Two games, 37 carries, 172 yards, and one touchdown while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Numbers like that are the kind that would normally be expected from a first-round running back, but in the case of the Chicago Bears, it’s the production they’re receiving from sixth-round rookie Khalil Herbert over the last two weeks.
Herbert’s ascent into the Bears’ starting lineup is an unexpected development resulting from David Montgomery’s Week 4 knee injury and Damien Williams’ trip to the Reserve/COVID-19 list. In Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers, Herbert’s first pro start, he carried the load for Chicago with 19 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. It was the first touchdown run of his suddenly promising career.
Herbert’s success on Sunday makes it back-to-back weeks that he’s looked like the most explosive running back on Chicago’s roster, and his usage against the Packers is indicative of how much confidence coach Matt Nagy and the coaching staff have in him.
Herbert logged 54 snaps on offense. Compare that total to the next closest running back, Artavis Pierce, who totaled just three. It’s true that the Bears had virtually no other option to turn to, but Pierce and Ryan Nall both have experience in Chicago’s system, and, had the valuation of Herbert not been so high, they would’ve had a shot with some touches, too.
“I really liked the way that he ran,” Nagy said of Herbert after the game. “It was just like last week—when he makes the one cut and gets vertical. We need him right now.”
Williams is expected to return from the COVID-19 list this week, but Montgomery will remain sidelined for at least two more. And while Williams’ return should mean fewer reps for Herbert, the rookie did get more carries the last time both running backs were in the lineup. In Week 5’s win over the Las Vegas Raiders, Herbert out-touched Williams 18 carries to 16.
Now that Herbert has clearly separated himself as, at worst, the second-best running back on the roster, it will be interesting to see whether Chicago continues involving him in the game plan once Montgomery returns. His production warrants touch, and the combination of the two young runners suddenly gives the Bears a quality (and inexpensive) backfield to surround Justin Fields with.
Remember: David Montgomery’s contract expires after the 2022 season. It’s a slippery slope to pay a running back big money after several years of wear and tear, so the emergence of Herbert could give the Bears a fantastic transition at the position.
It’s a bit premature to suggest Herbert has done enough in two games to threaten Montgomery’s role as Chicago’s feature back, but the former Virginia Tech Hokie will have at least two more games to continue his momentum. And if he keeps running the way he has the last couple of weeks, it’ll be really difficult to justify taking him off the field.
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