According to Pro Football Reference, the NFL began keeping track of kickoff return averages in 1942, when Marshall Goldberg of the Chicago Cardinals led the league at 26.2 yards per return.
Since then, no player has won that particular statistical category more than twice.
That could change Sunday if the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson maintains his comfortable lead for one more game and wins his third kick return title in his fourth NFL season.
“I would say it’s a blessing to be in this position,” Patterson said. “I just do my job. Whatever comes, it comes. I’m just a young, blessed guy. If it does happen, it does. If it don’t, I really can’t do anything about that. I don’t even know what my lead is.”
Patterson is at 31.5 yards on 24 returns entering Sunday’s season finale vs. the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Alex Erickson, an undrafted rookie with the Bengals, is second with a 28.4 average on 28 returns.
Only six NFL players, including Patterson (2013, 2015), have won the kick return average title twice. The others are San Francisco’s Abe Woodson (1962-63), Chicago’s Gale Sayers (1965-66), the Baltimore Colts’ Jim Duncan (1969-70), Detroit’s Mel Gray (1991 and 1994) and Carolina’s Michael Bates (1996-97).
Sayers is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He holds the record for career average (30.56). Patterson’s career average is 30.4, but, no, the young fella has never heard of Sayers.
“I really don’t know who he is,” Patterson said. “I didn’t really pay attention to football growing up. Not until I got to the NFL. I’ll have to look up Gale and see who he is.”
Patterson began his NFL career in 2013 as an All-Pro returner who averaged 32.4 yards. But Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he thinks Patterson has improved and instilled a confidence in the entire return unit that it can score touchdowns.
“I think the one thing that he has gotten better at, his vision is better,” Priefer said. “He’s seeing the holes a little better, the seams a little better. Every now and then, he’ll cut it back before I’d like him to, but he’s always trying to make a play.
“I think his first year, he was phenomenal, and he just didn’t know any better. His second year, I think he was pressing and thinking too much. And then I think he turned the corner last year. He continues to improve. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s better than he was when he got here.”
Said Patterson: “If Prief said it, then I believe it. The way he coached me up has really been a blessing. I love everything about the guy.”
Sendejo joins the list of those injured
Strong safety Andrew Sendejo, who practiced Wednesday, did not practice Thursday and was added to the injury report because of a knee injury.
Not practicing again Thursday were Alex Boone (lower back), Stefon Diggs (hip), Adrian Peterson (knee/groin) and Laquon Treadwell (ankle). Treadwell was running on the sideline during the open portion of practice.
Upgraded to full participation from limited Wednesday was Joe Berger (elbow). Limited again Thursday were Charles Johnson (knee), Harrison Smith (ankle), Zach Line (concussion) and Brandon Fusco (concussion).
Interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said he’s had no discussions with coach Mike Zimmer about removing the interim tag for 2017. He also said he doesn’t view Sunday’s season finale as another chance to audition for the job next year.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “I view this as another opportunity to try and do what I can to help put the players … in the best possible position they can be in so that we can go out and score points and win a football game.”