A polarizing reaction from the fan base for controversial picks is par for the course, but sustained neutrality towards the Patterson trade is the best reaction. But why should the most exciting move of the draft demand a tepid response? It's a long answer.
Cordarelle Patterson is the premier athletic talent of the draft. This cannot be characterized properly enough, although it can easily become an overrated aspect of who he is. It is easy to say that Patterson is the best physical specimen of the draft, but one of those exists every year. But to say that Patterson might be the most interesting and dynamic physical prospect in the draft since Calvin Johnson would be more appropriate.
Were I to name more athletic receivers in the league than Cordarrelle Patterson, only two names would come to mind: Megatron and Greg Little. Vincent Jackson, Kenny Britt and Jonathan Baldwin may be able to compete, but it is difficult to find a receiver with Patterson's size that moves as well as he does.
That is what makes Patterson unique in a class of receivers that don't carry a lot of distinctions. Did you want great technical ability? Then Hopkins, Woods and Allen are for you. If you wanted raw speed, then Markus Wheaton and Justin Hunter are for you. If you want a big body to win possession battles, then Marquess Wilson and Da'Rick Rogers are your guys. But Patterson has a unique feature about him—his all-world athleticism—that warrants consideration above normal. That is why you target Patterson with a trade and not any other receiver (beside Tavon Austin, who we all know is unique in his own ways).
Patterson is not without flaws, however. I listed several when I moved him to number seven on my rankings:
Don't mistake this as a judgment that Patterson is overrated. He is simply not ready to contribute right away, and that is critical to this big board's goals. Patterson is an athlete who evaluators speak of in terms of potential instead of established talent.
His athletic capability hasn't translated into an ability to constantly create separation, and his route-running ranks among the worst in the class. He doesn't sink his hips appropriately at the break, will signal routes and doesn't "tell a story" to defensive backs about where he's going-a critical skill to sell deception. This is important because he can flag downfield and will need to rely on more technical skills than you might expect when trying to go deep. This is why only 4% of his targets were deep despite a quarterback willing to sling it. I cannot overstate this point. He could be a deep threat, but does not have the combination of technique and athleticism to be relied on in this respect.
The rough route-running and imprecision will translate to seeing defenses a step ahead of him and in a position to break on the ball better. He doesn't enforce himself against press coverage either, allowing it to determine how he reacts. He also doesn't continue to put forth effort in a lot of his play, willing to jog through his routes if the play isn't called for him.
You can see this when he blocks, taking a lot of these running plays off, but occasionally mauling his defensive back. His technique is sloppy, and doesn't place his hands correctly, punch out, figure out who to block or play with effective feet on blocks.
Despite a relatively decent ability to adjust to the ball in the air, Patterson also doesn't work to make space for the ball. Some of this is easily coachable, and some of it isn't. He doesn't work back to the quarterback on broken plays or high-point the ball. Neither does he bring his hands up at the last moment. He still makes difficult catches and makes sure to use his hands, but he also doesn't make it a lot easier for the quarterback. He also needs to work on creating separation. Despite power and elusiveness, he's inconsistent at the release and needs to use his hands better.
All of this negativity is only to emphasize that while Patterson is the singular elite athletic talent in the class-athletic potential on par with Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss-he's not ready to contribute right away. Despite an athleticism score of 5.5, there's not many wide receivers in the NFL right now who are better with open-field running-potentially no one. Patterson can turn on a dime and accelerate quickly while also finding cutback lanes or necessary holes.
Not only is he an incredibly elusive runner, he's a hard one to take down once defenders get their hands on him. He knows how to take on contact, drive through tackles and keep tacklers away with a powerful stiff arm or body movement. He only had slightly above average YAC, but he should be a leader in this category with the right coaching.
If the Vikings were to take two receivers, grabbing Patterson would make some sense, but if they feel it is more important to give Ponder tools in order to fully evaluate him, they should pass. Patterson won't make an impact for a couple of years. He should make an impact in the return game right away, though.
For a generic board, Patterson would be near the top.
Beyond that, the NFL coverage emphasized how much of a "body-catcher" Patterson is. It's true that he allows too many passes to get to his body before the catch, and that can create problems. But what's interesting is that while this is one bad habit that tends to be extremely hard to get rid of (Jake Reed being the exception to the general rule that body-catchers in college are body-catchers in the NFL), Patterson has shown an ability to make catches with his fingertips and can choose not to rely on trapping the ball, implying he still has the mechanical ability—and relatively clean muscle memory—to change his catch. I don't know how much I would bet on this, though.
It seems the Vikings were willing to wait and sit on long-term value rather than provide Ponder with another weapon, which is by itself a fine philosophy. In that context, Patterson is a great pick. My board was only designed to take into account a very specific set of goals, one which the Vikings did not necessarily share. That changes the rankings, and likely makes Patterson a top pick instead of the seventh pick. Optimum Scouting was similarly superlative about Patterson's long term prospects, although they too were worried about his technical capability.
Different than any other prospect I've evaluated this season, Cordarrelle Patterson possesses unheard of movement skills for a 6'2, 216 pound receiver, being a threat for six each and every time he touches the football ... Patterson contributes as a ball carrier, pass catcher and return dynamo, very much in the same way Percy Harvin impacts the game for the Minnesota Vikings. Patterson's ability to outrun pursuit angles, locate cutback lanes, stick his foot in the ground at top speed and change directions without loss of balance, truly makes him a game-changing weapon that can flip the field on special teams and be a homerun hitter on offense ... Patterson can do it all with only focus drops and a lack of urgency standing in the way of his vertical dominance ... he still remains both highly unrefined as a receiver and his own worst enemy at times ... Tremendously gifted with limitless upside but an equally unrefined skill set, Patterson grades out as a mid-to-late 1st round draft choice.
The question of Patterson's ability to produce in big games is an important one. While his numbers were down against big-time opponents, Matt Waldman at Football Outsiders has provided critical context:
There is a belief that Patterson isn't good because he didn't produce against quality teams. However, the way one defines ‘quality' or ‘production' is an important consideration.
Here's how the 2012 Tennessee passing game performed in terms of distribution percentages among its top targets.
Quarterback Comp Yds TD T. Bray 268 3612 34 Receivers Rec Yds TDs Z. Rogers 12% 14% 21% M. Lane 11% 6% 0% C. Patterson 17% 22% 15% J. Hunter 27% 30% 27% M. Rivera 13% 16% 15% R. Neal 7% 4% 12% Totals 87% 92% 90%
It's worth noting that this was Patterson's first year on the team and he accounted for the second-most receptions and yards, while tying for third among receivers in touchdowns. While this doesn't account for missed opportunities, Patterson's share of production isn't bad for a new receiver. This is especially good for a player breaking into a lineup with a quarterback who has worked extensively with slot receiver Zach Rogers, split end Justin Hunter, and tight end Mychal Rivera for four years (as well as running backs Rajon Neal and Marlin Lane for at least two).
Rogers, Hunter, and Rivera are quality talents and strong red-zone players. Counting on receiving touchdowns as a vital metric for projecting Patterson's NFL success might lead one to underestimate the receiver's capability as a playmaker.
Hunter and Patterson also provide this team with two dangerous athletes outside, which means there will be plenty of situations where the coverage will dictate the quarterback must make the inside receivers the primary targets. When that team has a slot receiver and tight end the caliber of Rogers and Lane, the quarterback is encouraged to work inside.
And when it comes to the subject of Tennessee's quarterback, Tyler Bray has been unpredictable in a bad way. There are many examples of Tyler Bray ignoring good looks in the passing game for risky options because he was overconfident in his arm strength and accuracy.
Bray's average production per game is a telling indicator on the surface of this deeper point: 22 completions, 301 yards, and 2.8 passing touchdowns. Bray had at least 250 yards in nine of twelve games in 2012, and 300-yard performances in six of those nine games, but his completion percentage was 58 percent.
Bray completed less than 55 percent of his passes against Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama, and Vanderbilt. When he completed at least 60 percent of his passes, the opponents were Georgia State, Akron, Troy, Missouri, N.C. State, and South Carolina.
As it is, a number of you have already seen the highlight reels. If you have not, there is an excellent one embedded below:
Were Patterson more willing to plunge into a small opening , rather than look laterally for a large crease, Patterson would have one hell of a rushing and YAC career.
So, he's generational physical talent. Not the kind of guy you can necessarily look at with disdain and say "we'll get a better version next year". So what?
The Vikings didn't grab Patterson for free. They traded for him, losing a second, third, fourth and seventh-round pick in the process. Sort of.
The easiest way to think of the trade is as a pick-swap. The Vikings moved up from 52 to 29 in order to grab Patterson, and needed to shed three picks along the way to do it.
Was it worth it?
Like anything, it depends. The 29th pick is not worth what the Vikings gave up by any reasonable measure. Sure, the draft value chart argues that the deal was nearly identical in value, giving up 649 points of worth to grab 640 points of worth. But the chart doesn't just ignore the realities of trading—it was 500 points off the first trade of the day, for example—it ignores the realities of the market. San Francisco traded up from 31 to 18 with just the 74th overall pick, losing 820 points of value to gain 900.
Atlanta traded up to 22, losing 764 points to acquire 780. Oakland lost 2200 points of value when trading with Miami to merely gain 1680 points.
In every instance, the team trading up has gained value to the chart, except with the Vikings. Not only is the chart off, it wildly overvalues top picks, even though the chart was made before the CBA made earlier picks even more valuable.
A chart derived from Approximate Value—a measure created by Pro Football Reference—would argue that the Vikings made the wrong move as well. Using the Meers' value chart to measure draft capital, developed by Kevin Meers at the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, the Vikings gained 208.7 points while losing 384 points. This chart tends to overvalue later picks because of the unique nature of Approximate Value, but it does give some idea of what's happening and what the Vikings may have given up.
But this is irrelevant, too.
The Vikings didn't trade for the 29th pick, they traded for Cordarrelle Patterson, who they deemed as a falling player. So the key is to value Patterson, not the pick.
In order to estimate Patterson's point value, it might be easier to look at what the consensus on Patterson is. Using the Huddle Report's mock draft rankings and top 100 rankings, I separately averaged the best (historically most accurate, and therefore in line with NFL valuation) mock drafts and the best top 100 player lists to come up with an average pick ranking for Patterson. The mocks pegged him at the 23.8th pick on average while the generic player rankings argued he was the 24th best player.
That means the Vikings traded their picks to grab 740 points of value, not 640 points of value on a traditional chart. So, like other teams, they too gained value (the players picked by other teams were projected to go where they went, so modifying their point values didn't change the outcomes), by a factor of 90 points on the traditional Jimmie Johnson chart. On the Meers chart, they still lost significant value, however.
The accuracy of either set of charts is likely somewhere in between. A different chart that found a valuation system based on uniform player performance was similar to the Meers chart, and made the conclusion that the Vikings still gave up too much, especially given how many points other teams needed to give up to move up (14.4 points for 21.1 points).
In reality, the Vikings gave up whomever they would have selected at 52, 83 and 102. To make things simple, we could create alternate sets of mocks.
|w/ Patterson||w/o Patterson|
|52||' Cordarrelle Patterson '||Terrance Williams '|
|120||A.J. Klein||Zaviar Gooden|
|155||Alvin Bailey||Earl Wolff|
|189||Duke Williams||Nicholas Williams|
|213||Marquess Wilson||Marquess Wilson|
|214||Dax Swanson||Dax Swanson|
So, grabbing Sharrif Floyd and Xaiver Rhodes were likely coups, but the trade for Cordarrelle Patterson led to some losses. While Patterson is a clear upgrade over Terrance Williams, the Vikings really traded an opportunity to grab Jon Bostic (an upgrade over A.J. Klein), Hugh Thornton (much, much better than Alvin Bailey), Earl Wolff (who I think is better than Duke Williams) as well as Nicholas Williams and Ryan Allen.
Is the upgrade Patterson provides over Williams significant? Absolutely. Williams, in my estimation, will turn out to be an 800-yard receiver, whose ceiling is 1000 yards and floor is 600. Patterson's ceiling is 1600+ yards and his floor is 400. All things being equal, that should be an additional 200 yards per season on average. A rough estimation but useful for this exercise. If 200 yards is worth all of the downgrades (Bostic over Klein, Thornton over Bailey, Wolff over D. Williams, N. Williams over Guion, Allen over Kluwe), then it's a no-brainer. But things change with estimates.
If Patterson's ceiling is 1800 yards and his floor is 300 yards, that makes it a much better investment for the Vikings. If his ceiling is 1200 yards and his floor is 300 yards, it's an abysmal investment. The same holds true for a receiver like Terrance Williams.
This is particularly true given that the Vikings would not be comparing Bostic to Klein, but rather, Bostic's value above who he replaces against Klein's value above who he replaces. Same for Wolff, D. Williams, etc. That difference is much, much smaller than simply comparing the two players. On the other hand, the replacement level player for T. Williams or Patterson is far lower. According to Pro Football Focus, Sanford gave up 200 yards of defense. The average safety would have given up 250 yards. A replacement for him would probably resolve and additional 25 yards (Wolff) or 12 yards (D.Williams), assuming that replacement is better and wins the safety battle.
It's not a huge upgrade. These sorts of efficiencies exist for every marginal difference the Vikings gave up in order to get Cordarrelle Patterson. Looking at the two mock drafts might imply that it is a bad trade, but roughly feeling out the difference in on-field performance show that it's not significant.
Naturally, it's important to point out that the Vikings would not likely roster all 11 players they drafted, but I'm not so sure that's convincing. The Vikings would very likely have rostered their second, third and fourth-round picks, so this argument only holds weight with me in regards to 6th and 7th round picks, who are much less likely to see an NFL roster in year two. More than that, creating competition at more positions with more players is probably a good thing.
At the end of the day, this means those who are dreading the ramifications of the bad trade might be overreacting, while those who are celebrating the steal could be doing just the same. From a points perspective, the trade is likely a wash, while a look at the implications of the mock draft also seem to be not that suggestive in one direction or the other. Getting a clearly superior playmaker in exchange for losing four or five marginal advantages is a standard practice in the NFL. The 2002 Buccaneers and 2001 Patriots were built on solid teams without a lot of glaring deficiencies. The 2007 Patriots and the 2009 Saints were built on the backs of enormous superstars and hid enormous weaknesses with dominant play elsewhere. Either strategy can work to win in the NFL, but it's a question of how you deal with weaknesses more than it is an issue of not having any.
Cordarrelle Patterson is probably going to make fans "ooh" and "ahh" more than anybody they would have gotten otherwise, but we need to be careful of the dog that doesn't bark—the small, unseen advantages of having a slightly more complete roster in different areas. Maybe this means two more plays a game that Ponder doesn't feel pressure, or an additional 0.1 yards per carry for Adrian Peterson that we don't experience.
It's a complicated formula that doesn't have a clear answer. But to me, it looks to be about even. And that's why I'm noncommittal about the Patterson trade, and you should be, too.