The Chicago Bears added one of the most dynamic running backs in the entire 2017 NFL Draft class in former North Carolina A&T RB Tarik Cohen.
The small-school prospect was the three-time MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and set the conference record for rushing yards (5,619).
To get a better feel for what the diminutive ball carrier brings to the Bears, I broke down game film of Cohen from the past two seasons. Here’s what I found.
Vs. Kent State
-0:42 – Handoff on a sweep right. A defender goes unblocked and Cohen has nowhere to run, yet he doesn’t go down right away. The defender drives him backward but Cohen nearly spins out of his grasp. It takes three defenders to bring him down, yet the third player rips the ball out, resulting in a turnover.
-1:24 – Cohen runs into the back of his offensive lineman, who is being driven backward by a defender. Cohen swings the play the opposite direction and then cuts back upfield inside two defender. He shows outstanding burst, nearly breaking free from a crowd of four would-be tacklers. The run goes for 20 yards.
-11:50 – Cohen motions from the backfield to the right slot. He runs a quick out, using a sharp cut, and then snatches the high pass out of the air. He then effortlessly cuts inside of the defender and races up the sideline for a first down.
-2:22 – Handoff and designed cutback. Two defenders close on Cohen yet he bounces backward off the contact and separates. He then darts forward for a seven-yard gain, with two defenders needed to take him down.
-3:16 – Cohen releases from the backfield up the right seam. It’s zone coverage and Cohen splits the safeties and gets behind the entire defense. The QB throws a dead duck but this is an easy TD at the NFL level.
-3:45 – Cohen motions to the left slot. The safety lines up across from him in man coverage. Cohen breaks on a quick out and leaves the defender flat-footed, creating an easy four yards of separation. He makes the catch and accelerates for another 10 yards.
-3:59 – Two defenders in his face immediately after the handoff, yet Cohen bounces back and cuts outside, leaving both defenders on their face without ever getting a hand on him. Impressive.
-4:20 – The handoff is fumbled. Cohen turns around and picks the ball up off the ground. He then outraces seven defenders to the sidelines and turns upfield. He cuts inside one tackle attempt, then spins away from a second before racing back across the field. He’s eventually run out of bounds but not after he picks up 46 yards. Wow!
-5:00 – Cohen runs a wheel route and makes an impressive grab on a high pass, all while keeping stride and picking up 10 yards after the catch.
-5:47 – Cohen run the same quick out he ran at 3:45, this time to the opposite side of the field. Once again, the defender is left in his dust after he makes his cut.
-6:47 – Up the middle, no running room, Cohen bounces the play outside, cuts inside the cornerback, then quickly cuts back outside, outracing the entire defense to the sideline.
-7:04 – Cohen shoots through a nice hole up the middle, makes one cut between two defenders and races untouched for the TD.
-7:27 – Cohen releases through the offensive line before cutting across the field. The linebacker is so fooled by the cut that he ends up falling flat on his face. Cohen makes the catch and again outraces the defense to the far sideline, racing up the field for a big gain.
7:49 – Cohen take the handoff across the face of the QB, then stops and throws back to the quarterback for a touchdown. Sure, why not?
-8:30 – Red zone handoff up the middle. Four defenders surround Cohen, yet he burst between them all, leaping over one of his offensive linemen in the process. The LB tries to take him down but Cohen shakes off the tackle attempt and barrels into the end zone for the score.
Vs. Alcorn State
-0:54 – Sweep left. Cohen bounces off a defender using a spin move and then cuts back between three defenders before racing across the field. He runs to the far numbers and then cuts inside a tackle attempt. Cohen then cuts up and follows his blocks to the end zone. Incredible.
-1:43 – Cohen runs off tackle right, cuts inside a defender and then outraces everyone for an 83-yard TD.
-3:21 – Pitch left, Cohen has nowhere to run but, instead of trying to avoid the defender, he lowers his shoulder and runs over the safety, picking up three yards after contact.
-3:55 – Nowhere to run on a sweep right. Cohen makes two guys miss and is wrapped up by two defenders, yet he carries both guys for another four yards.
-4:04 – Cohen up the middle, two defenders are converging from either side, yet he stops on a dime, cuts to his left and leaves both guys flat on their faces. He then races to the sideline for another 20 yards. That was an extremely impressive cut.
-6:16 – Screen pass caught in the right flat. Two defenders wrap up Cohen shortly after he catches the pass but he somehow slips away from their grasp. He then breaks another tackle attempt, shoots up the sideline and cuts inside another defender before being chased down from behind. The play goes for 53 yards.
-7:39 – Draw play up the middle, Cohen accelerates behind a pair of blocks, splits two defenders and races 73 yards for the score.
After viewing two games worth of film, it’s easy to see why Cohen’s nickname is the “Human Joystick.”
His highlight plays are off the charts, with him making defenders look silly as he zig zags across the field, leaving would-be tacklers in his wake.
In the open field, Cohen is nearly impossible to bring down, or even get a hand on, as his short-area elusiveness is almost incomparable. He makes at least one defender miss nearly every time he touches the ball due to his unbelievable balance and change-of-direction ability.
Yet Cohen, despite being just 5-6, runs with a lot of power and is difficult to bring down. His low center of gravity and never-quit attitude allows him to squirt free from tacklers who are much larger than him. He runs with enough power to carry defenders after contact as well.
As a receiver, Cohen has great hands and uses his quickness and acceleration to create easy separation out of his breaks. Safeties and linebackers will have nightmares trying to mirror him in man coverage. And after the catch, he turns into a slippery ball carrier with the speed to outrace the entire defense.
I can honestly say I’ve never watched film a collegiate prospect as elusive as Cohen. If he were three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier, his skill set would make him an easy first-round pick.
His size is a concern but he’s so slippery, he rarely takes big hits. Toward the middle of both contests I viewed, it was clear the opposing defense was scared to death of trying to tackle Cohen. They were so hesitant to close on him that he was able to pick and choose how to run by them.
Cohen is not an every-down back at the next level but as a change-of-pace ball carrier with home run potential every time he’s on the field, he should make an outstanding complement to Jordan Howard in Chicago’s backfield, both as a runner and receiver.