Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
Justin Fields might not be the best player for the Bears in 2021 [or maybe he will be?], but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 17 Tarik Cohen
Position: Running back
NFL Experience: 5th season
Looking back: Following a stellar sophomore season in 2018, during which he was the Bears’ second-leading receiver, Tarik Cohen couldn’t quite match the same output in 2019. He totaled 71 receptions for 725 yards and five touchdowns in 2018, along with 444 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 99 attempts. A year later, he caught more passes (79), but totaled far fewer receiving yards (456). That lack of production was more on the offense than it was on Cohen, however.
In 2020, he tore his ACL only a week after signing a three-year contract extension, which will keep him with the Bears through 2023. He was having a solid game in Week 3 against Atlanta when he had his legs cut out from underneath him while catching a punt. Unfortunately, his season ended far too soon. In a small sample size, Cohen averaged 5.3 yards a carry through the first three games – which would’ve been a career best.
Looking forward: Cohen has been a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. A pass-catching back can be quite useful on third down if utilized properly. Of the utmost concern, of course, is the health of Cohen’s knee. A torn ACL in Week 3 should provide enough time for Cohen to be back for training camp, but every ACL injury is different. He was present, but not participating, during OTAs and minicamp this spring. Even once he returns to the field, it could be a while before he feels like himself again.
When the Bears were rolling in 2018, Cohen was heavily involved. If the Bears are to return to that level of offensive production, they’re going to need a solid pass-catching back behind David Montgomery. That could be Cohen or it could be Damien Williams, but at this point the Bears have a lot more invested in Cohen thanks to that contract extension.