One of the more frustrating players to watch for the Minnesota Vikings over the last two seasons has been wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. While his play on the field as a returner has remained at a very high level, his role as a wide receiver on the team has gone from potential breakout star at the beginning of 2014 to benched in favor of an undrafted free agent, to a grand total of two catches last year.
His slide into the dog house started sometime after the overtime win in Tampa in 2014, his high water mark for the season. He had six catches for 86 yards in that game, but he hasn't caught more than two passes in a game since.
His last catch was against the Denver Broncos last year, which was in week four, and in a strange twist of irony, that was the the game that Stefon Diggs emerge on to the scene, effectively ending Patterson's season as a WR.
But according to Chris Tomassen of the Pioneer Press, Patterson seems to understand what he's facing this year. Patterson admitted to slacking off and assuming he was on the team, simply because he was a first round draft pick, and has vowed to work harder and earn a starting job:
"Every guy wants to start," Patterson said. "Nobody wants to ride the bench. I can't say, ‘I want to be a starter' because at the end of the day, if I work hard, I will be a starter. If I keep doing what I'm supposed to do, I'll be a starter."
I get that this time of year, every team is replete with stories about players who have done something to fulfill every sports cliche out there: they're in the 'best shape of their career', or 'they've got their head on straight and now have their priorities in order', or 'are defying the effects of father time', and whatnot. And I also understand that actions speak louder than words, and Patterson's actions haven't always matched his words. For example, around this time last year we were finding out that the Vikings had arranged for a mentor to work with Patterson and help him improve his game, an invitation Patterson refused. And when we later found out that the mentor was hall of fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, there were a lot of folks (myself included) that thought Patterson's time in Minnesota was done. I mean come on, your career doesn't last long in one place if you tell your coaches 'thanks but no thanks' to learning from a Hall of Fame player at your position.
But as we inexorably churn towards Mankato, Hope Springs Eternal, and by all accounts Patterson has done very well this spring, also noted by Tomassen:
One of the knocks on Patterson has been an inability to run crisp routes. But Zimmer said Patterson made few mental errors in spring practices, "running the routes at the proper depth" and "lining up in the right spot." The coach said Patterson must show continued improvement when players report for training camp July 28 in Mankato.
Maybe it's just talk, and maybe there's some fire to this smoke. After the most recent OTA's finished, Patterson headed down to Florida to continue working with QB Teddy Bridgewater, and maybe Patterson has turned a corner. Until I see it on the field, I'm not going to hold my breath, but I would love to be proven wrong here. A productive Cordarrelle Patterson, along with Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright, and a healthy Charles Johnson, could transform this unit into one of the better wide receiver groups in the NFL.
And the thing is, we know Patterson can do it, and at a very high level. He was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL the last month of his rookie season, so the talent is there. If he's in the right place mentally, and hungry to prove everyone wrong, the Vikings might have found themselves a heck of a wide receiver.