Tarik Cohen: Overlooked & Underrated

When you open up Tarik Cohen’s Twitter page, the first thing that probably catches your eye is the phrase, “OVERlooked…..UNDERrated.” The Chicago Bears rookie running back clearly knows how to turn criticism into motivation, and his Twitter bio shows this. After just three regular season games at the professional level, I think it’s safe to say that he’s made an immediate impact. Listed at 5’6” and 181 lbs., it’s easy to guess why majority of NFL scouts slept on Cohen. As a fan, it was pretty easy to find some skepticism in the guy. How can somebody that small make any type of impact, let alone in a league occupied by over-sized athletic freaks? Well after just three weeks, Cohen has shocked the football world.

Tarik Cohen grew up in the rural area of Bunn, North Carolina. Coming from a town which has a population of under 400 people, Chicago is probably a little bit of a change for the 22-year-old kid. It’s pretty obvious that the Bears fourth-round draft pick has been overlooked most of his career. One might guess this when they see that Cohen attended a smaller-tier Division I-AA school, North Carolina A&T, which records an undergraduate enrollment of just over 9,000. The lack of Division I-A offers was probably a subtle hint of criticism regarding his size.

It didn’t take long for Cohen to impress college coaches and reserve himself a permanent spot in the backfield. As a true freshman in just 11 games, with only six as a starter, Cohen led the entire Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) with 1,148 rushing yards on just 195 carries. He led the conference in average yards per carry (5.9) and ranked second in all-purpose yards per game (118.2). To cap off an unbelievable year, Tarik won 2013 MEAC Rookie of the Year. From that point forward, it was nothing but upside improvement from the young buck. It would take a plethora of paragraphs to relay his record-breaking career at North Carolina A&T, along with what seems like a never-ending list of awards and accomplishments. Cohen finished his college football career with an astonishing 6,590 all-purpose yards and 59 TDs. He snagged the title of MEAC’s all-time leading rusher (5,619 yards), and was named an All-American his senior year.

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Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

 

You can find a detailed list of his awards, accomplishments, and statistics here.

Entering the 2017 NFL draft, Tarik Cohen found himself facing the typical adversity he’s dealt with his entire football career. Will one of the most productive running backs at the FCS level the past four seasons be able to transition into the NFL? Regardless of his size? At the NFL combine, Cohen clocked a 4.42 second 40-yard dash. Although this impressed scouts, uncertainty still remained regarding a productive conversion into the professional level. Luckily Ryan Pace and the Bears front office found some value in the elite college player, selecting Tarik Cohen in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL draft (119 overall). 118 players were selected before Cohen, adding to the “overlooked” portion of his portfolio. Immediate criticism flurried throughout the media for the pick, especially after a series of controversial moves were made for QB Mitch Trubisky. After watching highlights of Cohen’s incredible college stint, a lot of people started to believe that this guy could be the next Darren Sproles. Videos of Cohen resurfaced on social media showing him snagging one-handed catches while simultaneously back-flipping.

Not sure how this will transition into the NFL, but could be a sign of his athleticism?

With 338 all-purpose yards through three NFL regular season games, Tarik Cohen has looked like an absolute monster on a path of revenge for those who doubted him. More impressively, Cohen leads all NFL running backs in the receptions category, along with a TD in his professional debut. In a league where dual-threat running backs are a necessity, this guy clearly fits the page. Let’s not forget that in doing this, he’s shared a crowded backfield with pro-bowl running back Jordan Howard. With Howard battling a nagging shoulder injury, Cohen saw an uptick in action the first two weeks of the season. Last week against the Steelers, a semi-healthy Howard out-touched Cohen 14-6 in the first half, confirming workhorse priority among backfield roles. It was predetermined when Cohen was drafted that he would be used as a spell HB, and basically a secret weapon when Howard needs a breather. Howard found himself sidelined for majority of the second half with shoulder soreness, opening up the backfield for Cohen to shine. He nearly won the game with a break-out run during overtime, which eventually got called back by officials for stepping out at the Steelers 36 yard-line.

After all of that… just give it to guy…

Cohen has certainly fulfilled his nickname as “The Human Joystick” due to his ability to make seemingly impossible cuts. His quickness and speed almost makes his smaller frame an advantage when weaving through opposing defenses.

Those change-of-pace cuts are a beauty to watch…

It’s certainly going to be interesting watching this Bears backfield mesh together. “I think of us as ‘Thunder and Lightning’ because he’s in there punishing linebackers and punishing defensive backs and then I can come in and break a big play — he feeds off of me and I feed off of him,” Cohen said, per ESPN. I can definitely get behind that nickname for this duo, especially if more ‘Thunder and Lightning’ means less Mike Glennon action. I would love to see John Fox continue using Cohen and Howard as a package. Whether that means having them packaged together in the backfield, or throwing Cohen in the slot- whatever gets them on the field at the same time. The Bears face their long-time rivaling Packers on Thursday night. The NFL’s oldest rivalry will be played for the 195th time at Lambeau Field. Playing on a nationally televised stage will prove to be a true test for Tarik Cohen. Let’s hope #29 can continue to prove to the world that being overlooked goes hand-in-hand with being underrated.