Outside of Rocky Top, most people didn’t know who Cordarrelle Patterson was going into the 2012 college football season. But thanks to the big plays he made week in and week out for the Tennessee Volunteers last fall, Patterson quickly made a name for himself as one of the nation’s best wide receivers and playmakers.
After just one season of major college football at Tennessee, Patterson declared for the 2013 NFL Draft and is the favorite to be the first wide receiver drafted.
Patterson has appeal as more than just a pass-catching target. He is a jack of all trades who scored touchdowns in four different ways for the Vols: five receiving, three rushing, one kickoff return and one punt return.
Patterson is a unique talent whose journey to college football stardom was equally unique. Before we look forward at what makes him a potential NFL star, let’s first take a look at how he got to where he is now.
Cordarrelle Patterson began showing his potential as a high school standout at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C. As a senior, Patterson was named to the 2008 AP All-State team for South Carolina with 75 receptions for 944 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Patterson, however, missed out on the opportunity to sign with a major college program out of high school because he did not qualify academically, according to ESPN.com.
Patterson started out at North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy—a school whose alumni include NFL wide receivers Antonio Brown and Lestar Jean—but did not play football during his time there in 2009, according to Tennessee’s athletics website.
That led Patterson to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College for two years, where he started to become a star. Patterson was a first-team NJCAA All-American in both of his seasons there, and holds more than a dozen school records for his outstanding production as both a wide receiver and returner.
From Unknown to Top Prospect
Cordarrelle Patterson was already making a name for himself nationally after the first quarter of the first game of his one and only season for the Volunteers.
In the first 15 minutes of Tennessee’s season opener versus North Carolina State, Patterson scored two touchdowns. Catching a 41-yard touchdown was a good way to open eyes, but he showed just how special an athlete he is when he followed that up by turning an end-around into a 67-yard touchdown run.
Those big plays turned out to be the start of an outstanding season. With outstanding speed and open-field running ability, Patterson consistently turned catches, runs out of the backfield and kickoff/punt returns into big plays.
Patterson set a Tennessee school record with 1,858 all-purpose yards last season. He had 10 all-purpose plays of 40 or more yards over the course of the season, which tied for eighth-most nationally according to CFBStats.com. He was also the only player in college football last season to score a touchdown four different ways.
Coming off of a stellar season, Patterson made an unsurprising and wise decision to declare for the 2013 draft.
What Makes Patterson a Top Prospect
Patterson is a rare and unique talent who truly wows on tape. While he is not the most polished, proven or experienced receiver in the 2013 draft, he has the most upside.
There are players in every draft who can be game-changing playmakers as runners, receivers and returners. Rarely, however, do those playmakers have measurables that come even close to 6’2” and 216 pounds—the measurables Patterson turned in at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
As a downfield, outside receiving target alone, Patterson would be a very promising prospect. He has great downfield speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash) and size, and uses both of those traits very well.
At his best, Patterson is a matchup nightmare for opposing cornerbacks. Patterson has great acceleration and lateral agility, and can combine those two factors to put a double-move on a defender then use his speed to separate downfield.
But even when he is unable to break free from coverage, he still makes catches. Patterson uses his size well to box out defenders and establish position against them relative to the football. He also has terrific body control and has displayed the ability to extend outward from his body to make challenging catches.
That said, it is Patterson’s ability to make plays in so many different ways, which comes as a result of his tremendous open-field running ability, that makes him likely to be the first receiver off the board in April.
Patterson combines tremendous second-gear speed with the ability to subtly and smoothly cut throughout a play to make defenders miss. He has a rare ability to turn a loss of yardage into a massive gain because of his ability to both run by and away from defenders.
This play against Mississippi State was a prime example of Patterson turning a play that should have been a loss into a 34-yard gain:
The team that adds Patterson won’t simply be adding a potential No. 1 wideout. They will be adding a playmaker who can line up all over the field.
Patterson can line up both outside and in the slot as a receiver. He can be used from those spots on the line as a rusher on end-around plays, but also has experience lining up as a tailback at Tennessee to run outside the tackles.
Patterson is also an outstanding returner, and has the potential to be effective in a wildcat package. He has running ability that the defense must account for no matter where he lines up on the field, and he showed he can throw the ball when he completed a 28-yard pass last season against Missouri.
Where Patterson Should Be Drafted
While we can rave on and on about the incredible skill set Patterson has, there are flaws in his game.
While Patterson often makes impressive catches, he has some issues with drops. One that really stood out from his season at Tennessee was this drop ,which cost the Vols what otherwise would have been a big play touchdown against Georgia:
Patterson’s production as a receiver was inconsistent at Tennessee, and he has only one year of major college football experience. The positive end of that is that he could only be scratching the surface of how good he can be. The negative, however, is that he remains an unpolished receiver who has some red flags around his effort and work ethic given his past.
Patterson has great promise as a route-runner because of his quickness, but is not quite polished in that department yet. Additionally, while he has shown he can make catches in traffic against man coverage, he needs to become better at using his hands to work off of coverage to get open often at the next level.
What is clear about Patterson’s game, however, is that he is a dynamic playmaker who can make a defense pay on any given play. Under a creative offensive coordinator, his potential can be maximized by using him in a variety of packages to take advantage of his open-field playmaking ability.
He has great size, explosive athleticism and is also a willing run-blocker. If he stays focused on and off the field, becomes a more consistent pass-catcher and sharpens his route running, he could be a superstar in an NFL offense.
As it stands, Patterson will likely be a mid-first-round pick given his potential. Potential landing spots among teams that could use a playmaker at the wide receiver position are the Miami Dolphins’ (No. 12), the St. Louis Rams (No. 16 or 22), the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17) or the Minnesota Vikings (No. 23).
Dan Hope is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.