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Fantasy Football: Cordarrelle Patterson And Four Reasons To Believe

C.D. Carter

C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.
Cordarrelle Patterson
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Cordarrelle Patterson is quickly becoming the most important player in fantasy football, in the tradition of David Wilson circa August 2013.

Patterson, fantasy’s eighth highest scoring wide receiver from Week 11-17, has seen his re-draft price rise to a breaking point: At WR15, going in the middle of the fourth round, fantasy gamers are forced to decide which Patterson they think will emerge in Norval Turner’s offense.

Will Patterson be the bigger Percy Harvin and one of the rare receivers who post top-end fantasy numbers while hardly ever being targeted downfield? Or will CPatt be bogged down by his quarterback(s) and/or fail to emerge as the unquestioned No. 1 target in 2014?

Check out Rich Hribar’s team outlooks…
New York Jets
Minnesota Vikings
Detroit Lions
Seattle Seahawks

Those are polarizing questions — ones that were asked of Wilson’s fantasy potential as he climbed draft boards in August and made us decide whether we thought he would be a locked-in top-10 running back or an unpredictable disaster playing for a head coach with no patience for unpredictable disasters.

I went down with the David Wilson ship. When the question on Wilson as a top-5 guy or a top-35 guy arose, I answered the former. The same predicament seems to arise with Patterson: Is he a top-12 receiver, or will he be a value albatross who finishes outside of WR2 (top-24) range?

I thought I’d look at the long history of No. 1 receivers in Turner’s offenses for clues as to where Patterson’s fantasy floor and ceiling might be.

Top wideouts and market share

The game’s elite receivers see a little less than a quarter of their team’s targets. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but take a look at top-10 receivers and you’ll see many of them see one in every four or five targets, unless your name is A.J. Green or Andre Johnson, in which case you just get all the targets.

 

Player 2013 finish Share of team’s pass targets
Josh Gordon WR1 26.5 percent
Demaryius Thomas WR2 20.9 percent
A.J. Green WR3 29.1 percent
Calvin Johnson WR4 24.4 percent
Antonio Brown WR5 27.2 percent
Brandon Marshall WR6 27.2 percent
Dez Bryant WR7 26.6 percent
Alshon Jeffery WR8 24.1 percent
Eric Decker WR9 20.4 percent
Andre Johnson WR10 27.7 percent

 

Turner, as fantasy footballers know by now, is partial toward running backs and tight ends in the passing attack. That penchant for feeding non-receivers has led to some of the most explosive fantasy campaigns. Antonio Gates, for one, was seeing WR1-type targets during his prime in Norval’s scheme.

That has led to No. 1 receivers seeing paltry targets even when Turner’s teams were forced to throw the ball more than usual. There were some outliers, but check out Turner’s No. 1 wideouts — determined by share of targets — since 2006.

I threw out the 2010 season in which Vincent Jackson was injured early on and the Chargers had very little receiver involvement. It would be unfair, I think, to tab a “top” wideout from that year in San Diego’s offense.

Player Targets Share of team’s pass targets
Arnaz Battle 84 18.9 percent
Vincent Jackson 80 16.9 percent
Vincent Jackson 100 20.9 percent
Vincent Jackson 109 21 percent
Vincent Jackson 115 19.8 percent
Malcolm Floyd 84 15.9 percent
Josh Gordon 159 26.5 percent

 

It all comes out to Turner’s No. 1 wide receivers seeing 20.1 percent of total team targets — a considerable drop from the 25-27 percent market share many top receivers see on a yearly basis.

The one giant exception here — Gordon — was a downfield threat on a horrendous team that threw the pigskin more than any team in the league last season. Patterson, whatever he is, isn’t Gordon. I’ve seen that comparison on Twitter and I don’t think it could be more detached from reality.

I’ve already pointed out that if Patterson were to post big-time numbers in 2014, he would have to do so in a way that is in stark contrast to other receivers who have thrived in Turner’s offense.

Turner’s primary wide receivers since 2008 have an average depth of target (aDOT) of 16.2, a mark that would consistently rank among the highest aDOTs in any given season. Probably you noticed that that inflated average is nearly double Patterson’s rookie season aDOT — not exactly the hopeful sign we sought.

Turner and Minnesota coaches have pledged to use Patterson in a way that would leverage his abilities — working in space, doing football things after catching the ball at or near the line of scrimmage. Ben Goessling, who covers the Vikings for ESPN, reported that many in the locker room were baffled that Patterson wasn’t used much earlier than he was during his rookie season, and that Turner “seems interested in getting the explosive receiver the ball as much as he can.”

I suppose there’s some chance Patterson doesn’t establish himself as the clear and present WR1, and that Greg Jennings — the equity score hero — could get a bigger piece of the passing pie than we think. I’d say that’s firmly on the unlikely side though.

Patterson, as of this writing, has missed a couple days of Vikings’ training camp with a sore foot. A nagging injury that keeps him sidelined for more than a week or so could lower his re-draft asking price. If that came to pass — if CPatt dropped to WR18-20 range — I’m not sure I could resist.

Here’s why: Patterson averaged a nice and fat 2.3 fantasy points per touch during his outstanding seven-week stretch as a focal point of the Minnesota offense. He notched 1.6 points per target. I have Patterson projected for 268 rushing yards and one touchdown. Below is a look at a range of outcomes for CPatt, according to Turner’s previous No. 1 receiver market shares.

550 pass attempts 570 pass attempts 590 pass attempts 610 pass attempts
1.6 fantasy points per target 208.8 points (WR25) 215.2 points (WR21) 221.6 points (WR19) 228 (WR17)
1.7 FP/T 219.8 (WR20) 226.6 (WR18) 233.4 (WR15) 240.2 (WR11)
1.8 FP/T 230.8 (WR18) 238 (WR13) 245.2 (WR12) 252.4 (WR9)

 

Back to the headline of this article: Cordarrelle Patterson and four reasons to believe. Three of the four scenarios in which Patterson would exceed his draft day cost come in the bottom row. It’s that scenario — if Patterson can post 1.8 points for every target that comes his way — that marks an 11 percent increase in fantasy efficiency from his rookie campaign.

Maybe that’s perfectly reasonable. Maybe a year of experience and the tutelage of Turner and his offensive staff help CPatt rid himself of the raw edges that made him unusable for the first 10 weeks of 2013. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Just know that if you’re going to invest in Patterson as a top-15 receiver, you’re counting on production beyond his scalding hot finish to the 2013 season. There are, however, still four reasons to believe.

There are also eight reasons not to believe, if the above chart is any indication.