games.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) October 18, 2021
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) October 17, 2021
Finding Herbert an early role in Chicago was easy. Plug him into the return game, let him fill in some RB gaps while Tarik Cohen was on the mend, and let him grow in spot chances here and there. But to see Herbert make the most of his opportunities is a testament to his work ethic and skills. And let’s not forget the scouts who had faith in him and coaches who are helping along the way.
Herbert was one of the lone bright spots in Sunday’s Bears loss to the Packers. But what Herbert did in defeat was open eyes with his running style and production. And when you’re getting praise from your head coach and quarterback, it wouldn’t be surprising if Herbert gets more looks as the weeks go on in Chicago. Because even with Montgomery and Williams returning, Herbert’s strong performances should be enough for him to make a push for more playing time. Simply put, it’ll be tough to bench Herbert if he continues to average 4.7 yards per carry as he haas done over the last two weeks.