On January 8th, the Chicago Bears answered their biggest question of the offseason by hiring Matt Nagy as head coach.
After starting as a coaching intern for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, he worked his way up to offensive quality control coach by 2011 before moving to Kansas City in 2013, taking over as the quarterback coach, and was promoted to offensive coordinator this past season.
Under Nagy, quarterback Alex Smith had the best five seasons of his career with his 2017 campaign easily being his greatest. While it’s obvious that Mitch Trubisky is going to be one of many players to benefit from Nagy calling the plays, Tarik Cohen might have the most upside.
Cohen is a dynamic player that has shown flashes of Darren Sproles potential but was severely underused in Dowell Loggains’ offense.
That won’t be the case with Nagy.
Kareem Hunt, the rookie running back for Kansas City, had four fewer carries (272) than Jordan Howard this season while having as many receptions (53) as Cohen. Despite having the same number of receptions, Hunt had nearly 100 more receiving yards than Cohen. Hunt and Cohen aren’t the same players, but this tells a lot about how Nagy runs an offense and how he plans to use his athletic backs.
In theory, Nagy has two players like Hunt split down the middle in Howard and Cohen. So, expect to see Howard get more carries and Cohen to get more receptions as they will be more rested than Hunt was in 2017.
The best-case scenario for Cohen is that he turns into Tyreek Hill. Hill, a former running college back, is an electric receiver that developed greatly in 2017, hauling in 83 receptions for 1,183 yards for the Chiefs. Hill’s rookie campaign was full of potential, but he was mostly a bang or bust player as he finished with 593 receiving yards on 61 receptions.
When Nagy took over play-calling duties in 2017, Hill’s production increased tremendously as he became a reliable weapon for the Chiefs. In fact, Hill’s best game of the season was with Nagy at the wheel (six catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns). Hopefully Cohen has a similar trajectory.
Hill was the most targeted receiver for the Chiefs in 2017 with 105, and without a top receiver for the Bears, Cohen might see similar numbers next year.
In order for this to happen, Cohen would have to develop as more of a receiver than as a running back. The majority of Cohen’s highlights came out of the backfield while Hill is a true receiver with many of his big plays coming on long receptions after he burned the secondary.
While Cohen is fast and shifty, he simply doesn’t have the route running abilities to line up as a typical receiver every play, but he can excel out of the slot. Anytime Howard is the main back, Cohen should be lined up near the slot with an opportunity to get the ball. Even if he’s there as a decoy for when Howard gets the ball it’ll be beneficial to the offense as he can help stretch the field.
If Cohen develops as a route runner and is able to get open in the flat, he can have a huge year as more of a receiver than a running back. Regardless of his development, expect to see him get more targets than last year in whatever role Nagy creates for him.