Plutonium is a radioactive element: In the right hands, it can be harnessed to create powerful weapons that are the envy of the entire world. Used improperly, it can be lethal and simply blow up in their face. Tennessee wide receiver prospect could be a similar story when he gets to the NFL. He could either be an incredible weapon for the right coaching staff and team situation or he could be lethal for someone’s career. Patterson is one of the most electrifying athletes in the entire draft, but if he is not handled in the right way, he may never come close to reaching his seemingly limitless potential. His tools and potential alone are among the ten best in the draft, but his lack of understanding and technique as a wide receiver does not even warrant a draft pick. Those two factors combined will still probably have someone willing to gamble on him in the first round, but they do it with the understanding he is one of the biggest boom or bust prospects in the draft.
Head Coach Derek Dooley was aware of what he had in Patterson while he was at Tennessee. Dooley found every conceivable way to get Patterson the football and he scored 10 total touchdowns from four different positions including as a kick returner, punt returner, running back, and wide receiver. Patterson had 25 carries for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. He returned 4 punts and took one of them back for a touchdown as well as returning 24 kickoffs and taking one of those for a touchdown along with a 27.96 yard average. But for all of the physical talent Patterson has, of his 99 total touches, only 46 of them were receptions for 778 yards and 5 touchdowns. He had 9 catches, 219 yards, and a touchdown against Troy in the only game he cracked 100 yards receiving. The month that preceded that game, he caught 8 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown with a slate of Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina. In those same four games, he carried the ball 11 times for 158 yards and a touchdown. This goes to show just how great Patterson can be but he still has distance to go in the NFL if he is going to be anything beyond an occasional highlight.
Patterson is listed at 6’3” 205lbs, but he looks bigger on the field. It remains to be seen what he will run on the track, but he is incredibly fast on the field. He also has out of this world of agility and the ability to change direction, and has great feet. For a player his size at 6’3”, he has short area quickness to stop and start attributed to guys half a foot shorter than he is. He is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands.
From a technique standpoint, Patterson is unbelievably raw. Raw may not even go far enough in describing him. Patterson looks like he has never actually played the game of football before and he is doing everything off of instincts. Almost every aspect of the receiver position needs to be started from scratch, because he is so athletically impressive that he has not needed to learn a thing to this point in his career. It has been too easy for him. He has never had to adjust to adversity to get better.
One of the questions teams will have to answer through research and through interviews both with Tennessee officials, his high school coaches, and Patterson himself is why he is so incredibly raw. From Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, South Carolina to a year at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas to a year at the University of Tennessee, Patterson has been an incredible athlete but learned little if anything about the wide receiver. Perhaps this was a matter of having ineffective coaches that never challenged him to improve and just worshipped his athletic ability and let him do whatever he wanted. The other possibility is coaches tried but ultimately Patterson ignored them and felt he knew better. The answer could also be somewhere in the middle. The determination by a team could dramatically impact their willingness to draft him and different teams may come to a different conclusion.
Specifically breaking down his technique starts with his stance. He starts plays in a stance that is too upright and inefficient. He does not put himself in a position to maximize his explosiveness off of the line. His catch radius is small. In the six games watched, he caught only three passes away from his body. He uses way too much of his body catching the call and has gator arms even though the passes are right in his breadbasket. This allows the defensive back to reach in and deflect passes before it gets to Patterson. The most remarkable example of this is when he body caught a back shoulder throw. He needs to get a ton of reps catching passes away from his body between now and when he has his private workouts. Patterson appears to have very long arms but he does not take advantage of them and he is such a broadly built player that if he takes advantage of all of his gifts, he could be a power forward type receiving presence catching the football not unlike Julio Jones.
His route running is probably the best attribute he has at this point, which is to say, it is the least problematic of his issues but still in its developmental stages. He did not run an extensive route tree and there are things he can do to make his routes more efficient. Patterson will occasionally tip his pitches and needs to reduce the amount of steps he takes into his breaks, especially on comebacks. He has the feet to do this, but just needs to continue working on it and get more reps. Despite that, he has such impressive acceleration, agility, and raw speed that he had the ability to get open and make big plays. Also worth noting is the fact Patterson is fearless going into the middle of the field as a receiver.
Where Patterson really excels is as a runner with the ball in his hands. He has running back instincts and has a good feel for what is going on around him and is never afraid to make moves that he thinks will result in bigger yardage; even if it means running backwards, getting stuck in a corner, and running all the way across the field to gain yardage for a gain of over 30 yards like he on a reverse against Mississippi State. He has that Barry Sanders quality in him where he is always trying to score regardless of the risk, which is remarkable to watch for someone as big as Patterson.
In terms of comparison, Patterson’s physical build and appearance is reminiscent of Julio Jones and if he can top into his seemingly unlimited potential, that could be who he becomes in the NFL. But in terms of a freakish physical specimen who is extremely raw as a wide receiver, the best comparison for Patterson is current Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon had a pretty productive sophomore season at Baylor before off field issues forced the school to kick him out. Gordon transferred to Utah where he practiced with them for a year while he was sitting out a year before he declared for the draft. As a relative unknown in terms of his tape, he was tabbed as a guy with physical tools and a ton of potential, but needed a ton of development. With the Browns, he actually performed ahead of schedule and contributed more as a rookie than thought. And that could embolden a team to take Patterson in the first round, but Patterson, like Gordon, comes with a certain amount of risk.
There is no best fit for Patterson in terms of what the offense does. He is so talented, so physically impressive, and still so malleable at this point that he could play in any offense. The question of fit for Patterson comes down to the organization and the coaching staff. If someone drafts Patterson without much stability and needs him to be their #1 receiver right out of the gate to potentially save their job, it could be disastrous. His best situation is to go to an organization that knows who it is and has a plan to develop Patterson and integrate him into their offense over the course of weeks, months, and possibly more than a year. Not every team is really set up to do a ton of teaching, but that is exactly what Patterson is going to need.
Prospects like Cordarrelle Patterson terrify teams in the draft process. The teams that pass on him for any number of potentially legitimate reasons are scrutinized if he becomes a superstar and could fire people as a result, but at the same time, if a team picks him and he does not work out, someone is probably going to have to take the fall even if the owner was the one who pushed for the move. What makes this draft so unique is the fact there are no less than four players in the draft that have this type of volatility: Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah, Margus Hunt, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Prospects like Patterson are so incredibly intriguing and scary at the time, because they have all the talent and potential in the world, but need so much development to make it all pay off for the teams that draft them. The most likely scenario is that Cordarrelle Patterson will be picked somewhere at the end of the first round, but it is not impossible that Patterson could slide into the second round like Stephen Hill did last year, who was a raw, physical freak in the draft last year.
Florida, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia 2012
N.C. State 2012
Mississippi State 2012
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