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Chicago Bears’ Tarik Cohen already among NFL’s best receiving backs

November 29, 2018

It might be easy for defenders to lose sight of him, but the Bears’ most dynamic weapon on offense is hardly flying under the national radar anymore.

A little more than halfway through Tarik Cohen’s second season, the diminutive dynamo out of North Carolina A&T leads the NFC in Pro Bowl votes among return specialists. His six touchdowns from scrimmage pace the Bears. And his targets (63), catches (47) and receiving yards (503) all rank second on the team, trailing only Taylor Gabriel.

Cohen is also earning more and more praise in the analytics world, even if special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor revealed that Cohen’s “name didn’t come across his desk” during the 2017 pre-draft process when he was on a Browns staff overseen by Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta.

Our Marcus Mosher highlighted Cohen last month, when the 5-foot-6, 181-pounder ranked No. 1 among all NFL backs in success rate.

On Wednesday, Yahoo! fantasy expert Matt Harmon, creator of ” Reception Perception ” and a respected voice on WR play, singled out Cohen’s receiving skills.

Cohen currently leads all NFL backs in ADOT (average depth of target), at 3.7 yards. That’s a positive indicator not only of his route-running and separation skills, but the way Matt Nagy is deploying him. Cohen lines up all over the formation and excels on a variety of routes, not simple screens and targets within a yard or two on either side of the line of scrimmage.

Take Thanksgiving, for instance. Cohen twice torched a Lions defensive back on red zone wheel routes and should have come away with a pair of touchdowns. Chase Daniel barely overshot him on the first one, when Cohen was at the 32-yard line at the snap and had the ball sail over his out-stretched arms at the goal line. But Nagy returned to the play, and the the Bears’ QB2 and playmaker1 hooked up for six after Cohen began the play flanking Daniel at the Detroit 19 and secured the catch in the end zone.

One of Mitch Trubisky’s best throws of the season provides another great example of Cohen’s versatility in the passing game to threaten every level of the defense. Aligned as the inside receiver in a trips left look early in the second quarter of a 14-3 game in the Week 4 rout of Tampa Bay, Cohen again runs a wheel route against zone coverage, quickly gaining a step on Bucs S Justin Evans. Trubisky threads one in the “turkey hole” in front of the out-stretched arms of Bucs DB Carlton Davis for a 35-yard hookup. Following a Kyle Long false start on the next snap, Cohen, now flanking Trubisky in the backfield, runs an angle route for a nine-yard touchdown, which he celebrates with a back flip.

That Cohen narrowly edges James White and Duke Johnson for the NFL lead in ADOT is impressive enough. But check out the disparity between the top three and other household names, such as Alvin Kamara (1.9), Christian McCaffrey (0.7), Saquon Barkley (0.5) and Ezekiel Elliott (0.4).

Moreover, Cohen isn’t simply excelling in getting open, he’s gaining an average of 8.5 yards after the catch, tied with McCaffrey for fifth among eligible backs. It’s no wonder Cohen’s overall catch average (10.7) is up four yards over his rookie season (6.7), when Dowell Loggains’ offense failed to maximize Cohen.

One good example of Cohen using his speed and suddenness to do damage after the catch came in the fourth quarter in Miami, when Cohen took a short pass over the middle, snuck between two defenders and was off to the races before he was caught from behind by Dolphins breakout CB Xavien Howard. He also maximized his chances in space vs. the Patriots, with 69 receiving yards, including a few catch-and-run plays past Patriots CB Eric Rowe.

Cohen already has four explosive grabs — the same number he tallied in 16 rookie appearances — including at least one and/or a touchdown in five games this season. His 47 catches and 503 yards rank No. 8 and No. 4, respectively, among his RB peers.

Receiving backs have never been more valuable than they are in today’s NFL. That skill only represents one-third of what makes Cohen so dangerous, but it’s what helps separate him from a lot of other backs in the league.

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