2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Khalil Herbert (Fantasy Football)

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Khalil Herbert busted onto the scene after a huge 2020 season with Virginia Tech. The reason you may not have heard much about him is because of four mostly forgettable years in Kansas before transferring to Virginia Tech. I first researched him when someone compared him to Aaron Jones. I’ll save you the suspense – that’s a big negative, but there are a lot of aspects to his game that will translate well to the NFL.  He is currently projected to be a day 3 pick in this year’s draft, which likely relegates him to a small role as part of a backfield committee as a rookie. There’s still value in knowing who he is should circumstances lead to an increased opportunity for him.

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2021 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.

College Production Profile

 

Year Team Rushes Ru Yds TDs Recs Rec Yards Total TDs
2016 Kansas 44 189 3 6 42 3
2017 Kansas 120 663 4 8 38 4
2018 Kansas 113 499 5 9 39 5
2019 Kansas 43 384 2 1 -1 2
2020 Virginia Tech 155 1183 8 10 179 9

A couple things should jump out right away. First are the five years he spent in college. He’ll be entering the NFL as a 23-year-old. While on the older side, it’s not necessarily a death knell (see Najee Harris). The bigger concern is his inability to carve out the lead role in Kansas while playing alongside 170 lb. Pooka Williams. Herbert cut his final season in Kansas short allowing him to redshirt the 2019 season and enter the transfer portal – a move that shocked his team, but probably made sense for his career.

The other concern is the lack of receiving production. He accumulated only 34 receptions across 46 college games. He maxed out at 10 receptions this past year with the Hokies. There is a correlation between receiving work in college and fantasy success in the NFL. It’s not that RBs need to be specialists in the receiving game, but they generally do need to have that skill set (unless their name is Derrick Henry).

Running as the unquestioned lead RB for Virginia Tech, 2020 would finally be his breakout season. Herbert managed 1,362 yards from scrimmage in only 10 games (Herbert was knocked out of a game vs Liberty on the kickoff without a single offensive touch). Before that Liberty game, Herbert ripped off 100 or more rushing yards in five out of six contests including four straight to kick off the season. His 7.6 yards per carry places him in the 96th percentile according to PlayerProfiler and is even more impressive considering the next leading RB carried the ball 66 times for 243 yards (3.7 yards per carry).

Measurables

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Height Weight 40-yard dash  Vertical Broad Jump 247 Sports
5’9” 210 4.46/4.48 33″ 9’7″ 3-star recruit

Herbert isn’t blowing the doors off, but these are all really good numbers for him. Herbert’s weight was projected to be around 200-205 lbs so to see 210 along with a sub 4.5 second 40-yard dash is great. Herbert also managed 22 reps on the bench press and 6.96s on the three-cone drill. Check off the boxes for size and athleticism.

What’s on Tape

Everyone has their own process for evaluation, but I want to see whose number gets called on critical plays like 3rd-and-short or at the goal-line. I also want to see what the player can do against both weaker and superior competition. Finally, and maybe this is just being a fan of physical football, I want to see if RBs can create “trails of destruction” through defenses. This is when, at the end of the play, several defenders are picking themselves up off the turf trailing the RB because they either got juked, run over, and/or dragged for extra yardage.

Games Viewed: Kansas vs Boston College (2019), Boston College(2020), Clemson (2020), North Carolina (2020)

1. Nightmare in the secondary

Herbert’s athleticism is on full display in the secondary. He wins with a combination of agility, burst, and ability to manipulate defenders.  He puts one defender on a slip-and-slide with a subtle move and then turns around another on his way to the end zone:

 

 

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He made runs like this in every game I watched. He understands how to leverage defenders into a bad positions and then exploits their vulnerability. You watch some people play sports and know they’re using their brain as much or more than physical ability. ‘Cerebral’ is what I see in a lot of Herbert’s play. It’s just a constant chess game with his tape.

2. Patient runner with good vision

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When people hear patience and vision, they think Le’Veon Bell. Herbert isn’t there, but there are times when his running style reminds me of Bell. He’s very good at waiting for the play to develop and then shooting through the hole as soon as it opens. Same goes for his play near the line of scrimmage. He’s excellent at picking his way through small spaces to gain yards as demonstrated in the following play (watch what he does to #14 too):

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is a downside to his patience. He has a tendency to get tackled behind the line when the hole never materializes. Sometimes merely getting back to the line of scrimmage is a good play for an RB.

3. Special Teams contributor

Herbert returned 16 kicks for 430 yards with the Hookies. Whichever team drafts Herbert won’t be using much draft capital to land him. Herbert’s ability to be used on special teams may solidify his chances of sticking on a roster.

What’s not on Tape

1. Work as a receiver.

The assumption of rationale coaching is a little scary at times, but so little work in the receiving game across five seasons and on two teams is worrisome. If he was an average to above average threat as a receiver out of the backfield, we could have expected more opportunities for him. What little work we do see is a mixed bag.

The 2020 game against Boston College is a great example. In one play, he takes a screen pass 30 yards for a TD. In that very same game, a pass is thrown that’s just a little behind him and up near his helmet. His attempt to catch it looks more like he’s swatting a fly away from his face. Depending on which highlight you view, you’ll get a misrepresentation of his ability as a receiver. The truth is probably somewhere in between where he’s not incapable of receiving out of the backfield, but it is unlikely a team ever entrusts him with significant targets out of the backfield. Without regular usage in the passing game as a receiver, his fantasy upside is severely capped.

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2. High leverage plays.

There just aren’t a lot of plays where Herbert is given the ball to gain tough yards. Part of it might be because Virginia Tech ran the option so frequently especially near the goal line. Whatever the reason is, Herbert’s film is almost completely devoid of 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-1, or goal-line touches. A coach trusting a player in these types of situations can tell you a lot about that player behind the scenes. This is definitely a concern.

3. Fumbles.

I almost submitted this profile before realizing I didn’t see Herbert fumble once. As it turns out – between over 500 rushes, receptions, and kickoff returns, he had only one fumble. What’s not on tape is a normally a negative, but this is a huge positive.

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2021 Fantasy Outlook

Without very much draft capital, the odds of Herbert being very fantasy relevant this year is almost nil. He’s probably going to start third or fourth on a depth chart. He’s plenty good enough to make a roster, but he’s going to need a combination of luck and development to earn a fantasy-relevant role. While it might happen at some point, it’s highly unlikely he sees the field much this season which brings us to his dynasty outlook.

Herbert is being drafted in the “dart throw” area of rookie drafts. You can’t teach athleticism or football IQ and Herbert has both.  Unfortunately, he probably wasn’t used as much as he should have been in Kansas and he was never given a lot of opportunity as a receiver even at Virginia Tech.  He’s well within the margins for height/weight, athleticism, and talent to become fantasy relevant at some point making him a player well worth keeping on your radar, but far from a guarantee. He’s definitely not Aaron Jones as a prospect, but that doesn’t mean he can’t work himself into a fantasy-relevant role in the NFL at some point. Keep him on your radar.

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