Tarik Cohen pretty much did it all in his second NFL campaign, when he led the Bears with 71 catches in addition to 1,170 yards and 9 touchdowns from scrimmage.
He also paced the NFL in punt return yards en route to first-team All Pro honors, and his final touch of the season — a 35-yard kickoff return, only his third attempt of the year but the Bears’ longest since his 46-yarder in November 2017 — should’ve catalyzed Chicago’s first playoff victory since Cohen was 15.
But the smallest player on the Bears roster has bigger ambitions. Why else was he spotted — luckily for him by the media and not his coach — badly missing a 23-yard field goal inside the Walter Payton Center during last month’s veteran minicamp?
OK, maybe don’t answer that. However, Cohen recently answered PFW’s serious question regarding what’s left for the diminutive stick of dynamite to cross off his personal NFL to-do list.
“I feel like I want to break more tackles,” Cohen told us in early June. “That’s one thing I saw last year that I didn’t do as much as I wanted to. … Especially, like, staying in bounds. I probably had a couple more yards out there when I ran out of bounds sometimes to be safe."
So how many forced missed tackles was Cohen responsible for last season? He avoided a would-be tackler once every 5.82 carries and once every 4.44 receptions, according to Pro Football Focus. Those averages ranked 18th and 22nd, respectively, across the league, after tying for third in the NFL in missed tackle rate per catch as a rookie. Cohen was again among the league leaders in avoiding tacklers after the catch, tying for fifth in football behind Saquon Barkley, James Conner, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook, per PFF.
Cohen remained very difficult to corral last season but did go down a tad easier, averaging nearly three more carries and two additional catches between missed tackles. Perhaps, then, breaking more tackles would set up Cohen to break more records. He’s already only the second player in NFL history with 500-plus yards as a runner, receiver, punt and kick returner through his first 25 NFL games, and his single-game catch and receiving yardage totals are the best in team annals. Keep in mind, perhaps no NFL team has a more storied running back tradition.
“I just see the guys that play the positions that I do, and I just see I have a lot of work to do,” Cohen said days before the team's centennial celebration when we asked whether he thinks about the footprint he can leave with the franchise long term. “Because the guys [that] did the things that I do, they were great. So I know I have a pretty tall ladder to climb.”
Not that the 5-foot-6 North Carolina A&T product has shied from reaching great NFL heights thus far.
After being credited with more broken tackles as a rookie than Alvin Kamara but falling off in that department last season, Cohen said he wants to make more defenders miss, but it can't come at the expense of bypassing between-the-tackles real estate to hit the perimeter. That's one bit of constructive criticism, albeit understandable for someone Cohen's size, coming out of his sophomore campaign.
Of course, the Bears clearly felt Cohen’s former running mate Jordan Howard left too much meat on the bone, marking his ouster and their trading up 14 spots to select David Montgomery, college’s premier tackle breaker over the past two seasons.
“He’s very strong in the lower body,” Cohen said of the third-round rookie Montgomery, whose 185 combined forced missed tackles over the past two seasons led all of college football, according to PFF. “He has vicious cuts. So, I can see why he breaks the tackles — arm tackles not going to tackle him. Anything in the lower body is not bringing him down.”
Cohen said he hopes to soak up some of the on-field anger and attitude that helps define Montgomery’s style — and he’s happy to share some of his tips with the rookie and fellow newcomer Mike Davis that helped Cohen quickly ascend near the top echelon of NFL receiving backs.
“Just his savvy in the passing game,” Montgomery told PFW of what has impressed him the most about Cohen. “The way he’s able to think quickly, how prepared and how much he knows at the position. Tarik is very quick and savvy, so I just want to try and get that in my game a little more and try and capitalize off of it.”
Montgomery and Davis each appear to have some natural pass-catching ability in their repertoire. Obviously, it was a fundamental prerequisite for the Bears as they set out this offseason to rebuild their RB corps.
Cohen said he’s thrilled to have the help — “they can be good mismatches on linebackers when I’m not even in the game, so I’m very happy that we have other guys that can do those things.” — and isn’t concerned about the touch distribution with two new potential feature runners aboard.
Neither is Matt Nagy, one of the NFL’s more imaginative play callers, who spent the offseason not bothering to hide his excitement regarding the added versatility at his disposal.
“I think when you start looking at these players that are able to play in different positions, it just puts the defense at a disadvantage,” Nagy said in reference to Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson, a fellow All Pro return man with the versatility to impact the game numerous ways on offense. “Right now, we have that, we have a bunch of those (guys). … That’s what’s fun.”
Nagy understandably wasn’t in such a fine mood in January in the immediate aftermath of the wild-card loss to the Eagles, when he was asked about giving Cohen a season-low four touches from scrimmage. It was apparent then — months before Chicago’s near-complete backfield revamp — that Nagy wouldn’t under utilize Cohen again.
The Bears might have come up with the Run-DMC moniker for their new-look backfield, but Kyle Long is more of a Marvel guy. He joked that Chicago's new RB weapons are like The Avengers because they each have a super power.
"I think Tarik possesses a few super powers," Long said.
Davis explained that none are more powerful than Cohen's speed, and he's willing to bet on it in a race pitting Cohen vs. Taylor Gabriel
“Reek is legit the fastest person I’ve ever seen," Davis said. "My money’s on “Reek” to win the race."
We didn't get the chance to ask Cohen about racing. He was rumored to be included in an offseason battle between some of the league's fastest players, but it never materialized, surely to the relief of Nagy.
“I do so many things in the offense,” Cohen said. “It’s not really going to be me in the backfield. Also, I’m on special teams. Sooner or later in the game, I’m going to do the most with my touches.”
And in what form those touches come is of little difference to Cohen.
“I want to be known as a back that can do it all. But I’m ready to perform however my team needs me to perform. If that’s being the best receiving back that I can be, then so be it. That’s what I’m ready to be.”
Indeed, Cohen appears ready for just about anything entering Year 3. Just not kicking.