Patterson at a career crossroads

Cordarrelle Patterson fizzed on offense last year, but will he have another decent chance in 2015 and is there a correlation between Adrian Peterson’s absence last year and Patterson’s fade?

Of all the players Vikings fans are talking about, almost all are typically referenced in positive terms – Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, Mike Wallace, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes and a slew of lesser-optimistic names that have been tossed out.

One that hasn’t is Cordarrelle Patterson. When the crowds gather in Mankato this weekend, despite all the positive buzz surrounding so many Vikings players, just as many eyes will be glued to Patterson – for better or worse.

A year ago, expectations on Patterson were off the charts. Training camp crowds weaned on Randy Moss and Percy Harvin were huffin’ and puffin’ about the potential for Patterson in 2014. Coming off his rookie season, which included in inordinate amount of eight-in-the-box coverages, Patterson was a nuclear weapon.

In 2013, Patterson was integrated into a Peterson-centric offense. The results were impressive. As a rookie, Patterson had 45 receptions – seven of 20 yards or more and a 79-yard touchdown. He ran the ball 12 times, scoring touchdowns on three of them, including a 50-yard dash. Opponents opted to kick to him and he returned 43 of them – leading the NFL with a 32.4-yard return average – including an NFL record-tying 109-yard return, one of two touchdowns he scored as a returner.

Put them all together and Patterson scored nine touchdowns as a rookie and, in the first game of last season, it appeared as though 2014 was going to be a continuation of that high level of production.

In the season opener at St. Louis, Patterson was up to his old tricks. He had three catches for 26 yards, but, thanks to a 67-yard touchdown run, Patterson racked up 102 rushing yards in the opener and things were looking up for the highly touted Patterson.

Then it all came to a screeching halt.

Following the opener, the Vikings had to deal with the public relations nightmare that was Peterson’s child abuse case. Peterson was removed from the active roster and didn’t play another down in the 2014 season. Suddenly defenses that had to key on Peterson at the expense of added defensive attention for other players were able to turn their focus to those “other players.” Topping that list was Patterson.

The result was a tumultuous drop in production. In the 15 games without Peterson in the lineup, Patterson caught just 30 passes for 358 yards and one touchdown, ran the ball seven times for 15 yards and saw his kick return average drop from 32.4 yards per return to 25.6 yards – a drop of almost seven yards per return – after teams started kicking away from him.

With the added attention came frustration on the part of Patterson and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. When given additional coverage to prevent the big play from happening, Patterson’s production dropped and, as the season went along, the Vikings’ offensive coaches began to limit the number of plays that Patterson was on the field.

With the emergence of Charles Johnson, Patterson’s playing time got slashed in the final stretch of games – 27 offensive snaps in the final six games – rendering his contribution almost moot. By December, Patterson had been reduced to being a return man who would play only a handful of plays on offense and his outlook as a difference-maker in the NFL went from being bright to completely eclipsed.

As the Vikings enter training camp this season, Patterson isn’t being viewed as a full-time offensive player or one who could be viewed as trade bait before he enters the final half of his rookie contract. If there was ever somebody who has something to prove in the way of career redemption, it’s Patterson.

The good news for C.P. is that A.P. is back and defenses will have to respect the deep speed of Mike Wallace in the passing game. The result may well be what he experienced as a rookie – facing single coverage on almost every play.

As a rookie with Peterson in the lineup, Patterson was dazzling. Last year without Peterson, Patterson fizzled.

In a league where the lack of production from a first-round pick isn’t tolerated for long, as he enters his third season, Patterson is at a career crossroads. It’s either time to reclaim his career or allow the discussion of him being a first-round bust not only to continue, but for the chorus to get louder.

There’s no questioning that Patterson has the talent to return to his 2013 form and be the player the Vikings were convinced he was when they traded back into the first round of the 2013 draft to get him. The lingering question is this: Will 2015 be a year of redemption or one of continued malaise?

That question will start getting its answer this weekend as the Vikings open training camp and will be an ongoing story arc throughout the 2015 season. The answer to that question will be the most important of Patterson’s young NFL career.

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