With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#14: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
We continue this year's series with Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who made a fairly significant impact at the FBS level despite a lack of experience in doing so. After two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, Patterson joined the Vols in 2012, and scored two touchdowns -- one rushing and one receiving -- in his first game against North Carolina State. He caught six passes for 93 yards over NC State cornerback David Amerson, projected by many to be a second-round pick. By the time his season was over, Patterson had firmly established himself as one of the most dynamic offensive players in the SEC by catching 46 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns, adding 308 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, and scoring touchdowns on both kick and punt returns. And after just that one season, Patterson made the decision to go pro.
That decision seemed wise when Patterson, at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, fourth-best among all receivers. Though he could not participate in agility drills or the bench press due to injuries, that pure speed -- which is very evident on tape -- had to excite NFL teams in need of a scary playmaker, whether he's in need of developmental work or not. Patterson is not the most polished receiver in this draft class -- in fact, he may be the rawest of all the top-seeded prospects at his position. But he'll hear his name called early in round one of the NFL draft, because the physical upside is pretty ridiculous, and the NFL is more a height/weight/speed league than it was even a few years ago.
Pros: Big, physical receiver who comes off the line with burst and authority. Will win physical battles that other receivers simply aren't equipped to. Has a great frame for an 'A'-level receiver -- good musculature, strong upper body. Blocks well to help with run support -- sporadically with his technique, but almost like a tight end at times. Runs straight-line routes with outstanding glide and gets up to top speed (which is very impressive for his size) in a hurry. Has a natural ability to move and cut in traffic that makes him a potential yards-after-catch nightmare for every defenses. Not afraid to grab the pass in traffic when he know he's going to get hit. Drives upfield after the short and intermediate catch and uses his physical nature to bull through tackles. Plants and cuts well on drive routes (slants, in-cuts, drags).
Can be a real factor in the return game, where his combination of size, speed, and agility really show up. Reads the action in front of him well and cuts decisively to get away from tacklers. Has that final gear to excel as a deep returner, as well as a deep seam and boundary receiver. Dynamic red zone target who understands how to get his body in front of defenders quickly in short spaces. Has the physical characteristics to play the "X" spot as the isolated receiver, but may really shine as a "Z" at the next level, where he can take coverage off the top and open things up for other targets. Rushing ability will transfer to the NFL and could make him an interesting multi-formation player.
Cons: Patterson's lack of high-level experience shows up very clearly in his lack of overall route development and awareness, and this isn't an issue that can be corrected overnight. Played in a simple, mostly single-read offense, which stunted his development. Doesn't always transition well to catch out of quick-breaking routes, which seems to be more a function of concentration and technique, because he will catch balls in traffic. The eye-to-hands connection is a work in progress, and he'll suffer lapses in concentration and ball security as a result.
Tends to get drifty on routes than require precision, such as curls and comebacks. More a jumper than a route-savvy guy on boundary catches, because he will struggle to regain position with cuts. Needs to learn how to better adjust to press corners who want to re-route him. Doesn't always fight for the ball in contested situations -- not that all of Tyler Bray's errant ducks are Patterson's fault, but it would be nice to see him go after those picks a little harder.
Conclusion: NFL teams in need of a breakaway receiver with virtually unlimited potential will see Patterson as a highly appealing option, because there are times on tape where he appears virtually uncoverable, and it's relatively easy to put some of the blame for the bad plays on abasic offensive system, a lack of experience, and a highly erratic quarterback. In the right system, and under a coaching staff who will not expect too much from him right away in the route-running department, Patterson could be a rookie impact player.
Patterson is hitting the league at the right time, because the higher prevalence of multi-receiver sets turns some receivers into specialists, and specific schematic nods to the college game has forced coaches to come up with ways for less-developed receivers to win battles with NFL pass defenders. Patterson may have a limited role at first -- perhaps as a guy who makes things happen with a combination of quick screens and slants, end-arounds, and vertical routes. If he is ever able to grab a full command of an NFL route tree, Patterson could be one of the best in the league. One thing's for sure -- he is a scheme-transcendent receiver, which means that he'll probably be the first pass-catcher off the board in the draft -- and possibly a top-10 pick.