With the dust still settling on the 2017 season, we continue our look back at the rookie crop, specifically Tarik Cohen, through our RotoViz crystal ball, aka, the Screener App. While the Screener can’t foresee the future, it can give us a good idea of a player’s range of outcomes heading into their second year.
Cohen was one of the biggest surprises from an incredible crop of rookie running backs. Hindsight is a hell of a drug, and looking back, we, along with the rest of the NFL, whiffed on a back who can clearly produce at the professional level. It shouldn’t be a total shock, considering he was extremely productive at the collegiate level, racking up more than 5,600 career rushing yards. It still wasn’t until late in the preseason that Cohen hit our radar, however.
Let’s turn to the Screener to find the top comparables based on his rookie season.
To do this, I set the RotoViz Screener to search for comparable rookie WR seasons between 2007 and 2017 based on a number of statistical outputs, including draft pick, age and weight. Where a player is selected in the NFL Draft still has a significant influence his second season, though that influence does decline over time.
Tarik Cohen Comparables
Due to his diminutive size — 5-foot-6, 179 pounds — it’s going to be tough to find strong comparables for Cohen. Very few backs that small find success in the NFL, and that was a big reason we at RotoViz weren’t high on him as a prospect. Like it or not, size matters in the NFL. Excluding fellow tiny rookie Matt Breida, the closest a sub-185-pound RB has come to Cohen’s 150 PPR points as a rookie in the past decade is Dexter McCluster’s 103.5 points. Cohen producing reasonable numbers at his size is a major outlier.
There are some exciting names on this list, but it’s fair to question just how good these comparables actually are because, again, not many backs see an NFL field at sub 180. That aside, Cohen’s raw rookie stats stack up well against two of the very best in Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. He was similarly efficient to both of them on the ground and was better in terms of receptions and receiving yards. However, in addition to being smaller, he was also drafted much later.
Roy Helu put up comparable receiving yards as a rookie but has some 40 pounds on Cohen, making that comparison a stretch. Same goes for Kenneth Dixon. He posted an identical rushing line as a rookie at 382 yards, but he wasn’t as good as Cohen in the passing game, and at 215 pounds, profiles as a different type of back.
Much the same can be said about Ameer Abdullah, who was also drafted more than 60 spots higher than Cohen.
His stature makes to hard to pin down a solid comparable, but given that they are also on the smaller side, if we squint really hard, Charles and McCoy may be the two best fits here.
What Did They Do As Sophomores?
Dixon doesn’t make the list as he missed the entire 2017 season with a torn meniscus. He’ll be ready for camp and should get an opportunity to show what he can do for Baltimore in 2018.
Both McCoy and Charles broke out as sophomores, cementing themselves among the game’s elite. They represent the extreme end of possible outcomes for Cohen, but likely an unrealistic one. There’s little chance the Bears back is getting anything close to 200 carries in 2017, even in the case of something unforeseen like a Jordan Howard injury. With Matt Nagy installing what should be a more high-tempo, RB-friendly scheme, however, Cohen can certainly improve on his 53 receptions as a rookie.
At the other end of the spectrum, Abdullah and Helu only played two and three games respectively in their sophomore seasons, so it’s tough to gauge much from that. For what it’s worth, Abdullah put up a near carbon copy to his rookie season in year three (2017), while Helu took a significant step back in both rushing and receiving numbers in his third year.
There were complaints that, given his plus efficiency as a rusher and receiver, Cohen was underused in a conservative John Fox offense. With Nagy coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which loves to feed receiving backs, there’s reason to believe that Cohen will not only see more volume, but also be put in better positions to find fantasy success.
A step forward from second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should also help.
Cohen is still also has youth on his side, as he just turns 23 this summer.
Cohen is historically small for the position he plays, and we have to go back to the turn of the century to find any real early-career success. There are basically just two of them — Darren Sproles and Warrick Dunn. Otherwise, it’s an ugly list. Neither popped up as comparables because I limited to search to the last 10 years. A Dunn-like career would be the dream scenario, as he played at 180 pounds and became just the sixth player to rush for 10,000 yards and top 500 receptions. However, he was also a 12th-overall draft pick.
Sproles is a more realistic, albeit optimistic, target. He played at 185 pounds and was drafted 130th overall. He’s averaged around eight receptions per game while healthy over the course of his career, while Cohen averaged a little more than three per game as rookie.
Sproles is a special player and Cohen can’t really compare, but he could be Sproles-lite with a little luck.