Tarik Cohen makes Matt Nagy look like a genius.
Nagy lines him up in myriad spots, always leaving the defense to guess whether the Bears will use him as a runner or receiver, and all he does is make plays. Cohen is a multifaceted threat with elite speed, nonstop energy and electric playmaking ability.
All Nagy has to do is turn him loose and see what happens.
“Well, what happens is he makes plays and scores touchdowns,” Nagy said with a smirk. “Then when he does that, I get the credit.”
Of course, it’s never quite that easy, and Nagy has unlocked parts of Cohen’s game that none of his previous coaches fully exploited. His versatility is a perfect fit with Nagy’s creativity, and their first season together was spectacular — even though Nagy said recently that he overloaded him.
Cohen offers an ideal option for an up-and-coming quarterback such as Mitch Trubisky because he can turn low-risk passes into big gains, in addition to getting separation as a deep threat.
“When I get the ball, it’s different every time,” Cohen said. “No play is the same.”
That’s the scariest part for defensive coordinators.
The Bears drafted Cohen before Nagy was hired, but he’s exactly the type of talent Nagy would’ve craved. If he continues his production, there’s little doubt the team will want to give Cohen an extension next summer before the last year of his rookie contract.
While other Bears often get more attention, Cohen was the team’s best offensive player last year and figures to be so again this season. He led the Bears with 1,169 yards from scrimmage and was second to Jordan Howard in touchdowns with eight.
No player on the current roster came close to his offensive production last season, and that doesn’t even take into account that he’s an all-pro punt returner.
Cohen is listed as a running back and practices with that position group, but the title fits loosely. He had 99 carries and 91 passing targets (71 catches) last season and averaged 6.9 yards per touch.
“For me, it’s really just two things: Either I’m catching the ball or I’m running the ball,” Cohen said after practice Thursday. “For everyone else, they worry about where I’m at and all the things I can do, so that’s exciting, but I simplify it.”
The Bears plucked Cohen from North Carolina A&T at No. 119 overall in 2017 — just as the big college programs had done when he was a recruit, pro teams overlooked him in large part because he’s 5-6 — and he has far outplayed his draft spot. He goes into this season seventh in his class in offensive yardage.
He wasn’t used much as a pass-catching threat in college but quickly showed that side of his game when he arrived.
The Bears were in upheaval as they shifted from Mike Glennon to Trubisky during John Fox’s last season. Cohen still managed 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns despite playing only 36.4 percent of the snaps.
Everything went up last season, including a bump to playing nearly half the offensive plays, and Cohen’s rise should continue this year with Trubisky expected to improve and Nagy getting a better feel for how to use him.
“He’s exciting with the things that he can do,” Nagy said. “He’s shown that, and nothing’s really changed. We just like where he’s at, and you put all these other pieces around him, it only makes him better.”