Very Deep Sleeper: Cordarrelle Patterson (Raiders)
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I’m guessing somewhere between 42% and 87% of people saw the title of this article and just kept on walking by. Kudos to you for daring to click onto it. I’m going to try to make this worth your while…
Who among us has not been burned by love for Cordarrelle Patterson in fantasy before? A first-round pick WR in 2013 who flashed skills late in his rookie season and was then supposed to be the ‘next Randy Moss‘ (per Norv Turner), and then suddenly he disappeared into a Mike Zimmer doghouse midway through his second season and hasn’t really mattered since. Now, here I am, typical fantasy writer dredging up old high-pick WR prospects from the past and slapping a ‘sleeper’ label on them because they changed teams. What’s my next offering in this article series? Very Deep Sleeper Dorial Green-Beckham?
I think, if you hang with me here, I will change your mind on Patterson who, at the time of this writing, is ranked 28 spots below Green-Beckham in FantasyPros’ expert rankings for 2017. Patterson is currently the 125th-ranked WR, behind such luminaries as Jaelen Strong, Demarcus Robinson, Stevie Johnson, and new teammate Seth Roberts.
In order to embrace the possibility that Patterson might be a WR3+ for fantasy 2017, we have to walk back through what happened in Minnesota, a different twist than just ‘rookie flash, doghouse, career disappointment‘.
I would like to lay the foundation that Mike Zimmer is the new worst offensive mind at head coach in the entire NFL now that Jeff Fisher has been removed. In three seasons with the Vikings, Zimmer’s passing games have finished #28, #31, #21 in passing yards. Zimmer has an old-school run-game-dominant coaching philosophy that is out of touch for today’s passing game. Even Norv Turner walked out on this train wreck halfway through last season. This is the team/coach/situation/nightmare Patterson got stuck with for his first four years in the NFL.
Into his second NFL season, Patterson doesn’t help himself with old-school Mike Zimmer. Old-school coaches love dog houses and putting mouthy players in them to teach them a lesson. Cordarrelle would find his way there, in part for complaining about his usage. Some note that Patterson didn’t practice or play hard enough to merit touches either. Whatever combination of reasons – Patterson flashed as a rookie (2013) and then died off quickly halfway into year two (2014) and was a ghost in year three – just two targets in 2015 in 16 games of play.
All the while, Patterson was the league’s most dominant kick return man. It’s not like he’s never flashed any NFL talent or skill set. He was just banished from the offense for whatever reason people ascribe.
What happened in 2016 with Patterson, and Zimmer, should pique your interest moving forward. I mentioned Dorial Green-Beckham earlier – a player who never showed much of anything, frustrated coaches, and has now been bounced from two teams. His career is over. It never really got started. Patterson is different. He has a track record of success in the NFL.
Patterson responded to the 2015 season snub by Mike Zimmer by becoming a much better, harder-working football player in the offseason. How do we know this? Patterson went from strictly a kick returner to the best special teams coverage guy on the Vikings last year. Patterson is no diva WR. He transformed himself into a tackler. You rarely/never see that with first-round pick wide receivers. Patterson worked so hard on becoming a ‘team player’ that Mike Zimmer spoke glowingly of him in 2016 – a first – and pushed him into more playing time in Week 4 last season.
From Week 4 through the rest of the 2016 season, Patterson’s snaps and targets increased. He averaged 3.8 catches (5.2 targets) and 33.8 yards per game as a rotational/situational starting wide receiver for the Vikings over his final 13 games. Not bad production from a guy given up for (fantasy) dead the year prior. Not bad production as the No. 3 WR on a boring Vikings offense/passing game. All the while being a menace on special teams coverage and putting up the best average per kick return in the NFL in 2016. It was the 13th best average (31.7 yards per return) in a season in league history.
In fact, Patterson holds all-time yards per kick return in a season rankings No. 9 (2013), No. 11 (2015), and No. 13 (2016). He is the active NFL leader in kick return TDs (5), which is also 8th most all-time.
Patterson was also a 2013 NFL All-Rookie Team member and was a Pro Bowl player in 2013 (rookie) and in 2016. We’re not talking about a player devoid of talent here.
Oh, yeah, and he’s run the ball 31 times in his NFL career and scored four TDs – all rushing TDs from 30+ yards out, an average rushing TD of 46.3 yards. He’s rushed for a TD every 7.8 carries in the NFL. So, of course, it’s logical (?) the Vikings started handing the ball less to Patterson over the years.
Going into 2017, we have a player leaving the most unimaginative offense apart from the Jeff Fisher Rams the past four seasons and heading to an offense in Oakland with much better quarterback play and more ‘wide openness’ of the playbook. Not just any player is heading to Oakland, a player who demonstrated special team toughness, is one of the greatest kick returners in the history of the game, is one of the most prolific WRs running the ball in the history of the NFL, and showed real wide receiver skills (can work deep, intermediate, and great on the bubble screens) in flashes over his career when he was allowed on the field in the Vikings’ vanilla, predictable offense.
At this stage, in my pitch, perhaps your fantasy sleeper interest is piqued, but it still has a little bit too much of a long-shot feel for me. Here’s what adds some hot sauce to this theory for me…
Who signed Patterson? Oakland. Why? I think for two key reasons beyond Patterson’s special team value, and they may matter a whole lot for fantasy 2017.
1: The No. 3 WR for the Raiders last season was Seth Roberts, an athletic WR who really struggled catching the ball. He hauled in only 49.4% of his targets last season and had a few critical drops. However, he did garner 4.8 targets per game – and did snag five TD passes. He has five TD receptions in each of his first two seasons. I think Patterson is the superior talent replacement for Roberts. The No. 3 wide receiver for Oakland has seen a decent amount of action pre-CP the past two seasons.
2: Patterson is mildly interesting, for fantasy, if he gets 4–to-7 targets a game…fringe WR3 hopes, maybe. However, note, the Raiders got an up-close dose of Tyreek Hill in their division – a player KC used to run the ball a few times in a game and also increasingly utilized in the passing game, a weapon that confused defenses, including the Raiders late in the 2016 season, at every turn. Could Patterson be the Raiders attempt at putting their own Tyreek-like wrinkle in the offense to checkmate the rival Chiefs? Only, Patterson is a much more versatile WR and, like Hill, one of the most prolific runners of the ball labeled as a ‘WR’ in the history of the NFL.
What if the Raiders try to copycat or put a different twist on Tyreek Hill with Patterson?
In the final six games of his 2013 rookie season, Patterson averaged 4.0 catches, 45.5 receiving yards and 0.50 TDs per game but also 26.0 yards and 0.50 TDs per game rushing – six offensive TDs in six games…13.1 FF PPG/17.1 PPR.
Before he was pulled as a starter, and thrown into the Zimmer doghouse in his second season, Patterson put up some numbers his first seven games of 2014 – 3.6 catches, 42.7 yards, and 0.2 TDs and also 15.7 yards rushing and a TD.
As mentioned prior, Patterson posted 3.8 catches and 33.8 yards receiving per game his final 13 games of the 2016 season.
When given a chance, it’s not like Patterson has failed. He’s been good for 3-to–4 catches, 30–to-50 yards and a decent amount of TDs per game as a part-time receiver plus whatever he added as a runner. What if the change of scenery leads to a bigger opportunity for targets and a few more carries? What if Patterson is bumped up to 1-to-2 carries and catches 4-to-5 passes per game on mostly simple bubble screens with the occasional medium-deep ball? Patterson might have his hands on the ball more than most top WRs in the NFL if he gets more involved in the run game.
A No. 3 wide receiver working with a more up-tempo offense who can also run the ball. There might be some fantasy gold here.
…or one more Cordarrelle Patterson empty-promise heartbreak.
This year’s look won’t cost you as much to find out.
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