Almost from the moment Rick Spielman bailed out midstream on his draft-day press conference, when the Vikings completed a multi-pick trade to get back into the first round for a third first-round selection and took Cordarrelle Patterson, the comparisons were bound to take place.
Despite being very different players in terms of size, the comparisons to Percy Harvin hung over Patterson like a dark cloud. He was going to have big shoes to fill and there was little reason to believe he could come close. In his first four seasons, Harvin had set a standard for explosiveness. In October 2012, he was having his name legitimately included in NFL MVP consideration. Teams don't easily replace dynamic playmakers like Harvin. He's a once-in-a-decade type of difference-making talent.
But it's hard to imagine that Patterson could have done much more in his rookie season to replace Harvin and come close to replicating the numbers that earned Harvin the 2009 Rookie of the Year award.
In 2009, Harvin had the luxury of having Brett Favre as his quarterback. It didn't take Favre long to figure out what he had in the rookie out of Florida. Harvin was targeted 91 times, catching 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed 15 times for 135 yards and returned 42 kickoffs for 1,156 yards (a 27.5-yard average) and two touchdowns. He was targeted five or more times in 10 games, being used considerably throughout the season. He made an early splash that carried over throughout the season and it was clear in September of that season that the Vikings had a star on their hands.
In 2013, Patterson was targeted 77 times (49 of those in the final seven games), catching 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed 12 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns and returned 43 kickoffs for 1,293 yards (a 32.4-yard average) and two touchdowns.
The tale of the tape was impressive on both sides. Prior to 2012, Harvin's 2009 rookie season represented the most combined yards by any player in Vikings history (2,081, a record broken by Adrian Peterson with 2,314 yards). Harvin was a vital component to the pass offense all season, but it's hard to dispute the records Patterson set as a rookie.
His two 105-plus yard kickoff return touchdowns set a franchise record and he sits alone atop the NFL kick return TD charts as the only player to ever bring a kick back 109 yards. His 32.4-yard average led the NFL. He scored nine total touchdowns – four receiving, three rushing and two on returns. He was the only wide receiver since the modern NFL-AFL merger to score three rushing TDs in a season. By any measure, Patterson was as explosive in 2013 as Harvin was in 2009.
What makes Patterson's achievement more impressive is that he was brought along extremely slowly by the Vikings – aside from unleashing him on kickoff returns. The Vikings had a turnstile at quarterback and, for a young receiver learning the game, he was limited to baby steps – brought along too slowly in the estimation of many who saw the explosiveness Patterson could show in practice.
In the first eight games of the season, Patterson was targeted 24 times, caught 16 passes for 146 yards (a 9.1-yard average), rushed twice for two yards and his only two touchdowns were on kick returns. In the final eight games of the season, he was targeted with 43 passes, caught 29 of them for 323 yards (an 11.1-yard average), rushed 10 times for 156 yards and scored seven offensive touchdowns.
For those who cringed when the Vikings traded Harvin, take solace in the fact that, for the three years that follow, the price they would have paid to keep Harvin, they got both Greg Jennings and Patterson. Whoever the new head coach is, Patterson is the cake and Jennings is the frosting.
We're only one year removed, but, it's safe to say the Vikings would make the Harvin trade again and again and again. It was worth it.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Harvin vs. Patterson: Tale of the tape
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