Cordarrelle Patterson was bothered by being labeled “Percy Harvin’s replacement” before even taking his first snap last season.
And the Vikings receiver’s eyes rolled to the back of his skull on the weekly subject with each passing Harvin-like, eyebrow-raising touchdown his rookie season.
“That’s like when people compare me to Randy Moss; I can only be myself,” said Patterson, who dons the same No. 84 Moss wore with the Vikings. “I cannot do things Percy did. He had a great career here. I’m trying to step up and have a good year, too.”
Patterson and Harvin, dynamic athletes drafted by the Vikings, will be on the same field for a second time on Sunday when the Vikings host the Jets, but the comparisons, perhaps to Patterson’s liking, have departed — for now at least.
That’s because Patterson is a backup wide receiver. He’s been demoted the past two games and will likely serve as a backup to Charles Johnson again at the “X” position against the Jets in a disappointing second season.
Nobody expected that a healthy Patterson, who was unleashed for six touchdowns — receiving and rushing combined — during the final month of the 2013 season, would receive just three snaps on offense in a game at any point this season like he did against the Panthers last week.
“I feel like receiver is the hardest position,” Patterson said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot stuff thrown at us and been in so many offenses in different years. It’s a lot of high expectations for a young receiver like me.”
Harvin, who was traded to the Jets from the Seahawks after five games this season, has kept an eye on Patterson since he played at Tennessee. The brother of Harvin’s girlfriend, Jordan Williams, played on the Volunteers with Patterson.
“I love him,” Harvin told a New York reporter this week. “I’ve always been a fan of him.”
The Vikings traded Harvin after four seasons to the Seahawks and picked Patterson with the 29th overall pick last year.
Unfortunately for Patterson, the narrative wrote itself. Neither player fits a traditional NFL role because each has the ability to be a returner, running back and wide receiver.
“It’s not an easy transition, not having played receiver at all and then you come and you’re one of the full-time guys outside,” Harvin said. “So I think it’s just repetition. As he gets older, I think it’ll start coming to him. … Just like him, I had a lot of plays that were kind of scripted for me, rather than just being a traditional guy outside.”
The biggest difference between the two is that Patterson is still raw. He’s more of a hybrid running back/wide receiver than Harvin, Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart said.
Patterson’s played just five consecutive years of football in as many offensive systems dating back to junior college, while Harvin had a more orthodox path playing four years in high school and three seasons at Florida before turning pro.
Of Patterson’s 11 career touchdowns, four have come on halfback tosses, four occurred inside the 10-yard line, two on kickoff returns and one on a screen pass. Patterson has called himself a playmaker, but when those signature quick plays aren’t working, Patterson’s value on the field diminishes.
The Vikings coaching staff is determined to develop Patterson into an every-down “X” receiver, not a niche offensive weapon, despite his growing pains this year. It’s a role Patterson hasn’t been accustomed to, which has frustrated Patterson and, at times, head coach Mike Zimmer.
“The misconception that he’s in somebody’s doghouse, that’s totally false,” Stewart said. “… I wouldn’t put the term ‘bust’ on Cordarrelle. He’s going to play good football for us. He’s a first-round pick for a reason, and he’s going to be very successful for us going forward.”
Patterson met Harvin for the first time last year when the Vikings faced the Seahawks. They spoke for about 10 minutes and have established mutual respect since the encounter. During their chat, Harvin explained to Patterson not to get caught up in the narrative of becoming Harvin’s “replacement.”
But at this point, it’s no longer about Harvin 2.0. It’s what Patterson always wanted, and what everyone will patiently have to wait for. It’s about developing Patterson 1.0.
“[Harvin] said just go out and play the game,” Patterson said. “I just got to play my game. I respect him as a player and a man, on and off the field. This week, I hope I get to talk to him a little bit more.”