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College teammates not surprised by Herbert's success

Bears RB Khalil Herbert

As a sixth-round draft pick, running back Khalil Herbert exceeded expectations as a rookie last season, especially when he filled in for injured starter David Montgomery.

In four games as the Bears' primary ballcarrier from Weeks 5-8, Herbert rushed for 344 yards, the fourth most by an NFL running back during that span. He finished the year running for 433 yards and two touchdowns on 103 carries, catching 14 passes for 96 yards and averaging 24.1 yards on 17 kickoff returns.

Herbert's performance wasn't a surprise to everyone, however. 

"I knew he would do well," said James Mitchell, a draft-eligible tight end who teamed with Herbert at Virginia Tech in 2020. "I didn't know how much he would play [as a rookie], but I knew when he was in the game he would do well. He's just that type of guy. His work ethic off the field, his ability to read defenses, his vision, his patience, I've seen it all firsthand at Tech. I knew it would translate."

Herbert played four seasons at Kansas, but he didn't blossom into an NFL prospect until he transferred to Virginia Tech as a graduate student in 2020.

After rushing for no more than 663 yards and five touchdowns in any one season at Kansas, Herbert ranked fifth in the nation with 1,183 yards and 14 TDs at Virginia Tech. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry for the Hokies, a huge increase from his 5.4-yard average with the Jayhawks.

Mitchell revealed that Herbert was accepted immediately by his new teammates.

"We were glad to have him," Mitchell said. "We'd seen some of his film at Kansas and knew we were getting a good back. We were excited. The offseason program got cut short [due to COVID], so that kind of messed with it a little bit. But once we got back in the summer, I think we clicked very well.

"We had a great bond. He's a great player, but more importantly a great guy and a great teammate. He immediately elevated the offense and immediately elevated the team as well."

Herbert initially set himself apart from the rest of Virginia Tech's running backs during summer practices.

"We had so many running backs and we didn't know who was going to be our back," said Lecitus Smith, a draft-eligible offensive lineman from Virginia Tech. "But seeing him run the ball in practice in different drills and stuff like that was definitely eye-opening, especially when it came to game time. We were a big zone team—inside zone, outside zone—and seeing him run the ball and find those holes and cut those great cutbacks, I loved it."

Herbert gave advice to both Mitchell and Smith as they prepared to participate in last week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

"One thing he said is, 'be yourself,'" Mitchell said. "He just told me to relax and be myself and just enjoy the process."

"Khalil Herbert is my guy," Smith added. "That's my dude. I was literally talking to him two days [before the Combine], just asking him about this process and different things like that. 

"I'm very happy for Khalil. I love him. The reason I have such strong feelings about him being my dude is because he's a really good player, but I also remember one of my first times talking to him and thinking, 'He's probably not going to hold a conversation.' Usually when players are good, they have an ego and it's really a short conversation. But not him. He's really down to earth, a good player on and off the field."