We are in the dead zone of NFL football ladies and gentlemen. It is that time of the offseason when there is absolutely nothing happening in the world of the Minnesota Vikings. The 2013 season has become a distant memory. The free agency frenzy has long since come and gone. The draft is firmly in the rear view mirror, and the Vikings off-season practices are now complete. And we still have a month to go until training camp. So, what are we to do until training camp and the Preseason? Why, speculate and make wildly inaccurate projections of our favorite football team of course! And as your self-proclaimed resident Fantasy Football expert, it’s time to consider the fantasy prospects of the Minnesota Vikings. First up is one of the most intriguing names on the Vikings roster: Cordarrelle Patterson.
The first thing that jumps out at me about Cordarrelle Patterson’s potential in fantasy football in 2014 is a look at his potential and production from 2013. As we all know, he got off to a slow start playing less than half of the snaps on offense in the first 11 games of the year. But once his snaps increased towards the end of the year he began producing in fantasy football. In Musgrave’s offense, he was filling the old Harvin "Swiss-Army Knife" role, where he lined up outside, in the slot and even in the back field a little bit. Most of his receptions were of the shorter variety as his yards per reception number was 4th worst on the team and ranked 98th out of 111 qualifying wide receivers from Pro Football Focus. However, he was still a playmaker, and showcased his ability in generating yards after the catch as he was tied for 7th in the NFL in yards after the catch per reception, and dominated the NFL as a kick returner, leading the league. In other words, get him the ball in space, and watch the magic happen. In the final 5 games of the season (the only time where he played more than half of the offensive snaps), he averaged 14.7 standard fantasy points per game. If he had been able to maintain that level of production for the entire season, he would have been second only to Josh Gordon, who had a historically good season leading performance in fantasy football last year leading the league with 16.2 fantasy points per game.
Now, granted, the Vikings will have a completely different offense this year than last year, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect to see Patterson used in the same way in 2014. But new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been talking a lot this off-season about how he has been creating new plays for Patterson, and Greg Jennings has confirmed through other conversations with Turner that Patterson will be a featured part of this new offense. Patterson proved he has playmaking ability last year under Bill Musgrave, but it remains to be seen how Norv Turner will use Patterson. And if he’s creating new plays for Patterson that haven't been a part of his previous Coryell scheme in the past, then perhaps Patterson will be featured in a similar role as he was in 2013: short, gadget plays that generate lots of yards after the catch opportunities.
The next thing to consider about Patterson is who he compares to both in terms of his measurables, and in terms of his role in the offense and past production. As this great article points out, receivers that have thrived in Norv Turner’s recent offenses (like Vincent Jackson, Danario Alexander and Josh Gordon) have been tall, big-bodied field stretchers, capable of generating high average depth of targets and contesting for deep balls. Those guys were all between 6’3" and 6’5" and between 217-230 pounds. Patterson measures 6’2" and 220 pounds and has not shown that he can contest deep down the field, or at the very least, was not asked to do that very often in Musgrave’s offense. Furthermore, the deep threat role last year was filled by Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson (who each led the team in Yards per reception), although both of them are even smaller than Patterson and may not be good fits for the type of deep threat that Turner typically wants. The depth of target for typical receivers in Turner’s offense have ranged between 11.8 and 18.6, and averaged 16.2 over the past 6 years, which is nearly double Patterson’s average depth of target last year of 8.5. So if Patterson is going to have the kind of season that Vincent Jackson and Josh Gordon have had in Turner’s offense, he’s going to have to do it in a completely different way than he did in 2013. Patterson will have to prove in Training Camp and in the Preseason that he’s capable of getting open deep and fighting for those contested throws.
So should you draft Patterson, and if so when? Well, it’s a little early to tell since most fantasy re-draft leagues wait until August to draft (and therefore most of the reliable value information doesn’t exist until then), but the early returns on his "average draft position" have him as the 21st best wide receiver. This makes him a low-end WR2 or flex-play in most standard 10-team leagues. Seeing as how he finished as the 32nd best wide receiver last year this means that he’s on the radar for most fantasy owners already, and most are pegging him to dramatically improve upon his 2013 performance. I certainly think the potential is there for him to improve upon last year’s numbers, but there’s one Vikings receiver that I think stands to benefit even more than Cordarrelle Patterson, and his average draft position is so insanely low right now that he needs to be mentioned: Greg Jennings. Jennings ADP sits at an abysmal 63 right now (176 overall, or not even draftable in standard 10-team leagues).
While this article is meant to be mostly about Patterson, I want to take a second and explain why Jennings ADP of 63 is pure insanity. He finished ranked 39th in fantasy last year, so why do people think he’ll completely drop off the map? Shouldn’t Jennings improve right along with everyone else on the Viking’s offense? It stands to reason that if Patterson can improve his 2013 numbers, then so too can Greg Jennings. Furthermore, while there is an open competition at QB right now, my money is on Matt Cassel being the starter coming out of training camp. Cassel has gotten the majority of the reps with the 1st team during the entire OTA/minicamp sessions and I get the sense that the Vikings really don’t want to rush Bridgewater into action, even if he might be the better QB right now. After watching nearly every highlight video of OTAs, Cassel pretty clearly has the respect of the teammates and based on both he and his teammates mannerisms and body language/attitude, Cassel seems entrenched as the starting QB right now. And the Vikings really have nothing to lose by starting Cassel to open the season. He’s the more experienced veteran and has chemistry with the team already. If Cassel wins some games to start the season, then keep starting him. On the other hand, if he loses a bunch of games to open the season, then bench him and see what the rookie can do. I would be surprised if the coaching staff is thinking differently than that. So if you buy the argument that Cassel will be the starter in 2014, then you have to acknowledge the chemistry and bond he has with Greg Jennings. In the 10 games without Cassel, last year Jennings averaged 3.4 receptions for 39.1 yards per game and scored 1 touchdown. In the 6 games with Cassel as a starter, Jennings averaged 5.6 receptions for 68.8 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. Let’s not forget that Jennings was also the team’s leading receiver last year with 809 yards, and he did it with some atrocious QB play and one of the league’s worst offensive coordinators. I don’t think Jennings will fulfil the deep threat role in Turner’s offense (he’s only 6’0" and 195 pounds), but I do see him getting a lot of opportunities out of the slot, and in crossing routes in the deep, middle part of the field (his bread and butter routes in Green Bay).
So, I think that all of the Vikings receivers have more than a good chance to improve their fantasy totals from last year. Assuming Cassel emerges from camp as the starter he’ll provide a bit of stability at the position, and can utilize his timing and chemistry with what will largely be the exact same cast of characters on offense. I would not hesitate to draft Cordarrelle Patterson as a 2nd wide receiver, especially in leagues that reward return yards. But I wouldn’t go overboard and expect a Josh Gordon or Vincent Jackson-like season out of Patterson. He doesn’t have the same kind of measurables, nor has he proven he can succeed in a deep-threat kind of role. While anything is possible, as with most things in fantasy football, I’ll believe it when I see it. And if Jennings is still there in the 17th round of your draft, he’s an absolute steal there. A lot of people are completely forgetting Jennings, and looking at his limited production over the last three years and writing him off as old and done. 2011 and 2012 can be explained away due to injury, and last year can be explained away by bad quarterbacking and a poor offensive scheme. With a respectable offensive coordinator, and even average QB play from Matt Cassel, look for Jennings to rebound in a big way.