For those of us who have been playing fantasy football since before the proliferation of the internet, the definition of “sleeper” has changed drastically over the years (now get off my lawn, dammit!). In the olden days of yore, when the pioneers walked uphill both ways and through blizzards in September to get to school, a sleeper was someone we had heard of and that our league mates likely had not. So we would hope to get some nugget on an ESPN Insider report about a random rookie that was looking good in training camp, and they would be our last-round pick and lead us to fantasy glory.
Today, everyone has access to everything there is to know about every player. We all know the 40 times of every late-round pick and the injury history of every UDFA that caused them to fall out of the draft. College highlight clips are ubiquitous on YouTube. Should you be so inclined, you can even pay for access to the ALL-22 coach’s film for NFL games.
Now, a sleeper is anyone whose production exceeds their average draft position. Finding that golden nugget in the later rounds that you can comfortably plug into your lineup when needed is the holy grail of fantasy managers. Khalil Herbert may just be that fantasy football golden nugget in 2022.
Khalil Herbert Fantasy Football Sleeper
2021 – What Happened?
Herbert entered 2021 as a lightly-heralded sixth-round draft choice out of Virginia Tech. David Montgomery was entrenched as the number one back in Chicago, and the Bears had signed Damien Williams to be his primary backup. Then, as frequently happens in the NFL, things went haywire at the junction.
Montgomery went on Injured Reserve with a knee issue following Week 4. At the same time, Williams went on the COVID list. Herbert saw this crease and ran right through it, posting lines of 18/75 (vs. Las Vegas), 19/97/1 (vs. Green Bay), 18/100 (vs. Tampa Bay, the top-ranked run defense at the time), and 23/72 (vs. San Francisco, the top-ranked run defense for the season). Montgomery came off IR the following week and returned to his lead-back role for the remainder of the season.
Herbert’s open window of opportunity allowed enough light to illuminate the fact that he’s likely just as good, if not a better RB than Montgomery. Football Outsiders ranked Herbert 13th in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) at 10.1% compared to Montgomery being 43rd at -10.2%. Herbert was essentially as much above average as Montgomery was below. Pro Football Focus similarly ranked Herbert the 15th best halfback, with a 78.8 grade, over Montgomery at 28 and 69.8.
None of this is intended to suggest that Herbert is the second coming of Jonathan Taylor or that Montgomery is a bad running back. It’s more to say Montgomery isn’t a special player, which is backed up by his lackluster prospect profile. He is a bell-cow back by default more than acclamation. In the NFL, non-special RBs don’t get backfields to themselves when there’s another equally good option on the roster.
2022 – What’s Next?
Matt Nagy is out, and Matt Eberflus is in as Bears head coach. Eberflus, the former Colts defensive coordinator, hired former Packers QB coach and passing game coordinator Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator. Getsy’s NFL experience has been with Green Bay, first under Mike McCarthy, then brought back by Matt LaFleur following a stint as OC at Mississippi State University.
During Getsy’s time there, Green Bay has been a primarily two-back offense. First with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, then Jones and AJ Dillon. I expect Getsy to replicate this in Chicago, elevating Herbert from number two back to 1B status. Last year, the two primary RBs for Green Bay split opportunities (rushing attempts + pass targets) almost equally. Jones received 15 .7 per game and Dillon 13.2. If the Bears’ backs see a similar distribution, Herbert will pick up six looks per game directly from Montgomery.
It’s fair to wonder if Chicago will run enough plays for their RBs to match the number of touches the Green Bay backs did, but the Bears actually averaged more plays per game than the Packers did last year. There’s nothing resembling Davante Adams in Chicago to vacuum up passing game targets; Justin Fields and the backs should be the focus of the offense.
David Montgomery was never an elite prospect. His Combine numbers were pedestrian at best, and he was more volume producer than per touch superstar at Iowa State. Herbert didn’t get to go to the Draft Combine due to COVID, but his Pro Day testing numbers were superior to Montgomery’s.
There is one thing Montgomery does better than Herbert, pass blocking. Herbert will definitely need to improve on that to have a chance to be the 1B back in Chicago, but it can be done. Aaron Jones got benched multiple times in his rookie year after almost getting Aaron Rodgers killed a few times with missed blitz pickups. Now he’s an above-average pass blocker. Getsy was part of the environment that oversaw that transformation and will be able to impart that wisdom to Herbert.
In fantasy football, opportunity is everything. This isn’t baseball where even the 9th place hitter gets his ups 3-4 times per game. If you don’t get touches, you don’t score points. So sleeper status is really no more than unassumingly going from few touches to regular touches. Regular touches let you put your talents on display.
Last year, Khalil Herbert showed he has the skill and deserves the touches. The new Bears coaching staff looks poised to give him the chance to run with them in 2022. Sleeper status: Activated.
A Look Inside the Chicago Bears
Editor’s Note: While we asked our writers to focus on one player, we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Joel focuses on Khalil Herbert in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the rest of the Bears, prepared by either Josh Hudson or Ryan Weisse
Justin Fields: Going into the 2021 draft, I thought Fields would be a better fantasy player than a real-life one. The Bears’ front office is doing their part to make me look good on that call. (Joel) While it was a rough rookie season for Fields, he has one thing that not every other QB has: rushing upside. In 12 games, just ten starts, he was the 5th leading rusher among NFL QBs. If he can average 5.8 per carry and potentially double his carries and TDs, he will have a safer floor than many fantasy QBs. -Ryan Weisse
David Montgomery: While it was a down year for Monty last season, that was primarily due to missing four games. When he played, he was a backend RB1 in fantasy. His current draft capital does not line up with his on-field production. Draft him in the 4th or 5th and pray for health because he is a steal if he plays the whole year. -Ryan Weisse
Darnell Mooney: The WR1 in Chicago, by default. Won’t be consistent enough to be a regular starter in fantasy. (Joel) Joel’s assessment is fair. He will be boom or bust, but repeating his 140 targets shouldn’t be too hard. He’s not expensive in drafts, but he may not have much of a ceiling. -Ryan Weisse
Equanimeous St. Brown: Has familiarity with Getsy and always seemed poised for a breakout in Green Bay, but was never able to stay on the field for long stretches. (Joel) With late-round dart throws, all you can hope for is opportunity. There is not much talent ahead of him on the depth chart. He just needs to step up. -Ryan Weisse
Byron Pringle: Being surrounded by Mahomes, Hill, & Kelce is very different from being surrounded by Fields, Mooney, & Kmet. (Joel) Certainly a step down in talent from his time in KC, but the opportunity is there. The rumblings from Chicago are that he should be an early favorite to finish 2nd in targets on the team. -Ryan Weisse
Velus Jones: The knock on Jones is that he is an old rookie, but his speed and the wisdom of old age could fit some needs in Chicago. You’re not drafting him in redraft, but he may be worth keeping an eye on as a late-season waiver add. He’s only 25, by the way. -Ryan Weisse
Cole Kmet: 0 TDs is a fun meme, but 6.6 Yards/Target is a much more damning stat. (Joel) Insert trash can and fire emojis. -Ryan Weisse
We hope you enjoyed our look at Khalil Herbert for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here if you’re preparing for your dynasty drafts!