EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — From the moment the Minnesota Vikings traded four draft picks to nab him in the first round in late April, his first steps inside the team’s facilities at Winter Park and his introductory press conference when he held up his purple No. 84 jersey for cameras, Cordarrelle Patterson has been compared to the receivers that came before him.
Patterson didn’t do himself any favors by choosing No. 84, forever linked in Minnesota with potential future Hall of Famer Randy Moss. His game, a tantalizing mix of speed and ability to make tacklers miss, reminded many of the player he was essentially replacing, Percy Harvin, despite the size differences.
Patterson downplays the comparisons.
He willingly stepped into Moss’ immense shadow and knew as much with his number choice because he grew up idolizing Moss. Patterson’s play this season is reminiscent of Harvin, but he hasn’t embraced the comparisons to Harvin as much as he did the connection with Moss.
“I’m me; I can’t be nobody else,” Patterson said this week. “Why would I want to be Percy Harvin? I’m trying to set my own standards, you know? So I come in each day just trying to get better, just being what CP can be, not what Percy Harvin can do and what Percy can’t do. So I’ve just got to be myself.”
The association with Harvin was unescapable this week, as much as Patterson tried to avoid it. The Vikings travel to Seattle and Harvin, Minnesota’s former first-round pick in 2009, is set to make his season debut for the Seahawks after missing the first half of the season because of hip surgery.
As Minnesota faces its former talented but temperamental receiver, Patterson could be looking at his biggest opportunity with the Vikings too. Jerome Simpson’s weekend arrest and charges of DWI could open up more playing time offensively for Patterson.
“We intended to continue to get him more reps,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “You saw it in the Washington game and the prior week, we’re trying to get him more reps. So, that was a part of the plan anyway, and it definitely will be a part of the plan now with some of the concerns that have.”
Whether Patterson has asked for the comparisons or not, he’s stepped into Harvin’s spot this season. The differences are noticeable between the two, the first being Patterson’s 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame to Harvin at 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds.
Both have outstanding straight line speed, but Harvin has an unparalleled ability to change direction and sudden quickness. They both are special with the ball in their hands and with the unique ability to take any return or pass for a score.
Patterson has been every bit Harvin’s equal as a returner in his first nine games. Harvin’s 35.9-yard average on kickoff returns last season would have led the league if he had enough chances to qualify, but an ankle injury kept him out the final seven games as Minnesota mounted a playoff run.
This season, Patterson leads the league with a 35.2-yard kickoff return average. Harvin had five returns for touchdown in his four years with the Vikings. Patterson has two returns for touchdown this season, including an NFL record 109 yarder in Week 7 against Green Bay.
“We all feel like that,” Patterson said of being someone who can break the big play. “I feel like that’s what I’m gifted at, with the ball on my hands. On special teams, I love special teams. I’m high back there. I love it to death. Every time I get the ball I expect something to happen. I go high on myself back there so every time I touch the ball I feel like I’m gifted and something’s going to happen.”
Considered “raw” coming out in the draft, Patterson’s use on offense has been slow, in part because of the presence of Simpson, who leads Minnesota with 491 receiving yards. But coaches are giving Patterson more time as a receiver and he played a season-high 40 percent of the offensive snaps in last week’s win against Washington, and Patterson responded with his first career touchdown catch.
Simpson’s status could elevate his playing time quicker than expected, but the Vikings believe Patterson is ready for more exposure on offense.
“He now knows more than just one position,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “We’re mixing and matching him and trying to get him in good spots as well as featuring our other guys, too.
“We know Cordarrelle doesn’t have a lot of football history. Played at Tennessee, had a great year but wasn’t even able to go through spring ball or even their training camp, so he’s done a fantastic job of catching up to speed in terms of overall football knowledge.”
Patterson has patiently waited his time and worked to learn. He played one season of major college football at Tennessee last season after transferring from junior college.
“My route running has improved a lot,” Patterson said. “I’m not worried about the plays. That’s coming along. It’s great. I’ve got great guys. Quarterbacks, they help me out every day. I can’t worry about that. Whatever happens on the field happens on the field. We all make mistakes that you’ve just got to learn from.”
The comparisons never really stop for the talented rookie. Frazier was asked this week how he compared with Simpson.
“Well, run after the catch shows up with Cordarrelle,” Frazier said. “Jerome’s been having a terrific season for us, made some tough catches, run very good routes. But the one thing that sticks out with Cordarrelle and you see it on kickoff returns, his ability with the ball in his hands. He’s a hard guy to tackle, can make people miss and can run away from you. Those are playmaking qualities that you look for in a player, and in this case a receiver. So, that’s the one thing that sticks out.”
Just don’t compare Patterson to Harvin.
“Like I said, Percy, I ain’t got nothing to do with Percy,” Patterson said. “I can’t worry about what Percy’s doing, man. I’m just worrying about me.”