Bears

If the Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara, would they have drafted Tarik Cohen?

If the Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara, would they have drafted Tarik Cohen?

ORLANDO — It’s too simple to say the New Orleans Saints would’ve moved to draft Tarik Cohen had Alvin Kamara not been available in the third round of last year's draft. 

But coach Sean Payton and the Saints’ front office had a fourth-round evaluation on Cohen, and liked what kind of player he could’ve been in their offense. 

“We just valued a certain group of players at that position,” Payton said last week at the NFL annual meetings. “Tarik was a target for us, a guy that we said hey, here are the first round targets, we had Kamara in the second, we had Tarik as a fourth-round target. Those were guys that stood out that we liked.”

Kamara went on to be an integral part of the Saints’ playoff run, scoring 14 touchdowns and winning offensive rookie of the year honors. Cohen had a flashy rookie season, too, though not near to the level of Kamara — though, for what it’s worth, Cohen hardly had a similar surrounding cast of teammates as Kamara did with the playoff-bound Saints. 

That’s not to say Cohen could’ve put up similar numbers to Kamara had he been drafted by the Saints instead of the Bears, of course — that would be taking too much away from Kamara. They’re different players, too: Kamara is listed at 5-foot-10 and weighs 214 pounds; Cohen is 5-foot-6 and 179 pounds. 

But here’s what Payton said when asked what he liked about Cohen’s game:

“His hands and his ability to adjust, he looked real smart, he’s got the makeup you’re looking for,” Payton said from the NFL’s annual meetings. “He just reminded us of a younger (Darren) Sproles, and we saw someone we felt like we had a clear vision for.”

The similarly-diminutive Sproles had some of his best years in Payton’s offense, and that comparison has been thrown around quite a bit with Cohen — but not necessarily by someone with the gravitas to say it as Payton, under whom Sproles had plenty of success from 2011-2013. That’s worth something. 

The Bears played the Saints in Week 8 of the 2017 season, and while Cohen only touched the ball five times in that game, he was coming off back-to-back weeks in which he 1) threw a touchdown and 2) caught a 70-yard deep ball from Mitch Trubisky. There was plenty else that he put on tape that impressed coaches around the league, and not just Payton, given how frequently opposing defenses double-teamed him in 2017. 

But for Payton, seeing how well Cohen played during his rookie year was somewhat vindicating, given the evaluation he had on him. 

“When the draft ends and you begin the season, of course there are players that you like that go to other teams,” Payton said, “and then when you see them have success, you’re like boom, I was right.”

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

Matt Nagy has roundly impressed his players during minicamp this week, and has done so in a way that carries some importance.

John "Moon" Mullin and JJ Stankevitz dive into how quickly Mitch Trubisky is picking up Nagy’s offense, why Jordan Howard may be feeling refreshed and if the Bears can expect anything out of Kevin White.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here:

Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

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Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

We’re a little under five months away from the first meaningful snap of the Matt Nagy era, but since it’s April, it’s a good time to daydream about what the Bears’ offense could look like in 2018. 

So let’s add to that what Tarik Cohen had to say on Wednesday about his early impressions of Nagy’s offense.

“It can be dominant,” Cohen said. “… We have a whole lot of pieces on offense. It could get real crazy this year.”

At this time of the year, just about every player and coach is naturally “excited” by the prospect of a fresh start on a new season, especially with a new regime taking over. But these aren’t empty platitudes put forth by the players who’ve been available to the media this week.

Cohen said one of the first things he saw after the Bears hired Nagy was that the Kansas City Chiefs, while running his new coach’s offense, had two 1,000-yard pass-catchers (Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce) and a 1,000-yard running back (Kareem Hunt). 

“I was like, ‘I don’t know how that ball’s getting around like that,’” Cohen said. “But I know it’s going to be a good thing because we have as many weapons as we do, to know that everybody’s still going to be able to get the ball and get the yards, it’s a wonderful thing.”
 
Cohen said he’s worked this year on his route-running and receiving skills, which could make him an interesting candidate to back up the similarly-diminutive Taylor Gabriel at the “Zebra” receiver spot in Nagy’s offense. And while Cohen can be used there, that may sell short his skills as a running back, which will remain his primary role. 

“He just needs to understand he’s not a receiver, so there’s a lot of details that the receivers themselves are putting into it,” Nagy said. “He’s a running back. So whatever we can do in the specific routes he’s going to (run) — his route tree is not going to be quite as big. So that ones that he does have, he can hone in on those and understand the specifics of that. Coach (Charles) London will do a great job of teaching him that. But then also remember, too, we need you to run the ball, too. If you become one dimensional a certain way, now it’s advantage defense.”

Cohen, for what it’s worth, said he’s gained about 10 pounds and now weighs 190 pounds (“all muscle, solid,” he quipped), which should help him stay on the field as his role grows as a second-year pro. 
 
Cohen’s versatility, though, fits with the bigger-picture offensive scheme that Nagy and his coaching staff are in the nascent stages of installing this week. The inside zone and run-pass options concepts that are a big part of Nagy’s offense are familiar to Cohen, too — “that’s really how I got all my yards in college,” he said. 

But even while the Bears operate a basic version of the offense they’ll eventually use, there’s a certain excitement level around Halas Hall about how things could look come September. And how those things look should help Cohen get closer to — or reach — his goals after a strong rookie debut. 

“I just have this attitude like I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Cohen said. “I wasn’t in the Pro Bowl, really not like a definite household name yet, so I feel like I have a lot more to prove. Didn’t have any 1,000-yard season in any phase of the game, so I feel like I have a lot more to do.”