Justin Hunter was supposed to be the Volunteers' top draft prospect as the 2012 season got underway. His running mate out wide would have something to say about that. During a one-year stay at Tennessee after transferring from a Kansas community college, 21-year-old true junior Cordarrelle Patterson emerged as the Vols' premier all-purpose weapon. Patterson found four different ways to score touchdowns and averaged an 18.8-yard gain every time he handled the rock.
I had seen a few of Patterson's highlights and a cut-up video before this Evaluation, but nothing substantial. I entered this one with no preconceived opinions and a wide-open mind. In my first real exposure to Patterson, I watched six Tennessee games, all of Patterson's touches twice, and charted each with detailed notes.
One fact crystallized after about two games: Scoring touchdowns and playing explosive football come natural to Cordarrelle Patterson. He is a natural playmaker. Listed at 6-foot-3, 205, Patterson's body type is similar to Dez Bryant and Julio Jones', and his game is especially similar to Julio's. Patterson's movements seemed effortless even as he outraced defensive backs and made oncoming defenders shiver. Julio is a bit like that. Randy Moss was like that, too.
Although Patterson's primary position in Tennessee's offense was "X-Iso" receiver on the outside, the Vols devised ways other than fly and go routes to put the ball in Patterson's hands. In the six games I viewed, one of Patterson's most impressive plays came on a 15-yard rushing attempt in the fourth quarter versus Mississippi State.
Lined up as a traditional tailback, Patterson accepted quarterback Tyler Bray's handoff and moved subtly, patiently to his right. Running upright and contemplating his lane, Patterson exploded suddenly with a violent cut on a sweep, forcing Bulldogs linebackers Deontae Skinner and Bernardrick McKinney to flail and miss badly. Patterson dipped his shoulder and finished the run with forceful authority. The run was Petersonian.
I checked the box score after watching the Mississippi State game, just for kicks. Patterson had two catches for 25 yards. He was still a Human Highlight Reel, ripping off devastating cuts to make three Bulldogs special teamers look silly on a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown. Patterson turned a 10-yard loss into a long gain on a reverse, busting a tackle deep in the backfield, making another defender miss, and reversing field again en route to a 34-yard pickup. His first reception came in heralded cornerback Johnthan Banks' coverage, as Patterson's precise curl-out route left Banks flat footed for 14 yards along the left sideline. Patterson got his second catch versus another highly touted draft prospect in Darius Slay, out-muscling Banks' bookend for an 11-yard touchdown on a fade. Patterson just barely missed an additional kick return score, shaking two Bulldogs before a lucky shoestring tackle stopped Patterson at the 39-yard line with only green grass in front of him. Despite catching just two balls against Mississippi State, Patterson finished with 195 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. (When you say 'play', I say 'maker'.)
Facing another top-rated cornerback versus North Carolina State, Patterson whipped 2011 NCAA interceptions leader David Amerson for a 41-yard scoring bomb, creating a cavity of separation at the end of his fly route. Patterson continued his schooling of Amerson on an end-around, breaking three tackles and easily outrunning Amerson for a 67-yard rushing touchdown. Against Missouri, Patterson had two TDs negated by penalties, the first on a silly high-stepping call and the second on a hold that didn't affect the play. Patterson lost yet another touchdown against Vanderbilt after juking Commodores safety Kenny Ladler on a quick curl and scoring from 27 yards out. Officials caught the Vols' center blocking too far downfield.
Cordarrelle Patterson is a freak. There were times he looked genuinely un-tackle-able on tape. I charted him with 29 open-field opportunities across six games. He made the first defender miss on 20 of them. Many receivers are explosive vertically and run fast in a straight line. Patterson is explosive both vertically and laterally, and physical as all get out. I loved how he got skinny through tight spaces, regularly sending would-be tacklers grasping at air as they left their feet. Patterson's run-after-catch ability might be the best I have ever seen from a college wide receiver.
I think I read somewhere that Patterson is a poor route runner. Could've fooled me. He ran a full route tree in Tennessee's pro-style offense, executing the curl, hitch, skinny post, slant, back-shoulder fade, and deep-in as an X receiver, and the out-and-up and shallow cross from the slot. Just once did I see Patterson seem to blow a route; versus Vanderbilt. I couldn't tell if the miscommunication was on him or Tyler Bray. Patterson shot in and out of breaks. He used a crossover to evade press coverage off the line of scrimmage. His body control was fantastic both along the sideline and in the open field.
Now for the nitpicks. Patterson has a tendency to let passes get too far into his body. He doesn't always catch it with his hands. I charted 39 of Patterson's targets and charged him with two drops. Each drop occurred on a throw over his right shoulder. Patterson put himself in great position to secure both, so tracking deep balls doesn't appear to be an issue. Catching them may be something he needs to improve.
I have a feeling the biggest "concern" with Patterson will be intangible. He played at JUCO. He might not be great in the classroom. Fortunately, he looks plenty smart on the football field.
Patterson also didn't have great receiving stats. He was the No. 2 option in Tennessee's passing game, behind more experienced Hunter. Patterson finished his junior season with a relatively pedestrian 46 catches for 778 yards and five TDs. Box-score scouts figure to hold this against him, dismissing Patterson's 12.3 yards-per-carry average and team-high ten all-purpose scores.
Patterson's game tape is nothing short of sensational, and as explained above he dominated games in the SEC even while taking a receiving backseat to Hunter. Watch Patterson work the slant and fade versus Florida. He lit up Missouri and Mississippi State with game-breaking all-purpose plays. Patterson broke off a 45-yard kickoff return against Alabama. On a reverse, Patterson made swiss cheese of the middle of Georgia's defense on a 46-yard end-zone trip.
Based on what I read about Patterson before watching the tape, I expected a raw, unpolished, mistake-prone receiver. A talented project. I did see big-time talent, but I didn't see many mistakes at all.
If Cordarrelle Patterson is a boom-or-bust pick in April's draft, write me down as predicting a smashing boom.
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