The Chicago Bears offseason has been one of great change. John Fox was fired and in came Matt Nagy, former offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. Top free agent wide receiver Allen Robinson also joined the team, along with Super Bowl trick play hero Trey Burton at tight end. Taylor Gabriel is a small addition with some vertical-threat buzz, and holdovers Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen have people thinking a Los Angeles Rams-type turnaround is in store for Chicago. While the Bears offense should improve, take this opportunity to sell Cohen in dynasty.
Taller RBs have historically had more NFL success, and extremely short runners have a limited track record, especially when they also don’t weigh very much. Standing at a scant 5 feet 6 and weighing 181 pounds, Cohen is one of the smallest players to ever play. Since targets became an official stat in 1992, Cohen is the only sub-190 running back of his height or shorter to accumulate 70 or more targets and 50 or more receptions in his rookie year. Sounds great, right? Well, in that time there have only been 18 total seasons of any player that size accumulating those stats. That includes WRs as well.
Only three RBs are on this list.1 Six of the 18 seasons are from one player, Darren Sproles. Cohen’s best case scenario seems to be a Midwestern version of Sproles.
The big appeal to Cohen is obviously his receiving ability in PPR leagues. He is somewhat of a Zero-RB darling, a cheaper back who can give you 8-12 PPR points as your RB2. What if I told you that Benny Cunningham is actually a better receiver? That seems like blasphemy of the highest order, as Cunningham is just a journeyman with a lack of any special traits. Well, prepared to be shocked and appalled:
Sproles was added for comparison, and 2016 was used due to his 2017 injury and resulting small sample size of 12 targets. As we can see, Cohen was surprisingly not efficient at all. Cunningham, operating in the same archaic and impotent Fox offense, was far more efficient. Sproles, albeit on a different team with a different offense, showed how he is more efficient as well with an identical workload. Even looking at Cunningham and Sproles over their career, Cohen does not look favorable.
This is obviously not a good look for Cohen when a relative nobody in Cunningham is outperforming him in receiving metrics. In fairness to Cohen, he is a more efficient runner than Cunningham.
Unfortunately, seeing much more than 86 rushes is a bit far fetched, as we will discuss next.
This is probably the most important piece of the puzzle and where the speculation is at its highest. There are rumblings about Cohen getting more touches, with upwards of 200 being bandied about. Howard isn’t going away, and has shown above average to elite speed on the field.2 He was actually faster than Cohen at shorter gains while also keeping up at longer distances, as shown by game speed data via Airyards.com.3
While Chicago should run more plays than last year, when they ranked 31 out of 32 teams in that department, the play calls should shift to a more pass-friendly scheme. The Bears ran on 47 percent of their offensive plays last year, while Kansas City, Nagy’s old team, ran on just 43 percent of plays. Cohen did have 140 touches on offense, but unless the Bears run at an even higher rate, this number does not seem like it will budge, as increased targets may replace decreased rushing attempts.
This does not even take into consideration Cohen’s aforementioned stature, as a large majority of players his size see decreased efficiency when given more touches. Even his best comp in Sproles has a career high of 176 touches, well under 200. Let’s not forget that Burton and Robinson are in town, and Gabriel also does some of things that Cohen does. These factors seem to point toward Cohen being closer to last year’s touch total, rather than seeing than much, if any, of an increase.
Utilizing Dave Caban’s Excel based Projection Machine and using a combination of usage numbers from Nagy’s last two seasons in Kansas City along with players’ career numbers, here is what the distribution could look like next year:
These projections give Chicago 560 pass attempts and a 57 percent pass/43 percent run ratio, on par with Kansas City’s production the last two years under Nagy. Also included is a rather significant jump in total plays, adding 95 for the year to bring the total to around the league average. The target distribution is similar to the Chiefs’, with the exception at RB, where I actually allotted a higher percentage to the combined RB1/RB2 slots4.
Cohen also benefited in these projections from a higher rushing market share, as the third most carries after Kareem Hunt and Alex Smith last year was a measly 18 by Charcandrick West. It seems difficult once it is broken down to see where a significant increase in usage will come from based on the off-season moves the Bears have made, both in terms of coaching and offensive personnel.
This is where we can cash in on Cohen’s perceived value right now. His price is not commensurate with what he brings to the table as far as production and promise. According to the dynasty ADP app, Cohen has been going around pick 80 in dynasty start-up drafts, around the likes of Cooper Kupp, Devin Funchess, and ahead of Duke Johnson.
Twitter seems to closely agree with the ADP, as a poll I recently ran had these results:
What we are seeing is a similar phenomenon that happens with rookies in that the perceived possibilities raises the price of a player beyond what he should cost. Johnson has already done what Cohen owners hope Cohen can do — be a RB2 in PPR leagues with the added possibility to finish as an RB1. Right now, you could acquire Cohen’s perceived ceiling instead of hoping for that possibility. If you need WR help, it appears that Funchess, a 24-year old who was a solid WR2 last year, could be had in a straight-up trade. Cohen is even going ahead of Kyle Rudolph and O.J. Howard, so if tight end is a need, either of them can likely be acquired for Cohen. The hype on Cohen has gone a little too far, and if you are an owner, now would be a great time to cash in on the inflated price.