The team did that with their other first-round picks in 2013, Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes, but elected to roll the dice with Patterson. In retrospect, they may have wished they gave Patterson the fifth-year option instead of Floyd, who missed all but one game in 2016 with an injury the Vikings didn’t believe would keep him out that long. But if entering a contract year is what was needed to motivate Patterson, who knows what kind of year he would have had without that incentive?
Whatever the reason, Patterson showed some encouraging signs as a receiver in 2016, taking on a greater role there, even if it meant mostly receiver screens.
Now, with free agency a possibility, Patterson is taking the tact that he has often employed – full confidence in his abilities and leaving his “opportunity” up to others.
“I don’t have to prove anything to nobody. I’m just trying to do what I was supposed to do,” he told Viking Update when asked about free agency. “It’s all me. I’m just trying to get myself better each and every year and everything.”
He did get better in 2016, catching 52 passes for 453 yards and catching a pass in all but one game. It was a career high for receptions and 16 yards short of his career best in receiving yards.
His 8.7 yards per reception in 2016 wasn’t impressive at first look, but when considering most of his passes were at or near the line of scrimmage, he proved a worthy option in the quick passing game as the running game struggled.
At any rate, he clearly became more involved in the offense.
“When my number is called, I go in and just try to put in the work. (The coaches) have probably seen the hard work I put in each and every day, just coming out and competing with every receiver out here,” he said. “They say hard work pays off so I’m glad things happened the way they happened.”
Patterson said he dedicated himself more during the 2016 offseason than in the past, but he has repeatedly kept details of what that involved to himself.
“I see myself what I need to get better at every year. All season, the coaches put that on film – all my targets and my routes,” he said.
“There are things I see and I need to get better on and that’s something I keep to myself.”
Determining his value in free agency, or before for the Vikings, could prove difficult. He wasn’t used in a traditional receiver role and head coach Mike Zimmer said there are still improvements he needs with his route-running and coverage recognition.
Still, Patterson brings added value with his ability as a kick returner, leading the NFL in kick-return average for a league-record third time in 2016. The money part will be left up to his agent, the Vikings and other interested teams.
“That’s all in God’s plan. I’m not worrying about anything. I’m not worried about free agency, I’m not worried about no money,” he said. “… That’s something I never worried about this whole season. I just focused on the things that I need to get better in and help myself as a better person.”
It may seem like a nonchalant attitude, but that’s fairly reflective of how the athletically tantalizing receiver has approached his NFL career to this point.null