Bears rookie running back Khalil Herbert played four seasons at Kansas. But the sixth-round draft pick didn't blossom into an NFL prospect until he transferred to Virginia Tech last year as a graduate student.
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 in 2020. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry for the Hokies, a huge increase from his 5.4-yard average with the Jayhawks.
"It was just a business decision," Herbert said. "I had to do what was best for me, and at Kansas I just didn't feel like I was being used properly. So I decided to hit the [transfer] portal.
"Ultimately, I'm grateful for Virginia Tech and all they did. They put me in this position, really. Hats off to the coaches and my teammates. They put me in position to be able to get the ball in space and do things, just get the ball in my hands. That's the biggest thing; they just believed in me and allowed me to play my game."
In his second game last season, Herbert set a Virginia Tech record with 358 all-purpose yards in a 38-31 win over Duke. The 5-9, 204-pounder rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries and returned three kickoffs for 150 yards, with a long of 83 yards.
Last year, Herbert returned kickoffs on a regular basis for the first time in his college career, averaging 26.9 yards on 16 returns. He hopes to be able to audition for that job with the Bears—a position that's wide open following the departure of veteran Cordarrelle Patterson.
"I'm trying to help out the team any way possible," Herbert said, "whether it be any type of special teams or on offense. But kick return is something I pride myself on and I know it can affect the game to start out drives and help the offense to get field position.
"It's something I've been talking to [special team coordinator Chris Tabor] about. I feel like I'll be able to help the team out in that way."
Herbert believes that his skills as a running back help him return kickoffs.
"Being able to use my vision playing running back, being able to set up blocks, break tackles and run north and south, I think it's a really big thing to be able to hit that hole full speed with no fear and go," Herbert said. "I feel like all those things help in the kick return game."
More than two weeks after the draft, Herbert still marvels when he walks into Halas Hall and realizes that he's a member of the Bears.
"Everything here kind of amazes me," Herbert said. "I'm walking around seeing stuff. The facility and everything is top notch. I'm really excited to be here and happy that I got picked by the Bears."
The Bears traded down nine spots in the sixth round before drafting Herbert at No. 217. They also obtained a seventh-round selection in the trade with the Seahawks that they spent on BYU nose tackle Khyiris Tonga at No. 250.
"Khalil is a great young man," said Bears first-year running backs coach Michael Pitre, "a guy that has really high football IQ, and that was evident in just interviewing him. He was very consistent on film through our studying through the draft process. He has some big-play ability within his game in the run game and in the pass game, so we're excited to have him here with the Bears."
Take an exclusive off-the-field look at Halas Hall during rookie minicamp as players arrive, get fitted for equipment, speak with the media and make their way around the Bears' practice facility.