Khalil Herbert is a young running back who looks poised to become a key part of the Chicago Bears’ new offense under a new coaching staff. Taking a deep dive into Herbert’s stats, watching the tape, looking at the Bears coaching staff, and analyzing recent trends, we can see a clear path to fantasy relevance. This is the other Herbert that all fantasy managers need to know about and be looking to add to their teams in both dynasty and redraft formats. Getting in before the breakout will win you leagues and make you look smarter than all of your friends and competitors.
In his rookie year, 2021, Khalil Herbert saw opportunities in 14 games. In the 5 games where he played 50% or more of the team’s snaps he never rushed for less than 70 yards. He was second on the team in total carries with 103 behind David Montgomery, who had 225, but Herbert was ahead of Damien Williams (40) and QB Justin Fields (72). He averaged 4.2 yards per carry which bested the lead back and usual starter Montgomery at 3.8. He also bested Montgomery in yards per touch at 4.5 compared to 4.3. That would also put him top 30 in that stat category (with at least 100 rushing attempts), ahead of running backs like Alvin Kamara, Josh Jacobs, and Antonio Gibson.
In 10 of his 14 games, Herbert received less than 5 touches, which makes his end-of-season numbers stand out even more. His primary work came during weeks 5- 8 when Montgomery was out due to injury. Going into Week 5 most assumed Damien Williams would get the bulk of the carries, but Williams finished two carries behind Herbert when the clock hit 0:00. Herbert continued this role as the season went on as over the last nine games of the season, he kept pace with Williams in touches averaging 2.6 to Williams’ 2.4. He continued to see work after Montgomery came back and was very effective with his opportunities.
In the last 9 games of the season, Herbert’s numbers look better the more you dig into them. He averaged an opportunity on 38% of the snaps he played. Montgomery was at 42.9%. He had 4 runs over 20+ yards on the season. He did not fumble the ball at all which is something only he and 17 other running backs with over 100 carries can claim in 2021. He had 24 first downs which again is impressive given he only had 103 carries.
Watching the tape what I saw from Herbert, he was a one-cut player with a quick burst. There has been a trend in the NFL with running backs where they have become almost too patient. They wait for holes to open and for their blocks to set up. What this usually creates is a traffic jam in front of them and usually causes more issues than it creates. Yes, a running back needs to follow his blocks but they need to make a choice and go with it. What I like about Herbert is that he generally makes one cut and goes. He has an exciting burst and acceleration when you watch him on film and will often outrun his blockers. He has good vision.
On the other side of the overly patient runner is the head-down, bowl into you running back. These are the guys that are going to run where the play calls no matter how many players are there and it doesn’t matter if there is a hole or not. Herbert is not that. He can see where the play is suuposed to go but isn’t afraid to put his foot in the ground and change directions. This is aided by his quick burst and speed. He ran an unofficial 4.4 40 time at the Virginia Tech pro day back in 2021. His speed and vision is even more evident when you watch him on kickoff returns. He averaged 24.1 yards per return and was 10th in the NFL in kick-off return yards with 650. The game film showed him starting to follow the blocking scheme but wasn’t afraid to make the cut and then use his speed to race up the field. His film just shows a player whose speed allows him to get yards.
Herbert only scored 2 touchdowns in 2021, but did get some work in the red zone. He had 12 red zone carries and 2 red zone targets in his limited usage. He is only a year younger than Montgomery but has 2 years less NFL wear and tear. The two running backs are similar in size, as Montgomery is 5’11” 224lbs and Herbert comes in at 5’9” 212lb. They can both be interchanged in whatever offense the new coaching staff implements. Herbert has already outplayed his 6th-round draft status, and if he can show more of what he flashed in the four weeks where he was the main guy, giving him more opportunities will be an easy decision.
David Montgomery’s Contract
Montgomery is in the final year of his contract and will be a free agent after the 2022 season. He has played pretty well in his first 3 years in the league, with 6 or more touchdowns in each of his three seasons. He had a monster year in 2019, where he played 15 games, rushed for over 1,000 yards had 8 touchdowns on the ground, and added two more touchdowns through the air. He is projected by Sportrac.com to get a slightly above-average contract at 12.9 million a year. He will be 25 when he signs that contract, and will be on the right side age-wise to still get a big contract. If he has a similar year in 2022 as he has done so far in his career, he will certainly be in line for a good contract. There is the possibility that the Bears could be the ones to offer Montgomery that contract, but that doesn’t seem to fit what the Bears have done recently.
Montgomery has also seen a large amount of work over his first 3 seasons. He has 714 total carries over 3 years and 121 receptions. He ranked in the top 15 in carries each year he has played. He was even 10th in 2021 despite only playing 13 games. In 2020 he was 4th overall in carries, and in 2019 he was 13th. He also played 3 years in college where he racked up 624 carries and 71 receptions. Almost half of his yards in 2021 came after contact, as he is not an elusive rusher at all. He averages only 1.9 yards per carry before contact, while Herbert’s average was 2.4.
The Bears have not done well-rotating players in to give Montgomery a break. The knee injury in 2021 was not serious and he only missed 4 games, but the wear and tear are starting to show. He is a ways off from the 1,500 carry cliff but is getting close to the age cliff. How he fairs in 2022 and how many carries he receives will play a part in the contract talks going forward both with the Bears and any future teams who might consider bringing him in.
Bears’ New Front Office
The Bears changed their front office after the 2021 season. They hired Ryan Poles as their GM and former Colts offensive coordinator Matt Eberflus as head coach. Poles’ short time as GM has already changed the way the Bears do business. They traded away star pass rusher Khalil Mack and released key defensive pieces, Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan. Those 3 moves freed up a good amount of cap space. They didn’t sign any big contracts during free agency. They didn’t resign guard James Daniels who went to Pittsburgh. They didn’t sign Allen Robinson despite wide receiver being an area of need. Pace and the coaching staff seem to be looking to rebuild the roster and not take on too many veteran players or large contracts. The two wide receivers they did sign, Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, both signed 1-year deals but neither were big contracts.
The Bears have some big contracts up and coming. Defensive stalwart Roquan Smith is also due for a contract after 2022 along with Montgomery. Standout wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet will be due for contracts after the 2023 season. Mooney could be looking at a contract similar to Cortland Sutton got who signed for $15 million a year. Kmet would be projected in the $10-13 million a year in his next contract. They could certainly do deals with both of them earlier and probably at a discount before they take the next step in their skills. As of right now, they seem to be key parts of the offense.
If the Bears and Pace are looking long-term it would be hard to fit both Kmet and Mooney as well as Smith and Montgomery. They are going to have to make room to fit all of these key pieces over the next few years. There will be other players coming and going and rookies every year that will warrant contracts. Both Herbert and quarterback Justin Fields will be up for contract in 2025 but Fields would have a 5th-year option to push it back farther. The good news is currently the Bears only have 8 players hitting free agency in 2025 so they have more flexibility.
Letting David Montgomery walk via free agency and relying on Khalil Herbert may be the best option not only on the field but also on the balance sheet. He would give the Bears the chance to grow with a young core at the skill positions and continue to address holes and needs in free agency as they try to turn the historic franchise around. Herbert showed enough in his limited work in 2021 to warrant more snaps and opportunities in 2022 and looks poised to be getting that.