Hello DN! I'm back from a semester long self-imposed hiatus. Blame engineering school. During the previous summer, I took a look at a few players from a purely statistical standpoint to try and forecast what we might expect from them this upcoming year. I looked in detail at Ponder, AD and Patterson in an attempt to gauge what to expect. As much as I was rooting for him, unfortunately it appears I was right about Ponder. It also appears I was close to what AD is doing thus far. If we throw out his injury shortened Ravens game, he's sitting at 261 carries for 1208 yards at 4.6 YPC. Those project out to roughly 1600 yards rushing over a 16 game season with a much lower YPC, which is about where I pegged him. I did have a slightly higher YPC for him in my projection, but not grossly so. The point of that isn't to toot my own horn, just to point out that, when used correctly, statistical analysis can give us reasonably accurate results. So let's take a more detailed look at everyone's favorite rookie WR, Cordarelle Patterson. Specifically, how has his rookie season measured up?
First, let's take a look at his raw numbers. Obviously, the regular season isn't over yet, and he very well may improve on them, especially if he keeps garnering targets and catches these last two weeks. Through week 15, he's sitting at 99th in the NFL in yards receiving, with 40 catches for 430 yards, averaging 10.8 yards per catch. He's got 3 TD catches, and 6 plays of 20+ receptions. His big game, of course, was against the Ravens with 141 yards receiving on 5 catches, including a 79 yard catch and run for what was at the time looking like a game winner. Other than the big play though, he hadn't really done anything up until that point, with 4 catches for 62 yards. Respectable game, no doubt, but nothing eye popping for sure. In fact, up until that long catch and run, he hadn't topped 54 yards receiving the entire season. Before some of you start foaming at the mouth, I am fully aware that the coaching staff has held him back all year in playing time and targets. On the other hand, he hasn't really shown a propensity for being able to do anything besides run deep, short slants and screens. I haven't really seen him get open a lot on intermediate routes. Maybe that is again the coaching staff not having him run those routes, but it seems silly that he could show the ability to run those routes in practice and not have him do it in the game. Then again, who knows with the offensive side of this coaching staff.
Drops and Targets by Location
Patterson was maligned by some during the draft process for having unsure hands, being a body catcher, etc. etc. Through his rookie year so far, that part of his game seems to be incomplete. Not incomplete in the sense that he hasn't improved on it, more incomplete in the sense that he's only run 12 intermediate routes all season and 10 deep routes all season. All four of his drops (as expected) are on those intermediate or deep routes. If we look at all his targets, he has a drop rate of about 6.5%, which is respectable, if not fantastic. However, like I said previously, most of his routes were of the short variety. In fact, no less than 39 of his 61 total targets came on short passes, or 64%. That is very similar to how Percy Harvin was targeted in his time in Minnesota. On his "difficult" (I say difficult not to demean him by saying those routes aren't hard, more that any route is hard, and requires skill, and that intermediate routes are a bit harder is all) routes, Patterson dropped 4 of his 22 targets, which is an alarmingly high 18.2%. So while I don't think he has problems catching passes with his hands per se, I think he does need to work on his concentration. The good news is that many rookies seemingly have issues with drops their first year, and have no problems through the rest of their careers. It could very well be the same for Patterson, time will tell. However, that isn't what is alarming for me about his rookie year. It is the lack of intermediate routes run. The good news is that one of the NFLs best young WRs, Demaryius Thomas, showed the same lack of intermediate routes his rookie year. He ran only 7 intermediate routes all year. He only received 37 targets though, so his percentage of intermediate routes run was higher than Patterson's. That being said, there is precedence for having a WR start slow and run short routes while learning to run more nuanced patterns down the field. And what about Thomas' next year? He ran a higher percentage of intermediate routes than any other type. 34 of his 81 targets were of the intermediate variety. Also, Thomas made that jump with the offensive juggernaut Tim Tebow at QB. And as bad as our QB situation is, having Tebow as your starter is about as low as you can get in terms of a quality starting QB. So it's not like anything I've noticed has precluded Patterson from taking a big jump next year, particularly when you realize we will (hopefully) have drafted a QB next year who will develop alongside Patterson for the long term.
For better or worse, the Viking's seem to have developed a very clear pattern of usage. Patterson runs the short routes; screens and slants and such, while Jerome Simpson runs the intermediate and deep routes. From this information it seems that, while clearly working hard on it, Patterson's route tree isn't near developed enough to be an all-around wide receiver. Again, that isn't a particularly startling revelation, everyone knew that going into the draft, and it's unrealistic to expect him to be able to learn the nuances of WR in one season. That being said, I do wonder how long it will take him to develop the full route tree.
Comparing Patterson to other WRs
Let's move on and take a look at some other WRs around the league. Specifically, let's look at what Patterson has in common with successful WRs, and what some differences are. Our list of comparable WRs are going to start with some of the successful #1 WRs around the league, including Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon, Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, and A.J. Green. First off, what do all these WRs have in common? Well, the smallest of them is Dez Bryant at 6 feet 2 inches, and the lightest of them is AJ Green at 206 lbs. They are all big bodied WRs. They are all at least 6'2, and all at least 200 lbs. At 6'4 206 AJ Green is kind of lanky, but he makes it work in his own way.
The good news is that Patterson falls perfectly into this group at a stout 6'2 220 lbs. He's definitely got the body type to fit right in with these guys. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end. If you look up where these guys make their money, it's in the intermediate part of the field. They can run all the routes, including screens and getting open deep, but these are the guys you rely on to run a 12 yard deep in on 3rd and ten. They have the size to beat the press, and are nuanced to be able to shake DBs in the intermediate part of the field. While Patterson has the size to beat DBs, I have no idea if he can beat a press because he never runs intermediate routes. Maybe Arif or another film watcher can enlighten us on that. Although this is a somewhat simplistic answer, to me, the fact that he doesn't run intermediate routes tells me he probably doesn't have the requisite skill to run those routes yet, which would include breaking a press. There is nothing saying he can't learn those routes, and one day joins the ranks of these elite WRs. However, he seems to be a long way off at present. And after the season we just saw, he seems heading toward a Harvin type career than a Josh Gordon type career. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a Harvin-esque career, but when you draft a first round WR, to me that is not what you are looking for. Perhaps my standards are too high, but when I spend a first rounder on a WR, I want them to develop into a top flight #1 WR, not a guy who can only break screens to the house.
To be clear, having that skill is extremely impressive, but to be a true #1 you need to have more than that in your bag of skills. Harvin never developed into a great route runner, but was good enough at breaking screen routes for 10 yards that Seattle paid him a ton of money. The more I look back on the trade, injuries aside, the more I feel that Spielman made a great move. A player like Harvin is a luxury, not a necessity. A #1 WR is a necessity for a great offense to consistently run smoothly. I just wish Spielman had drafted a player who was more ready to contribute right away. My choice for WRs this year was DeAndre Hopkins all the way. He is ‘only' 6'1" but is a solid 214 lbs and was an absolute monster in college. He might be a tad small to be that true oversized #1 WR, but he looks to be developing into a force. Similarly, Keenan Allen is looking to develop into a # 1 as well. Patterson may in fact one day develop into a #1 oversized WR, but he still has a long way to go. At the rate he seems to be developing, by the time he is developed into that top flight WR we need, AD may not be the runner he is right now. Which of course isn't Patterson's fault at all, it just seems that Patterson is a long way off from becoming the guy we need him to be. Which I guess isn't so bad after all, considering we also have no one to throw the ball to him anyways. One more thing I'd like to add in terms of comparisons to other big bodied WRs: what makes these guys stand out compared to other big WRs? They were all dominant in college in two important categories: market share of yards and market share of TDs. I'll explore both those topics more in the next section.
I went over his college production in my preview article of him last summer, but I always like to refer back to a player's college career because it can help inform what to expect of them going forward. In Patterson's case, his college profile really doesn't look like a #1 WR in training. It looks like a gadget player who is shifty. His one year of college production looks remarkably similar to Harvins at Florida. There are extenuating circumstances for Patterson, which I laid out before in my earlier post. He only had 1 full year of non-JUCO college ball. He didn't get consistent training on developing into a WR until he transferred. He's still young, so he's got time, but if he is ever going to develop into that top flight WR we need here in Minnesota, he's got to show us something next year. I'm not saying he needs 1500 receiving yards and 10 TDs, but he needs to run intermediate routes consistently and show that he is learning to be a well-rounded WR. I compared Patterson to Demaryius Thomas earlier, and trust me; I'd be psyched if he were to develop into a Demaryius Thomas. On the one hand, as I mentioned, Thomas took a big jump in year two (coming off an Achilles Tendon Tear no less) in the type of routes he ran. However, with Thomas' college production, it was expected that he dominate. Everyone loves graphs and tables, so I'll refer to them now! Let's start with Demaryius Thomas, who I've referenced a bunch of times already. This was his college ‘heat map' so to speak, next to Patterson's.
Let's take a step back for a second and explain what it is we are looking at. This a player's upper division college production comparisons chart. It's pretty self-explanatory; on the x axis we have targets, yards per target, red zone TD rate, market share of yards and market share of TDs. All of them should be easily identified except perhaps the two market share categories. The msYDS is a player's percentage of receiving yards out of the teams total receiving yards. So the team collectively has 1000 yards receiving for a season, and player X has 500 of them, his msYDS is 0.5. It's the same thing with his msTDs, it's the players receiving TDs divided by the teams total TDs. The reason we look at market share is because it lets us know how dominant a player was on his own team. For as long as I've been following the draft, especially when it comes to WRs, I seem to always hear people say some variety of "ya, but that guy played in a spread offense, so you can't compare their numbers!" Which is fair to be honest. Raw numbers don't take into account scheme and talent around the player. So if both players have 1000 yard, 10 TD seasons, great! They both did very well. But say player A's team only had 2000 total receiving yards and 15 TDs, while player B played in the spread and had 5000 receiving yards and 40 total TDs. Player A's market share of yards was 0.5 and his msTDs was 0.66, while Player B's msYDs was only 0.2 and his msTDs was only 0.25. Now that we know exactly what the market share concept is, let's look at what is considered a good market share.
On any given play, the QB generally has 5 different options to throw the ball to. Sometimes a back is left into block, or a TE is, but it is generally 5 pass catchers out in routes on most plays. So if all the 5 players were evenly skilled, you would assume that they would all have 20% of targets, yards and TDs. However, we know this isn't the case. So we look for players whose market share exceeds a certain threshold; this tells us they were the favored option in their teams passing attack, and for good reason. If a player is favored over others in a team's passing attack, it is because that player is able to get open and consistently receive the ball. That is the first criteria we check. Next, were those players' receptions down the field, or were they screen passes or slants? So what are the thresholds? Well, we generally like to see over 30% for msYDs and over 35% for msTDs. These are the minimum thresholds that are looked for in a receiver coming out of college. After the criteria of market share are met, next we check their YPT. If a player's YPT is close to or above 9, than it is considered a good value. 10 is where we'd like to see it, but 9 is the floor.
Consider the case of Tavon Austin. The Rams swapped first rounder's, gave up their second round pick, swapped third round picks and gave up a 7th to draft Tavon Austin. If you look at his college heat map, you have to wonder why they gave up so much to draft a player who has shown no ability to be a true #1 WR. He is small, without any real dominating statistics. He is very elusive, I'll give him that, but so was Harvin, and he was one of the most inefficient WRs in the game during his time in Minnesota. To add to all that, at least Harvin passed the Eric Decker test at Florida. (The Eric Decker test is just the test to see if a player meets the criteria we discussed above; YPT close to or above 10, msYDs above 30% and msTDs above 35%.) Austin did not. Here are their respective heat maps:
As you can see, in his final season, Harvin passed all the criteria. Austin never passed the tests in any one year. This, quite frankly, is to be expected with a player as small as Austin. It's hard for smaller players to score TDs, because they can't separate like bigger players can in the red zone. His msYDs barely passed the test his last season, and although his YPT was consistently above 9, he never passed the 10.0 mark in any year, nor did he ever pass the msTDs test. You may be asking yourself now, ‘well, he said that Harvin was an inefficient NFL player, yet he passed all the tests. So why do the tests matter?' That's a good point to raise, but remember, Harvin, while being a stout player for his size, is actually pretty small compared to true #1 WRs. He's only 5'11" 184 lbs. He is a good 4 inches shorter than a typical big bodied #1 WR and about 30-40 lbs lighter. With all that being said now, let's move back to the crux of the discussion, Cordarelle Patterson. Here is his heat map again, in comparison to some of the #1 WRs I listed earlier.
Now that we see Patterson's heat map in comparison to the other players, we see a potential problem. He never passes any of the criteria, except for YPT, and even that only just. His market share is particularly low. However, there is the potential for good news. Depending on how you look at it, we have reasons for optimism with Patterson, even with his terrible heat map. He had another big time target to compete with in Justin Hunter. So the two may have cannibalized each other. Patterson also runs the ball and takes back kicks, so he is more than just a WR. However, while those are handy skills, particularly the kick returning, as far as a pure WR, Patterson is not, and may never become one. That is an unfortunate reality we here in Minnesota need to face; he may not ever become more than Harvin 2.0. And if that were to happen, then what? For myself, I would rate the trade to move back into the first round a dismal failure. If we were looking for a player who was quick, shifty and could return kicks, we could have just drafted Ace Sanders and not spend all those picks to move up into the first round. However, on the flip side, if Patterson does overcome his poor college statistics and develop into a true #1 WR, then we will have won the trade by a very good margin. Unless of course, Aaron Dobson also develops into a #1 WR. Then we will just look like fools. Time will tell on Dobson. He has a wildly inconsistent heat map. On the other side, he will spend the next few years developing with Tom Brady, so who knows what he will end up as.
So that's my stance on Patterson. If he develops into a #1 WR, we won that trade and it doesn't really matter how bad it looked at the time. However, if he continues his career path and becomes a bigger Harvin, then we would have given up a ton of picks in a year where our depth was challenged all across the board for a guy we could have gotten in the 4th round. Time will tell. Where do you think Patterson will end up when it is all said and done?
*I should mention, I created the Tables I used earlier in this post on rotoviz.com. All credit to them for having a fantastic researching tool like the college heat map app.
EDIT #1: PFF posted their stats from the Viking's week 16 debacle, so I thought i'd throw them into the bottom of this post. They have him receiving 7 targets, with 3 receptions for 8 yards and one dropped pass. As was the trend this season, he ran zero routes between 10-19 yards downfield. His only drop came on a short pass. Again, it is frustrating to not let the vikings even let him try. As far as his development as a pure WR, there is really nothing we can even take from his, as his sample size of 12 intermediate routes run tells us virtually nothing. I'll update this post again after next weeks game with the stats from week 17.