Tarik Cohen isn’t a stranger to adversity. His entire road to the NFL was a lesson in overcoming odds, and now he’s doing it again. After missing the last two seasons due to injury, the 28-year-old is making one last run at truly realizing his dream after it was announced earlier this week that Cohen would be joining the Panthers on their practice squad.
It’s easy to forget that not long ago Cohen was one of the most electric multi-phase player in the NFL. In 2018 he was named a first-team All-Pro after finishing the season with 444 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards, 411 punt return yards and a total of eight touchdowns. The Bears felt like they had found a perfect committee to handle their running back duties, with the goal being to spell Cohen with rookie David Montgomery to diversity their attack. Both players struggled under Matt Nagy in his final season, and the hapless Bears offense faltered. However, hopes were high for 2020 with Justin Fields being added to the fold.
Cohen thrived in the new offense. Moving him to a rotational role suited him much better than being a starter, and in three games he was averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry, 6.8 yards-per-reception — and he was back on track. Then disaster struck. Cohen tore his ACL and MCL on a routine punt return against the Falcons in Week 3, leaving his season in tatters.
Sadly, it would only get worse from there.
In 2021 Cohen’s brother was found dead at a power substation due to accidental electrocution. Then in April of 2022 Cohen’s younger brother Dante was killed in a car accident. It’s impossible to understand how difficult the last two years had been on the family, but the sliver of a silver lining was Cohen being poised to return to the NFL.
Then, weeks before training camp opened, Tarik Cohen was filming himself working out on Instagram live, and he tore his Achilles. It not only ended his season, but many believed it would end his career.
Cohen never stopped believing. He was desperate to return to football. This was a man who despite being ludicrously talented in high school, he didn’t get any Power 5 offers due to concerns over his size. Ultimately he only received one offer from a Division I school — with North Carolina A&T being the only place willing to roll the dice on him. He rewarded their faith by becoming an absolute force in the MEAC, becoming the conference’s all-time leading rusher and earning a fourth round pick, the highest in history for a student from NC A&T.
Now he’s got a chance to make it back to the league. There’s more adversity to come. Cohen will start on the Panthers practice squad, but there’s a massive chance here. The team is currently lacking a reliable punt returner, which Cohen can hopefully offer — and there’s even room to make an impact on offense as a rotational back. There are two strong players in front of him in Miles Sanders and Chubba Hubbard running the position by committee, but Hubbard in particular isn’t much of a factor in passing downs, which opens the door.
It’s impossible not to root for Tarik Cohen. It wasn’t long ago that he was called “the saddest story in the NFL,” and it was an unfortunately well-earned title — but now there’s a chance this story might finally have a happy ending with the Panthers.