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Tarik vs. Tyreek: A fantasy football study in growth

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Not too long ago on the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast, I talked about taking Tarik Cohen in the seventh round of a mock draft. I was pointed and laughed at. It gave me the sadz. But because I am nothing if not stubborn, I wanted to look a little harder at The Human Joystick to defend myself from these uncivil attacks.

Also, I'm using this as fuel.

I get it, Cohen as a 2,000-yard rusher in 2018 is very far-fetched with Jordan Howard still on the roster and still pegged as the Bears' RB1 this season. Yet the point remains that Cohen's current eighth-round ADP is there for a reason and maybe it's time the pointing and laughing stops.

(Yes, I'm exaggerating my own very minor personal trauma to make a point. I don't care.)

For me, it begins at the top with head coach Matt Nagy. The boxes in his new office weren't even unpacked before the internet had begun opining on his penchant for using running backs in the passing game. Immediately, fantasy zealots began to look askance at Jordan Howard. The Twitter scuttlebutt (which, of course, is always reliable) has been that Howard couldn't catch a cold if he were standing at the North Pole naked and wet. The reality isn't quite so drastic, though 52 catches in two seasons isn't going to shoot Howard up any PPR rankings.

But you know who did catch the ball at a pretty reasonable clip last year? If you didn't say "Tarik Cohen," I'll assume that you're just randomly scrolling the page and somehow stopped at the previous sentence without actually knowing what's going on.

Cohen caught 53 passes on 71 targets last season despite playing 36 percent of the team's offensive snaps. The overall numbers weren't eye-popping (723 total yards, three touchdowns, 91.14 fantasy points). But in many ways, it reminded me of another diminutive, speedy playmaker who hailed from a small school.

Tyreek Hill.

Hill's rookie season with the Chiefs wasn't a blockbuster -- though the nine touchdowns were certainly an eye-opener -- but it did give us an idea that bigger things could be coming. As a rookie, Hill was on the field for 40 percent of the snaps, splitting most of his time between the slot and a wide position while still picking up 24 rushing attempts.

The next season, Nagy took over the offense and moved his Swiss Army knife all over the formation with a nearly equal number of snaps from the right (358) and left (336) sides and giving him a smorgasbord of routes to run. Basically, Hill and Nagy formed like Voltron and, well ... you know what happened.

So now let's take a ride up I-55 to Chicago where Nagy has plenty of pieces -- a young quarterback, a quality between-the-tackles runner, a playmaking wide receiver and a versatile tight end. But it also seems that he's found his new Swiss Army knife.

The stories coming from the shores of Lake Michigan tell tales of Tarik Cohen as a do-it-all option that Nagy can plug-and-play into nearly any situation. Please don't come to me with cries of "Cohen is a running back and Hill is a receiver!" 1) I know. 2) So what?

If there's anything we've learned in the past couple of years it's that the position title attached to players' names is starting to mean less and less as NFL teams try to put their best talent in positions to succeed, regardless of where it is on the field. That's what Nagy will try to do with the multi-talented Cohen this year.

I also wouldn't worry too much about the new additions to the offense. Allen Robinson will get his targets. Trey Burton will have plenty of opportunity. But there should still be room for Cohen to produce simply because the Bears should have more offensive chances. Chicago ran the second-fewest offensive plays in the NFL last year (only the Bengals had fewer) and were last in average yards per offensive drive and 30th in average points per offensive drive (per Football Outsiders). Meanwhile, Nagy's Chiefs offense was one of the league's more efficient last season, finishing sixth in both average yards and average points per drive.

That level of improvement might not happen immediately with a new offensive system, but it's hard to envision another equally moribund performance from this group in 2018. As the Bears' offensive tide rises, you can expect plenty of the individual boats to be lifted along with it ... including Cohen.

By now, you've read all of this and are probably thinking that I'm suggesting Cohen will be a top-50 player this season (as Hill was in 2017). My answer is ... sure, why not? After last year, a season with 1,100 scrimmage yards and 5-7 touchdowns is well within the range of outcomes. It would be right in line with what players like Lamar Miller, Alex Collins and Frank Gore posted last season ... and it doesn't matter if he gets it as a runner or receiver.

Getting a top-50 player (and potential RB2) with a late seventh-round pick seems like a win to me. Maybe I'll get to point and laugh when it's all over. Yes, I'm petty.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who wants a Jurassic World movie that is merely two hours of congressional hearings about the moral and legal implications of fabricating dinosaurs in a lab. Send him your tweaked movie concepts via Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9).

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