The Chicago Bears trading up for quarterback Justin Fields and offensive tackle Teven Jenkins came to define their 2021 draft class, but some of their other selections offer reason for optimism. That list includes former Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert who, despite waiting until the sixth round to hear his name called, can realistically compete for playing time behind starter David Montgomery.
Built like a bowling ball at 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Herbert enjoyed a productive final collegiate season with the Hokies. In 11 games against almost exclusively ACC competition, he rushed for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns on just 155 carries (7.6 per attempt) while adding another 179 yards and a score as a receiver. The production marked a stark improvement from his previous stop with the Kansas Jayhawks as did his 16 kickoff returns for 430 yards (26.9 average).
Herbert’s immediate path to playing time appears blocked by Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and possibly free-agent addition Damien Williams. However, the rookie can still realistically find his way onto the field. Cohen has served mostly in a scatback/receiver role in recent years, only registering 78 carries since 2019. Williams played well during his two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he has never held down a role for more than a short stretch. He also missed 2020 after opting out due to COVID-19.
That leaves Montgomery as the most obvious and meaningful impediment to Herbert seeing the field. While the Bears invested a significant draft pick in Montgomery in 2019, his career per-carry average hovers around 4 yards. While he will receive every benefit of the doubt from the coaching staff, he could yield playing time should Herbert demonstrate superior running during the season.
But even if Herbert doesn’t take touches away from the starter, he can still make the occasional appearance in fantasy lineups for advantageous matchups and/or if Montgomery misses time.
The NFL has no shortage of late-round running backs that eventually became starters, and Herbert has the tools to join their ranks. His size and vision project well to the pros while his burst can make him an efficient rusher in a one-cut scheme. Like all late picks, he has to prove his worth before any projection can become meaningful, but he landed in a decent place to establish himself.