Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
For example, Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2022 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 23 Khalil Herbert
Position: Running back
NFL experience: Second season
Last year’s ranking: N/A
Looking back: The Bears drafted running back Khalil Herbert in the sixth round of the 2021 draft with the intention of adding depth at running back and adding someone with kick return experience. By Week 5 of the regular season, Herbert had emerged as a solid No. 2 option at running back behind starter David Montgomery. Montgomery missed four games with a knee injury in October. In his place, Herbert rushed for 86 yards per game over that four-game span. He had a career-high 100 rushing yards in a loss to Tampa Bay.
Herbert never saw more than four carries the remainder of the season. He did, however, serve as the team’s primary kick return man. During those four games, however, he proved that he can carry a primary running back load for an NFL team.
Looking forward: Under new general manager Ryan Poles, the Bears have added to the running back position, but Montgomery and Herbert remain the top options. The team added Darrynton Evans in free agency and Trestan Ebner in the draft, but both are smaller backs compared to Montgomery and Herbert. Ebner could carve out a role as a pass-catching back and a change-of-pace option, but don’t expect him to supplant Herbert as the position’s No. 2.
Maybe more importantly, the Bears are revamping the offense with an entirely new run-blocking scheme. A shift under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to the type of offense that the Packers and 49ers run – the wide-zone run blocking scheme – should make the Bears offense a lot more reliant on the run game than it was under former coach Matt Nagy. Herbert stands to benefit from that.
Offenses such as those in Green Bay and San Francisco have thrived using multiple backs. The 49ers have dealt with injury after injury at running back in recent years but still churn out quality running backs season after season. Montgomery, when healthy, still will be the heavy lifter, but Herbert easily could step into that starting role, if needed. Look for Herbert to see more touches as the No. 2 than he did in the previous offensive scheme.