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Cordarrelle Patterson: What Happened?

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After a disappointing sophomore season, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about Cordarrelle Patterson's future in the NFL?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Roughly a year ago, Minnesota fans were drooling over Cordarrelle Patterson's breakout season that was bound to happen. A year and a good amount of disappointment later, attempting to support Patterson leaves a taste of doubt in the defender's mouth. Lackadaisical route-running is a well-known source of Patterson's struggles. However, for Patterson to have fallen on his face as hard as he did, it would seem to suggest that route-running wasn't the only problem. In this article I will attempt to shed light on the flaws in Patterson's game that contributed to his disappointing season as well as offer some points for optimism.

NOTE: All stats used in this article are via Pro Football Focus.

What went wrong?

As mentioned above, Patterson's route-running this past season was sub-par. Despite boasting outstanding athleticism and a tremendous amount of explosion with the ball in his hands, he hasn't yet been able to figure out how to incorporate that explosion into his route-running repertoire, which results in less-than ideal explosion out of his breaks. Another issue with his route-running is that on routes such as slants and ins he gives the defense way too much to work with. Rather than consistently selling his routes, he often times not only rotates his hips in the direction he is about to go, but he also plants his outside foot (Left foot on a slant or in route coming inside from the left side of the field, or right foot on a slant or in route coming inside from the right side of the field) way too far outside as he is making his break. The combination of his foot placement and hip direction gives away his route to the defender long before Patterson has even made the cut. While this route-running was a big reason Patterson faltered this past season, it didn't stop there. Patterson also struggled with the depth of his routes, often times breaking at a time the quarterback wasn't expecting which led to not only a lack of trust between quarterback and receiver but also led to some bad "anticipation balls". In addition to these struggles, Patterson wasn't able to consistently get off the line, often times struggling against physical cornerbacks while also underwhelming as a blocker. A good play to summarize Patterson's disappointing season was a play where Greg Jennings caught a ball on a deep corner route against the Saints with Patterson about 5 yards away which certainly wasn't by design (I'm willing to bet my paycheck that it was Patterson, not Jennings, who screwed this up). In addition to messing up the depth of the route (Or possibly running the wrong route entirely) Patterson had the opportunity to throw a block that would have sprung Jennings free for a huge gain and possibly a touchdown, but instead he did nothing and watched as Jennings was tackled by the defender who was covering Patterson.

An interesting thing I noticed when re-watching a few of Patterson's games over the last couple of years was that this give-away trait in his route-running was also evident during his rookie year. Why, then, was he able to get away with it (To an extent) his rookie year and wasn't able to at all his sophomore season? I found the answer to this question in an unlikely place: Kickoff returns. During this past season compared to his rookie season, Patterson was clearly not only a less explosive runner which in part stemmed from the fact that he wasn't in quite as good shape as he was his rookie year in which he boasted a slimmer frame, but he also suffered from a perceived lack of confidence that was displayed throughout the season. Even with the ball in his hands, Patterson didn't seem to be quite as explosive as he was during his rookie season. With Patterson saying in the past that he runs with a mentality that he can't be tackled, his play in his sophomore season would suggest something different.  After averaging a tremendous 32.4 yards per-return with 2 touchdowns his rookie season, Patterson's kickoff production dipped significantly, falling to 26.4 yards per-return with 0 touchdowns his sophomore season. During his rookie season, Patterson was playing the entire game of football with much more confidence, which helped him in all phases of the game.

Patterson's Receiving Stats
Snaps Played Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2013-14 446 72 45 469 4
2014-15 582 58 33 384 1

Patterson's struggles didn't end in the return game. As a receiver, Patterson's productivity and efficiency fell off as well. Despite the fact that Patterson was brought along slowly his rookie season, his stat line of 45 receptions for 469 yards (286 coming after the catch) and 4 touchdowns dwarfed his sophomore season stat line of 33 receptions for 384 yards (170 coming after the catch) and 1 touchdown. Patterson's efficiency also dipped from year 1 to 2, as he caught 62.5% of his targets in year one as opposed to only 56.9% of his targets in year 2. During his rookie season, quarterbacks only threw 2 interceptions when throwing the ball Patterson's way on 72 targets. During his sophomore season despite only receiving 58 targets, 5 of those were intercepted. Of course, you can't always blame the receiver for interceptions, but when this statistic comes in excess to an overwhelming amount of evidence that Patterson regressed as a receiver on top of the fact that he had better quarterback play his sophomore season than he did his rookie season, it speaks volumes. In addition to the aforementioned problems with his game, Patterson is often times very timid at the catch-point. In other words, he doesn't do a great job of "Going up and getting the ball". He doesn't appear to have natural hands either, and often times struggles to bring in contested catches.

Patterson's Rushing Stats
Attempts Yards Touchdowns Missed Tackles
2013-14 12 158 3 13
2014-15 10 117 1 10

Another area where you can see a clear dip in production is the run game. In his rookie season, Patterson rushed 12 times for 158 yards and 3 touchdowns while forcing 13 missed tackles. The following season, Patterson rushed 10 times for 117 yards and 1 touchdown while forcing 10 missed tackles. When broken down in this manner, the drop-off doesn't seem too significant. But when you consider the fact that in week 1 of the 2014-15 season Patterson rushed 3 times for 102 yards and a touchdown while forcing 7 missed tackles, the rest of the season looks far less spectacular. In fact, if you remove week 1 from Patterson's 2014-15 rushing statistics, Patterson's sophomore season rushing line looked like this: 7 rushes for 15 yards and 0 touchdowns while forcing only 3 missed tackles. On these 7 rushes for 15 yards, Patterson failed to display his trademark explosion, leading me to believe that confidence once again played a serious role in his lack of production.

Now, this raises a new question in its' own right. If the problem was due to a lack of explosion, why was Patterson able to rush for over 100 yards on just 3 carries and force 7 missed tackles against the Rams in week 1 of the 2014-15 season? One answer here is that often times the more confident a runner is, the more explosive the runner is, and coming into the 2014-15 season, Patterson was as confident as ever. Another potential answer to this question will be discussed during the next section of this article.

The Other Adrian Peterson Effect

As every Viking fan knows, Adrian Peterson only played in one game the entire 2014-15 season. Is it a coincidence that this game was the same game that Patterson posted 129 total yards and a touchdown? Could be. But consider the Adrian Peterson effect. Not the "9 men in the box" effect that most people bring up when discussing the Adrian Peterson effect. This surprisingly wasn't a factor in most of Patterson's big plays. In nearly all of Patterson's big touchdown plays Adrian Peterson was actually not on the field. This is the case in his 30+ yard touchdown runs or screens vs the Bengals, Lions, Ravens, Bears and even the Rams. So, if I'm not referring to stacked boxes, what is this Adrian Peterson effect I speak of? Well, put yourself in the mind of an NFL defender. You have Adrian Peterson running like an angry bull at the speed of a cheetah up the throat of your defense and to stop him there is a certain level of physicality and toughness you need to muster up. While Adrian Peterson is fast, he isn't extremely laterally quick, nor is this his running style. He doesn't run like a LeSean McCoy. So in stopping him, physicality is the best bet to bring him down. Enter Cordarrelle Patterson. When a defense has been pounding at Adrian Peterson all game long and suddenly gets a slightly faster, more elusive and slippery runner with the ball in his hands, the same type of physicality that you brought to bring down Adrian Peterson may no longer work. When you're dealing with a guy who runs North, South, East, and West and and can change directions or stop on a dime, different tactics and discipline are needed. A great example of this can be found in Cincinatti, where Jeremy Hill brings the power running style and Giovanni Bernard brings the elusive running style. Once defenses are in the flow of a game, it's often hard to change mentalities for two drastically different runners. Now, we can't take all the credit away from Patterson. He has made some tremendous video-game like plays in his own right, such as his run against the Detroit Lions, a game in which Adrian Peterson didn't even play in. However, I do believe that this Adrian Peterson effect helped aid Patterson in springing free on many of his long runs and screens.

Reasons for Optimism:

Despite the fact that I just tore into Cordarrelle Patterson (I hope he isn't reading this) there are certainly parts of his game that inspire optimism. For example, he has shown a tremendous amount of explosion with the ball in his hands, however this explosion is nonexistent most of the time when he is running routes. This an interesting case to me, and I believe that it boils down to a matter of confidence and motivation. When the ball is in Patterson's hands, he is extremely confident. However, when he doesn't have the ball in his hands it seems like that confidence just isn't there. This may be due to the fact that he isn't a tremendous pass catcher and he may doubt his own ability to haul in passes thus leading to his less explosive route-running and timid pass catching. In other words, he may be playing "scared". Over time, I believe that this lack of confidence wore on Patterson as his season began to crumble around him and even carried over to his production returning kickoffs and running the ball. It's amazing how much confidence can impact a players' game. As for motivation, Patterson is motivated by the ball. If Patterson isn't sure he is going to get the ball, it may bestow a negative mindset upon him and lead to a lazier approach. The good news is that nobody is doubting Patterson's ability, rather his dedication and whether or not he can put all the little things together. If coaches can teach Patterson how to incorporate his natural explosiveness into his route-running tree, Patterson could begin to start making waves in the right direction again. He will also need to better understand depth in his routes, but that isn't too daunting of a task and should be a relatively quick fix with good coaching.

Other than the Rams game, Patterson's effort against the Buccaneers this past season offered a bit of optimism for Patterson's long term prospects. Patterson caught 6 of 8 targets for 86 yards this game, including a highlight-worthy intermediate haul along the sideline that required him to tip-toe in bounds while making the catch. These were the type of plays fans had been waiting all season to see, and Patterson was finally able to deliver one. The best part of this game was the fact that Patterson consistently showed up, producing solid gains throughout the entire game. Hopefully, this Patterson is the Patterson that Viking fans become accustomed to seeing on a weekly basis.

While Patterson seemed a bit bigger this past year than he did his rookie year, it shouldn't be a problem for the 2015-16 season. According to the Star Tribune, Patterson spent four weeks working out during the offseason with a man who was dubbed by "Men's Health" magazine as "Hell's Trainer". These workouts reportedly took place in San Francisco. The unique part of these workouts were that they took place on the beach. Here is what the Star Tribune had to say of the first workout:

Patterson wasn’t thinking about the sun, sand or mild California weather on that first day on the beach back in late February. Out of breath and his hamstrings burning after just 14 minutes of running hills and doing sprints in the sand, Patterson was completely gassed when the trainer, Frank Matrisciano, told him his first workout was already done.

Sounds like a tough trainer, which is exactly what Patterson needed. Not only should this help him physically, but it should also help him mentally, as he surely had to gather up a significant amount of willpower to push through the at times hellish tasks he was asked to complete by "Hell's Trainer".

Another issue I previously noted was Patterson's timidness at the catch-point. While this is a bad habit and often times players never improve in this area, it is fixable. With tough coaches in Mike Zimmer and George Stewart, aggressiveness at the catch-point will be preached with a passion. If Patterson fixes his route-running, he can become a solid receiver in this league. If Patterson fixes his route-running and becomes a receiver who can come down with the 50/50 balls, watch out.

Will Patterson have a big role on offense this season?

This is a tough question to answer. As things stand right now, it appears that Patterson and Wright will be fighting for the 3rd receiver spot, although if Patterson turns in a truly spectacular offseason overtaking Charles Johnson for a starting role is not out of the question. With the Vikings first OTA in the books, Patterson will undoubtedly be put under a microscope by coaches and fans alike going forward.

All in all, Patterson has an enormous amount of potential due to his unique blend of legitimate 4.4 speed and 6'2'' height while also possessing elite athleticism. It's really hard to determine whether fans should be optimistic or pessimistic about Patterson's future due to the fact that his fate is in his own hands. If he puts in the work and is hungry for success, then success will be bestowed upon him. However, if he continues to show a sub-par effort level without the desire to improve, then he won't improve and he will remain a mediocre player at best throughout his career.

Thank you all for reading. Leave your comments below and don't forget to follow me on twitter @jackmack28.