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Should Cordarrelle Patterson be Demoted?

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With the sudden emergence of Charles Johnson, the Daily Norseman takes a look at the question: should Patterson be demoted?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The past two weeks Vikings fans have seen the emergence of free agent wide receiver Charles Johnson.  Against the Bears he was targeted a team high 7 times and caught 6 of those targets for 87 yards.  Despite playing only 25 of the team's 47 snaps on offense against the Bears, he was the most productive wide receiver for the Vikings by far in a week that saw the entire offense struggle.  That sudden production led to him getting the start this past week against Green Bay.  And he did not disappoint as Bridgewater again targeted Johnson a team high 10 times.  He wasn't nearly as efficient as last week, but he was still able to catch 3 of those targets for 52 yards and a touchdown.  Once again Johnson hauled in the most receiving yards for a second straight week.  So for the past two weeks Johnson has a combined 17 targets that has led to 9 receptions, 139 receiving yards and a touchdown making him the most productive wide receiver during that span, and it's not close.

So while Charles Johnson appears to be emerging as a threat in the passing game the past two weeks, Cordarrelle Patterson meanwhile has become something of an afterthought.  During that same two week time span Patterson has only 5 targets, 42 receiving yards and 0 touchdowns, all this after catching only 1 of his 7 targets against the Redskins in week 9.  In fact, last Sunday Patterson played about half as many snaps as Charles Johnson.  Granted, Patterson looked to be banged up a bit after he was slow to get up after a kickoff return during the 3rd quarter, which could account for his limited number of snaps.  But he played well into the 3rd quarter and still played the majority of the game.  Of the team's 69 offensive snaps, only 19 of them came after Patterson's injury on the kickoff return. That means Patterson played on 33 out of a possible 50 offensive snaps prior to his injury (66% of the snaps), while Charles Johnson played 67 of the team's 69 snaps.  In Monday's press conference Coach Zimmer was asked about Patterson's involvement in the offense against Green Bay:

Reporter: Charles Johnson got the start and ended up playing quite a bit of the game.  Was Cordarrelle limited before his injury?

Zimmer: No, I don't believe so.

Reporter: He only played about 32 of the snaps, it was only the injury that limited him in terms of his playing time?

Zimmer: ....(said nothing...slowly shook his head up and down)

You can watch this exchange here, and jump to the 10-minute mark.  Maybe I'm reading too much into Zimmer's simple head nod, but there appeared to be a bit of hesitation on Zimmer's part and the fact that he said nothing and instead just shook his head up and down could mean that there is more to the story.  If you watch his eyes, they look coy to me during this exchange as if he's not revealing the whole truth.

At the end of the day, when you consider the total lack of production from Cordarrelle Patterson so far this season, it's fair to wonder if he is really progressing the way everyone expected him to.  Granted he has dealt with a few injuries this season, and the offensive line and QB accuracy with passes is doing him no favors.  Case in point, Pro Football Focus has Patterson's "drop rate" as the lowest of any Vikings receiver (ranked 10th best among all wide receivers with at least 25% of their team's passing targets) calling only 31 of his 52 targets "catchable" (Patterson is credited with only 1 drop and has caught 30 passes this year).  So, perhaps there is some truth to the offensive line and quarterback accuracy to blame.  But with Zimmer's recent remarks, and the recent production from Charles Johnson along with the snap count in last week's game, it's fair to wonder if Cordarrelle Patterson is a candidate to be demoted.  Will Charles Johnson jump Cordarrelle Patterson on the depth chart?  If Patterson's injury holds him back at all, it could be a simple health issue that allows Johnson to claim a larger role in the offense.  And so far, that wouldn't be a bad thing.  In fact, they are nearly identical types of athletes.  Here are some prospect comps of Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson from college.

Name

College

Yds/Catch

Height

Weight

40-yd

Vertical

Broad Jump

3-cone

Cordarrelle Patterson

Tennessee

16.9

6'2"

216

4.33

37"

10'6"

7.28

Charles Johnson

Grand Valley St.

16.7

6'2"

214

4.38

39.5"

11'1"

7.04

Let's not forget that Patterson was drafted during the Frazier/Musgrave regime, a few short months after the Vikings traded Percy Harvin to the Seahawks.  At the time the Vikings were looking for a "swiss-army knife" type player that could take hand-offs out of the backfield, return kicks and play wide receiver, since that is what Percy Harvin had been doing in the offense.  During Patterson's rookie year, that is exactly what he did: replace Harvin.  And he did it pretty well, especially once he was given a chance to play the majority of the snaps.

But this year, Norv Turner and coach Zimmer are utilizing a completely different offense and aside from kickoff returns, Patterson's role is completely different in this new offense.  He rarely takes handoffs out of the backfield, and isn't utilized in the same kind of short, screen game.  In other words, the Vikings this year are asking Patterson to play as a traditional wide receiver and are not simply manufacturing touches for him like what he did at Tennessee and with the Vikings in his first year.  The knock on Patterson as a prospect was that he was still raw as a route runner, and hadn't developed the skills necessary to get off the line of scrimmage and fight off physical coverage.  And so far, he has been a bit of a disappointment.  When you consider that Charles Johnson has nearly identical athletic measurables, and is suddenly producing after only two weeks where he has gotten the majority of the snaps and passing targets, it begs the question: should the Vikings demote Patterson and roll with Charles Johnson as the starter?  It's still early in Patterson's career, but his opportunities will only decrease from here on out.  He is treading dangerously close to Devin Hester/Josh Cribbs territory: a freakish athlete who dominates as a kick returner and in the open field with the ball in his hands, but never quite learned how to play as a refined wide receiver.