Cordarrelle Patterson, depending on who you ask, is a poor man’s Percy Harvin, a bigger Harvin, or a running back split out at wide receiver.
There are as many fantasy footballers slobbering over Patterson’s 2014 prospects as there are owners ready and willing to fade the second-year Minnesota Vikings pass catcher.
It’s not that Patterson isn’t a great route runner, a detractor might say, but rather he’s so bad at running NFL-caliber routes that his offense didn’t ask him to do it all that much last season. Yes, a Patterson apologist might respond, but when the pigskin was in his hands, he tormented defenses, and the numbers bear that out.
The Patterson-Harvin comparisons are apt in a couple ways, and it’s only coincidence that Harvin made his fantasy hay in Minnesota, as Patterson presumably will for years to come.
Both receivers, thanks to similar skill sets and tremendously sub-par quarterbacking in Minnesota, were fed the football at or near the line of scrimmage. Harvin and Patterson have been the recipients of more than a few sideways handoffs: quick screens to the outside in hopes they could do what they do and make the defense miss.
Patterson in 2013 racked up an incredible six in 10 of his receiving yards after the catch. That’s a direct result of those smoke screens, hitches, and various other shallow routes he was asked to run as Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder flung the football his way.
Can this nontraditional wide receiver usage create an elite fantasy option? Here’s Harvin’s 2012 numbers after eight weeks of the 2012 season. He was fantasy’s second highest scoring wide receiver at that point, just before he was lost for the season.
I’ve included Patterson’s 2013 numbers alongside Harvin’s, though we should remember that Patterson wasn’t involved in the Vikings’ offensive plans until Week 11. Jerome Simpson was seen as a superior option.
|Player||Fantasy points per route run (FPPRR)||Average depth of target (aDOT)||Fantasy points per snap (FPPS)||Yards per route run (YPRR)|
Context is important here. Harvin’s numbers from the first half of the 2012 season are borderline otherworldly, and his astounding FPPS wasn’t inflated by a boatload of carries as a running back. He tallied eight rushes for 72 yards and a score during those first eight weeks of 2012.
For those who think Patterson was a creature of quick screens, a look at Harvin’s 2012 aDOT — a Pro Football Focus metric measuring depth per aimed throw — will offer an idea as to how nontraditional Harvin’s usage was in the Vikings’ offense. He was on pace for 1,479 total yards, 120 receptions, and eight touchdowns. That would’ve made Harvin fantasy’s third highest-scoring receiver.
Harvin’s aDOT, in fact, was the lowest among all qualifying NFL wide receivers that season.
A couple notes on Patterson’s 2013 peripheral numbers: Only two receivers posted more fantasy points per snap (Patterson was tied with Calvin Johnson), and five pass catchers tallied more fantasy points per route run (Patterson was tied with Antonio Brown, Marvin Jones, and A.J. Green).
I’m not saying that the Vikings and new offensive coordinator Norval Turner will use Patterson just like Harvin was used two short seasons ago. It’s encouraging, for those high on Patterson’s prospects, to see that an abundantly talented receiver can post high-end fantasy numbers when he’s not deployed as a traditional, route-running pass catcher.
Alen Dumonjic, one of my favorite game film analyzers, wrote an occasionally harsh critique of Patterson’s route running deficiencies before the Vikings drafted him out of the University of Tennessee in the first round. Dumonjic’s musings are as relevant now as they were last spring.
“[Tennessee coaches] were used to getting the ball into his hands as quickly as possible because of his deadly vision after the catch,” Dumonjic wrote on The Score, charging that Patterson will not be an elite NFL receiver if he doesn’t master the basics of running routes, creating separation, and fending off physical cornerbacks. “He simply made most of his plays by weaving through defenses and making hard, ankle-breaking cuts.”
Something to keep a close eye on: Even when Patterson was used as a focal point of the Vikings’ offense over the last couple months of the regular season, he was only running 27.7 pass routes per game. That’s not frighteningly low, but it’s well below the 34 or 35 routes most top-end receivers run on a weekly basis.
Those per-game routes were suppressed by a couple blowout losses in which Patterson was used sparingly.
Probably I’m more bullish on Patterson’s 2014 fake football outlook than most. That’s based on his stellar production with limited opportunities, Harvin’s success in a similarly unorthodox receiving role, and the belief that Turner won’t shoehorn a talent like Patterson into a more traditional receiver role.
“I love working with young guys … and watching them develop,” Turner said in a recent interview with Vikings.com. “[Patterson’s] run after the catch is so impressive. … He’s an exciting guy to watch.”