Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.42
Vertical Jump: 37”
Broad Jump: 10’ 8”
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Background (College Stats)
After a strong 2008 high school season put him on college teams’ radars, Patterson did not play the following season at North Carolina Tech. He moved to Kansas the next year, became a two-time NFCAA All-American at Hutchinson Community College and was considered the top ranked JUCO product in the nation. Patterson entered 2012 expecting to be Tennessee’s No. 3 receiver (behind fellow draft classmates Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers), but the latter was dismissed from the team. The South Carolina native seamlessly transitioned to the Division I level in his first game with the Volunteers, posting a 6-93-1 line against North Carolina State’s David Amerson, who led FBS with 13 interceptions the previous year. Patterson continued to make plays thereafter, becoming the first NCAA player in four years to score a touchdown four different ways. As the season progressed, Tennessee began to get him snaps at running back, where he tallied 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. But he did his most damage as a returner, setting a SEC single-season record with a combined kickoff and punt return average of 27.6 yards, and a school record of 1,858 all-purpose yards.
NFL Player Comp(s): Dez Bryant
Patterson arguably has the best size-speed-skill combination of any receiver in this draft and is something special in the open field; he may be the best bigger-bodied receiver in that regard to come out in recent drafts. As noted NFL Films guru Greg Cosell recently pointed out, he has “open field instincts and movement that you cannot teach”. Former Tennessee recruiting coordinator (and current Cincinnati Bearcats QB coach) Darin Hinshaw suggested Patterson “was the best I’ve ever seen with the ball in his hands”. To those points, Patterson repeatedly flashed exceptional stop-and-start ability as a ball-carrier. As cliché as it sounds, every play he has the ball in his hands is one that can actually be a big play. He also separates rather easily on vertical routes and could emerge as the player who “takes the top off” the defense early in his career. It comes as no surprise then that he was asked to – and excelled in – many different facets of the game, including receiver, runner and return specialist. As agile and nimble as he is in the open field, he is also not averse to getting a bit physical and will fight through weak tackles. For the lack of respect he gets for his “limited” mental acuity, Patterson does seem to comprehend hot routes and has a more expansive route tree than Bryant had in his first two seasons.
As his background and one year in major-college football will attest, Patterson is raw. In his case, “raw” means he has a lot of work learning to use his hands to separate initially from coverage against the higher-quality cornerbacks he will face in the NFL. It also means he’ll be a work in progress becoming a better route runner to take more advantage of his natural physical gifts. Opponents will almost certainly use press coverage on him early on – assuming they have a cornerback capable of playing it well – until he stops trying to avoid the jam and learns to take it head on from time to time (something that he can be coached to do). As wonderful as he is with the ball in his hands, one of the bigger knocks on Patterson is that he doesn’t bring it on every play, as a receiver or blocker. Although his drop rate (4.2%) was lower than other high-profile receivers in this draft like Keenan Allen and Hunter, Patterson has a tendency to body catch, even when it isn’t necessary to do so. Patterson’s overall intelligence has also come into question, which may have something to do with the number of teams (reportedly) that he has not interviewed well throughout the draft process.
If football was played simply from the shoulders down, the evaluation would be simple and the Pro Bowls would likely be aplenty. Patterson is about as talented as they come, but needs a lot of polish. For those reasons, he is one of the most difficult players to project in this class. One of the factors he has going for him is that he is not a character red flag, so the questions he raises with his academic struggles and supposed inability to retain information will be less of a burden on a coaching staff. (Based on some of his play, I get the distinct feeling that he’s a bit more football-savvy than he is getting credit for during the draft process.) Former University of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley told NFL.com’s Gil Brandt that Patterson “can be a head coach’s delight” and it isn’t hard to see why when he can make the big play at receiver, returner and even running back. Patterson should (and probably needs to) be brought along slowly, with his new team focusing on his abilities as a returner and the routes he excelled at with the Volunteers as a receiver (crossing routes, hitches and go routes). Will he shore up the mental/psychological part of his game? That’s the (several) million-dollar question, because he oozes physical talent. Assuming Patterson lands with a team willing to build a package of plays around his strengths in his rookie season – much like San Francisco did with OLB Aldon Smith a couple of years ago – and finds a very good (and patient) position coach to work with him, he could very well be one of the most dynamic receivers in the league in 3-4 years.