Cordarrelle Patterson facing biggest year of his football career … for better or worse

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is facing a watershed season in his career. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, his NFL life is hanging in the balance as to whether he will be a highly paid offensive threat or a modestly paid return specialist with some offensive capability.

In all of the discussion of the Minnesota Vikings offense this season, there has been plenty of chatter about the usual suspects and the usual topics.

  • Can Adrian Peterson continue to defy Father Time and be the dominant running back he has been for nine years?
  • Can Teddy Bridgewater elevate his game and become more than a game manager that he has been in his first two seasons?
  • Can rookie Laquon Treadwell be the elite wide receiver the Vikings (and a slew of draft analysts that ranked him No. 1 among wide receivers in the draft class of 2016) believe he can be?
  • Will the hiring of offensive line coach Tony Sparano, the return of John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt and the free agent signings of Alex Boone and Andre Smith turn the Vikings O-line from a relative weakness to a team strength?

All of those are valid questions, but what may end up being the most telling factor in whether the Vikings offense can be as impressive as its defense is the 2016 season wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson puts together.

From the time he showed up in Minnesota, there has been no denying that Patterson has explosive ability. In two of his three seasons, he has led the NFL in kickoff return average – no small feat considering 31 other teams hand pick a kick return man they feel can break the long one at any time that can change the tide of the game.

But you don’t see return men franchised or given fifth-year options, no matter how good they are. The players who get those perks are the one who have exceeded their contracts or have displayed a steady growth at their positions over their tenure in the NFL.

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Not only hasn’t Patterson shown the natural progression most wide receivers show in their first three years, he has done just the opposite – a steady decline that would lead just about anyone to believe he’s getting his mail delivered to Norv Turner’s dog house. He was on the home page of the NFL’s official website Tuesday, not because he is being viewed as a breakout player, but because he has become such a disappointment that most outsiders view this as a make-or-break season for the rest of his career.

As a rookie, Patterson started six of the 16 games he played and was a dynamic presence, catching 45 passes for 469 yards, ran 12 times for 158 yards and scored nine touchdowns – four receiving, three rushing and two on kick returns. There was every reason to believe Patterson was going to be one of the next big things at wide receiver in the NFL.

As we know with the benefit of hindsight, that didn’t happen.

In Week 1 of the 2014 season, Patterson made an impact, rushing three times for 102 yards and a touchdown, including a 67-yard touchdown in a road win at St. Louis. He was showing all the signs of being one of the faces of the offense. In fact, when Peterson was suspended after Week 1, it forced the Vikings public relations department to scramble. Typically during midweek, Peterson would do a stand-alone mass interview each week with the local media. With A.P. gone, Patterson was selected to be the go-to weekly gang interview subject – session that become more embarrassing as the season went on.

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In the final 13 weeks of the 2014 season, Patterson regressed and his numbers showed it. In those 13 games, he caught more than two passes just once. He wasn’t an offensive factor in any of the games he played and his numbers reflected that – 33 catches for 384 yards, 10 rushes for 117 yards and two total touchdowns. It was a drop in all statistical categories, despite starting seven of 16 games.

It was clear that when Norv Turner took over the offense he wasn’t impressed with Patterson’s route running or his passion for the game. What he had accomplished as a rookie meant nothing to Turner. It wasn’t his offense then.

2015 was nothing short of a shutdown for Patterson as it pertained to the Vikings offense. While he led the league in kickoff returns, his contribution to offense was less than would be expected for a single player. Active for all 16 games, he caught just two passes for 10 yards and ran twice for 15 yards. That was it – an average of 1.6 yards a game over 16 games.

It wasn’t all Patterson’s fault that he did nothing in the offense. He was on the field for just 57 plays on offense – just 5.6 percent of the offensive plays. That’s about 25 percent of the number of plays Adam Thielen was on the field, so it’s hard to make a significant impact when you’re spending almost every play on the sideline.

With his lack of any offensive production, it can be reasonably argued that, coming into 2016, there aren’t going to be many defensive coordinators going through sleepless nights preparing for Patterson.

As things currently stand, when Patterson takes the field on offense – in those occasions he is allowed to – he will never be double-covered and will likely be lined up against an opponent’s No. 2 or 3 corner at best.

The simple reality is that, if Patterson is motivated by the fact he is entering a contract year that will potentially set him up for the rest of his life, there is every reason to believe that nobody on the Vikings roster has the potential for more upside than Patterson.

If he does, he will find himself back on the NFL.com home page, but for much different reasons.


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