EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — From the moment the Minnesota Vikings made perhaps the draft’s biggest move by trading a bevy of picks to acquire Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round, they’ve talked about a “plan” for developing the talented, but raw receiver.
Decision makers like general manager Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier haven’t publicly spoken of details, instead offering generalizations about how they will handle Patterson, who played only one season of major college football at Tennessee. In conjunction with receivers coach George Stewart, they will have specific ideas on how to handle Patterson, because the playmaking ability is obvious on tape.
One reason for the plan is Patterson’s inexperience and his lack of refinement as an outside receiver. The other is the reported issues with his intelligence and ability to pick up NFL offenses and a reported lack of work ethic. Patterson has heard the reports.
“People just want to go off of what they hear, that ‘He don’t want to do this. He don’t want to do that,'” Patterson said. “But I just tell them just come and hear my side of the story. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to be a part of this team.”
If Patterson is ready to learn, the Vikings will be one step ahead. The “plan” now comes into effect with Minnesota starting organized team activities next week.
“We have to have a specific plan, which we talked about, when he comes into the building, ‘OK, how are we going to develop him?’,” Spielman said. “We have a very strong receiver coach in George Stewart, who I think’s the best in the NFL. I think Bill Musgrave is very innovative in how to get the ball in playmakers’ hands. To go out and sign a Greg Jennings this offseason and to have him under the tutelage of a Greg Jennings, who’s not only a great football player, but a true pro’s pro.
“That’s our responsibility to bring this kid along. Because he’s a great kid and he’s a hard worker. So if you have those two things going for you, and he’s willing to put in the work, we expect him to develop and be a player.”
While the Vikings won’t discuss their plans, there might be clues in how they handled another versatile, playmaking receiver who wasn’t a natural outside receiver: Percy Harvin.
Harvin was more experienced and refined coming out of Florida as a first-round rookie in 2009. But there are similarities. Harvin and Patterson have both succeeded by getting the ball in their hands in unconventional ways and letting their instincts take over.
Patterson, in his one season of major college football at Tennessee last year, scored touchdowns in four different ways, the first Division I player to do so in four years. He caught 46 passes for a 16.9-yard average. He ran the ball 25 times for a 12.3-yard average. He had 24 kickoff returns for a 28.0-yard average and also had four punt returns for a 25.3-yard average.
Harvin, off his very accomplished career at Florida, made his biggest impact as a rookie on kickoff returns, making the Pro Bowl in his first season after averaging 27.5 yards-per-return with two touchdowns. Minnesota will unleash Patterson on kickoff returns as a rookie, likely where he will make his biggest impact in his first season. He will get a look as a punt returner as well.
Harvin, based on his football intellect and experience, also made an impact as a receiver and was named the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year when he finished with 60 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns, which would likely be lofty totals for Patterson in his first year. Patterson won’t be forced into being a top receiving option with the Vikings signing Jennings, bringing back Jerome Simpson and also having intriguing second-year receiver Jarius Wright.
But Minnesota can possibly use Patterson in some of the same ways it did Harvin over the years. Harvin, partially because of his short stature, was never used much as a true outside receiver or deep threat. He worked over the middle, caught the ball on screens and carried the ball out of the backfield, all areas Minnesota might be able to use Patterson.
Harvin’s work as a receiver grew each year of his four years with the Vikings. As Minnesota learned to use Harvin, he went from 60 catches as a rookie to 71 in his second year, up to a career-high 87 and then 62 last year before he missed the final seven games.
The Vikings can learn from their experience with Harvin. Patterson can watch some of the ways Harvin was used and try to imitate Harvin’s unique style. With Jennings, Simpson and Wright, the Vikings have three receivers for more of the conventional routes. Frazier spoke about keeping things simple for Patterson early, from an offensive aspect.
“I think early on, the mindset is put him in one spot, let him learn that spot and then eventually grow it a little bit,” Frazier said at the team’s rookie minicamp earlier this month. “But just get him settled to begin with.”
Frazier added: “There’s just so few of those guys who come in and make an impact early on at the wide receiver position. So we’ll have to make sure he gets indoctrinated early, just like we’re doing now, into our offense and just finding out what’s the best way that he learns. And what do we have to do to make sure he has a chance to make a contribution in this first year. The obvious thing for him is the fact that he’s a good returner. But he’s a tremendous player with the ball in his hands. So we’ve got to figure out ways to get the ball in his hands and also do what we have to do offensively to include him in what we’re doing. And we think we have a pretty good plan to get that done.”