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Pay or Fade Series – Part III – Tarik Cohen: Jurassic Park or The Lost Draft?

Welcome back to the 3rd installment of my #PayOrFade series. If you haven’t read my first 2 parts of this series, make sure you #StayWoke and check them out in the links above. As a refresher, here’s a quick recap. In Part I, I showed that top 20 performances by satellite backs were not very sticky from season to season. Only ones to buck the trend were players who were able to take over as the lead back in their respective offenses the following season in CMC and Kamara. In Part II, I showed you how James White should be a fade this season at current ADP. Next up in fantasy court? Tarik “Jurassic” Cohen. 

Source: Opportunity and scoring from PFF, redraft ADP from Fantasy Football Calculator and Dynasty ADP from FFPC.

James White’s Appeal: Before we get to that though, just wanted to provide a quick update on the verdict from the last session. I took some slack after exposing White as the fraud he is so I’ve decided to re-open the case momentarily to see if I may have been off. I went to check the latest ADP and to my utter shock, James White’s ADP has actually increased from when I released my last article and is now being drafted ahead of…Sony Michel. In the words of the legend Nicki Minaj…POUND THE ALARM. It’s absolutely laughable that anyone is drafting the satellite back over the Patriots main goal-line back. And now there are reports from training camp that Michel is actually running routes in practice. Music to big, flapping, dumbo ears. This is the type of news I pay attention to in training camp. Not highlight videos of a bunch of missed tackles in practice where people are going 70% or dudes running “routes” and making nice catches in shorts. Usage is what you want to be aware of and if these trends continue, it would indicate that Michel will be more involved in the passing game this season. This doesn’t shock me at all because Michel was a more than capable pass catcher in college catching 20+ catches in his sophomore and junior seasons and there really isn’t anything White does that Michel can’t do with more experience. Takes time to learn the Patriots playbook and now that he’s healthy and a full participant, I expect him to be involved. 

The Final Verdict: If you’ll recall, James White scored 11.3 ppg for an RB26 during weeks 10-16 last season once Michel fully took over as the lead back. And that was with Michel having no involvement in the passing game. Michel had only 3 targets over that period…TOTAL for a whopping 0.4 targets per game. Even under those circumstances, James White only got 8.6 touches per game. Now, what happens if Michel gets involved and takes even 2-3 targets a game? Assuming he gets 2 catches, that’s 2 touches per game gone from White. If we take his fantasy points per touch over that period of 1.31 and apply it to 6.6 touches per game, White would have scored an explosive 8.7 ppg which would’ve been good for…RB48. This is the point that is lost on the sheep. People taking James White assume that RB26 is his floor, when in reality, his floor is much, much lower. Dude is the Lil’ John of fantasy football. Let the sheep be sheep while us wolves feed. Keep fading him and take all of the Michel and Harris you can. Appeal denied!

Now for today’s main course, let’s move on to the first candidate.

The Accused: Tarik “Jurassic” Cohen (2018 Finish: RB11, Redraft ADP: RB27, Dynasty ADP: RB28)

The Charge: Dinosaur imposter trying to dress up as a cheetah.

The Defense Part I: When it comes to his defense, the truthers always go back to a phrase I’ve heard one too many times. Even now, it’s ringing in my head and refuses to go away like a nagging tick on a hot summer’s day. “He’s too talented to take off the field! He’ll be Tyreek Hill 2.0 in Nagy’s offense!”

The Rebuttal Part I: I actually just threw up in my mouth repeating that. Are you kidding me? News flash people. Just cause someone is small and fast doesn’t make them Tyreek Hill. Aside from the fact that they don’t even play the same position, Hill is one of a kind…well at least on the field. I’m not going to comment on his off-the-field stuff so I don’t get a bunch of raging chiefs fans hitting my mentions, but when it comes to between the white lines, Hill is a phenom. Let’s just start with a comparison of their athletic profile. Here’s Hill:

Now let’s take a look at Cohen:

Anything jump out? Aside from the fact that he’s slower than Hill, Cohen is worse than Hill in every single other metric. Now that isn’t as much of a knock-on Cohen as it is praise for Hill who’s a 90th+ percentile SPARQ athlete. When it comes down to it, Hill is just the Rick James of the NFL… #SupaFreak. “But…but…Cohen is the Human Joystick!”. I must admit, the reincarnation of the Human Joystick nickname brings excitement to my bones but that still pales in comparison to the one who has been ordained by his peers simply as… #TheCheetah. Aside from that, Hill has also proven himself to be one of the most elite WRs in the game today. What people need to realize is that sometimes, there is no comparison. Guys like Hill, Kamara, Megatron, are as unique as they are talented. So please put these types of outrageous comps in the dumpster where they belong.

The Defense Part II: Similar to James White truthers, Cohen supporters will also reference his top 12 finish last year and refer to him as a “safe floor” play in PPR formats.

The Rebuttal Part II: One of the most common misconceptions is that pass-catching backs are “safe” because they have a better floor but they actually have a similar boom/bust profile to WRs. Let’s do an exercise by taking a look at the splits for two players in 2018 below:

The top stats are Cohen. Any guess who the bottom one is? Here’s a hint: 1st Ballot HOFer. Still nothing? Damn, I guess I have to do all the workaround here. It’s none other than Adrian #AllDay Peterson. Surprised? I know I certainly was. As we all know, the stigma on AP last season was that he was the most boom/bust RB around cause he wasn’t at all involved in the pass game as evidenced by his 1.25 targets per game. But looking at the data above, he offered an almost identical floor to Cohen who is viewed as an elite pass-catching back and someone who had a “safe floor”. And what’s more amazing is he did it as a 33-year-old on a 7-9 Redskins team with a carrousel of Smith, McCoy, Sanchez, and Johnson as his QBs. Meanwhile, Cohen did it on a 12-4 Bears team that finished 1st in their division. And while Cohen was being drafted at the top of the 8th round as RB36, AP offered you similar production for free. In fact, Cohen scored 54% of his total fantasy points in 5 games last season and finished outside of the top 24 and top 36 over 56% and 31% of the time respectively. So tell me Cohen owners, is his “safe floor” really worth the price of admission now that he’s a full 2-3 rounds more expensive and unlikely of repeating a top 12 finish? Probably not. In fact, I think the narrative of satellite backs being “safe” is blown way out of proportion causing people to reach for players like Cohen and White without really seeing the full picture. But that’s why you have me here folks. Think of me as your very own Samuel L. Jackson. 

“Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.”

Satellite backs are the “valley of darkness”, I am your “brother’s keeper” and you are the “lost children”. Open your eyes and join me on the path of the righteous man. The fact of the matter is, pass-catching backs are just as boom/bust as ones who aren’t involved in the passing game. I could have created the exact same story above with any number of RBs stuck with the “can’t catch” stigma including Henry, Mack, and everyone’s favorite fantasy doormat…Jordan Howard (he had the same floor as Cohen in 2018 with 9.8 ppg). I think the more accurate perspective is that RBs who can run and catch provide safer floors than those who can only do one or the other. Obvious? Maybe but based on ADPs of White and Cohen, clearly warrants repeating.

I can hear the counterpoints already. “But Mike, pass-catching backs never get scripted out of the game!”. FALSE. RBs who can do both don’t get scripted out of the game. But a one dimensional player like Cohen is just as susceptible to getting deleted from the game plan as Peterson. If I asked which group of teams you would rather start Cohen in out of the below, which would you choose?

Group A: TB, MIA, NYG

Group B: GB, LAR, MIN

Instinctively, you may want to start someone like Cohen in Group B where the Bears are likely to be coming from behind or in a shootout against high scoring offenses so that he sees plenty of passing down work. And you’d typically want someone like Peterson vs group A given it’s against bottom 10 teams where you’d expect the Bears to take a lead and run more. Except that’s the exact reverse of what actually played out. Group A actually accounted for the top 3 scoring finishes for Cohen while Group B accounted for 5 of his bottom half finishes in the season. I think we often overestimate our ability to predict matchups and what should happen in this unpredictable game we love so much. When it comes to guessing, the majority of us who aren’t DFS sharks aren’t very good at it. Nothing is more tilting than having a player blow up on your bench only to start him the following week and put up a dud so save yourself the hassle and avoid the headache.

The Verdict: Cohen right now is an automatic fade for me at cost in both redraft and dynasty. I just don’t see him reaching anywhere close to that 2018 ceiling again. I actually find it hard to see him even break the top 24 this year.  His situation is very similar to Duke Johnson’s last year. Finished the year prior as a top 12 PPR RB and everyone jumped on the train. But he fails to satisfy the most important criteria for sustained success: potential path to leading the backfield in touches. The Bears acquired veteran Mike Davis in the offseason who has a 3 down skillset himself. Davis split the backfield in Seattle last year with Carson and Penny and still managed to average 4.6 ypc catch 34 passes. The Bears then traded up in the draft to take David Montgomery in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft. Even though I’m not at all onboard the Monty hype train given he has the athletic profile of zombie from The Walking Dead, he was a good receiver in college with 36 and 22 receptions in his last 2 years at Iowa State. And both guys have the prototypical size to handle more touches than Cohen. Nagy can praise Cohen all he wants but actions speak louder than words and the investments the Bears made this offseason in the backfield makes a clear statement that Cohen will never be that guy. This is a clear case of a player being a better real-life football player than a fantasy asset. Let’s not forget that we have Allen Robinson fully recovered from his ACL as well as Anthony Miller who played all of last year with a busted shoulder who will be soaking up a decent amount of targets out of the slot. I just don’t see how Cohen can get remotely close to 90 targets again this season with so many mouths to feed and Blake Bortles 2.0 at the helm.

Preview: I was planning on covering both RBs in this part of the series but given it’s already a page and a joke too long, I’ll have to cover off Kenyan Drake next time. If you follow me on Twitter though @MikeMeUpP, you probably already know the answer. Don’t forget to tune in for the next part of my #PayOrFade series where we dig into my boy, Kenyan “ChampagnePapi” Drake to see if he might be the key unlocking your championship roster this season!

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