In the 97-year history of the Chicago Bears, one player stands tall above all others in terms of a rookie debut.
And that honor goes to none other then Tarik Cohen, who stands 5’6.”
Cohen tallied up 158 all-purpose yards; 66 rushing, 47 receiving and 45 punt returning on 16 total touches.
Listed at 181 pounds, Cohen came very close to having more yards than pounds.
His debut was impressive. He was as versatile as he was effective: of the five players for the Bears since 1950 to have over 100 all-purpose yards in the first game of their first season, Cohen is the only one to register receiving, rushing and return yardage.
Matt Forte totaled 141 yards in Indianapolis in 2008, 123 on the ground and 18 receiving. Back in 1974 receiver Charlie Wade managed to snag two passes for 116 yards but nothing else. A year later Virgil Livers had five kick returns and three punt returns to get his 114 APY in his debut. Finally, the legendary Devin Hester racked up 104 yards on five punt returns in his debut game against Green Bay back in ‘06 but none on offense.
In fact the closest any player has come to matching Cohen is actually Hall of Fame running back and Bears legend Gale Sayers. Sayers had 97 APY in his 1965 debut: 44 rushing, 26 receiving and 27 on punt returns.
Cohen had 61 more yards than Sayers and did it with one fewer overall touch.
Remember way back in April right after the NFL Draft? Remember this hot take:
Said a high-level executive, "(Ryan Pace) just got fired with this draft."— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 30, 2017
Or this one? From WalterFootball:
The Bears didn't accomplish anything outside of setting their franchise back five years.
I can't believe how bad Chicago's draft was. Of the five picks the team made, three earned Millen grades. I can't say this for certain, but I'm almost confident that it's the highest percentage (60%) of Millen grades I've given to one team for any draft class. Thus, Chicago may have obtained the worst prospective NFL Draft class of all time.
And here was WalterFootball’s break down of the Cohen draft pick:
119. Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T: FLY, KIELBASA, FLY MILLEN Grade
The Bears had an awful draft heading into Day 3, and that has continued, apparently. Tarik Cohen was a late-round prospect at best, and I had him as a UDFA. Cohen is a very, very poor man's Darren Sproles, but may not make the roster. I'm not sure what Chicago is doing.
Look, none of us can say that this draft class will work out over the longterm, it takes three to four seasons to really understand how any draft class will work out but I think that it IS safe to say, right now, that this draft class is much, much better than Pace and the Bears got credit for back in April.
And for now, with Adam Shaheen playing eight offensive snaps and Turbisky waiting in the wings, Cohen is the most immediate playmaker the team has right now.
On Sunday he became an offensive x-factor that the team has been missing for years. While Jordan Howard is a solid RB, he hasn’t shown the versatility of Cohen or the big play ability. Howard’s longest run last year was 69 yards and his longest touchdown was a 21-yard reception against Indianapolis. His longest rushing TD was just nine yards.
The biggest concern for Cohen is can he hold up to the workload he received in week one? While he will definitely be accounted for by defenses going forward, it is fair to wonder if he will be as big a part of the gameplan as well.
The fact that the Bears were coming into week one with an unknown offensive weapon with limited tape against an opponent that outmatched them perhaps allowed the coaches to feel comfortable subjecting Cohen to so many touches.
For comparison purposes, Darren Sproles, who is also listed at 5’6” and 181 lbs., averages 11 touches per game.
There has been handwringing over how much Cohen was used and concerns of “overuse” are getting thrown out on Twitter, but having five more touches than Sproles in his first career game is hardly concerning. Now if he’s seeing 16-20 touches/targets a game over the next month, then maybe eyebrows should be raised.
That being said though, there is no denying how effective Cohen was Sunday and how much he effected the game.
For example look at the Bears’ touchdown scored right before halftime out of the wildcat, earlier in the drive Cohen had already had a 46-yard run so when the Bears got down inside the 10 yard line and showed the wildcat look, the Falcons keyed in on Cohen.
At the snap Cohen’s threat freezes the DE and LBs and creates enough pause that by the time the handoff is made no one can recover to chase down Jordan Howard.
And then as a receiver, he is able to get down field and be a mismatch for linebackers, such as the ultimately broken up pass in the endzone:
The play came down to Mike Glennon not quite having the arm strength to hit Cohen in stride, Cohen clearly slows up, which allows the LB to catch back up.
These are just two plays that caught my eye and I’m far from an X’s and O’s expert. Cohen is a multi-faceted weapon that gives the Bears options they haven’t had in recent years.
What is the right amount of use for Cohen? I don’t know. I don’t know what his frame will stand up to but I think 10-12 touches per game will be the magic area. If the Bears find a better punt returner then that would free him up for more offensive plays.
But the Bears seem to have found a weapon unlike they’ve had in some time.