The Chicago Bears overhauled their RB room this offseason. David Montgomery departed and signed with the Detroit Lions. Darrynton Evans was not re-signed. The Bears signed Travis Homer and D’Onta Foreman while drafting Roschon Johnson, indicating they may also not be happy with 2022 6th rounder Trestan Ebner, who struggled in limited time in 2022.
One player is definitely returning and going to play a huge role, and that’s Khalil Herbert.
The 2021 6th rounder was a pleasant surprise filling in for David Montgomery during his rookie season and then followed it up by doing it again at a great rate in 2022. Herbert averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2021, but in the new outside zone scheme in 2022, with Justin Fields improving as a runner, that number climbed to 5.7 with more attempts.
Herbert hasn’t quite become the bell-cow running back due to his size (5’9″) and his struggles as a receiver and as a pass blocker. Still, his explosiveness is extremely important to the Bears’ offense, and if he improves as expected in his weaknesses going into year 3, he could become a top-tier RB.
To quantify Khalil Herbert’s explosiveness, we can look at his rushing yards over expected, or RYOE for short. It’s a new stat that emerged recently in the past couple of seasons, part of the wave of analytics and Next Gen Stats in the NFL. It uses data from each play to come up with a number of how many yards a player should have gotten on a rush based on the play call, the blocking, the defense, and anything else. In Herbert’s first season, he was at about average in the metric, at -0.11 RYOE. Negative is average here because it is still in the middle percentile. But in 2022, in the Bears’ new outside scheme, he exploded. His RYOE jumped to 0.28, in the upper percentile, and 10th in the NFL out of 37 qualifiers with 125 rushing attempts. Keep in mind that means he was expected to average 5.42 YPC and went all the way up to 5.7, an elite number.
He also tied for 6th in EPA/rush among those 37 players, measuring how a team’s Expected Points changed on a Herbert rush at +0.02. Herbert was not only one of the more explosive RBs in the league but one of the most efficient ones, too, with his positive success rate and EPA/rush. Compare that to David Montgomery, who in 2022 had -0.2 RYOE and -0.06 EPA/rush.
I’m very excited to see how Khalil Herbert will continue to ascend in 2023. His rushing ability, combined with that of Justin Fields and the improved WRs and OL, could lead to one of the most potent offenses in the league.