No doubt the Vikings need is a big, fast receiver who can stretch the field after the team finished 31st in the NFL in receiving yards last season at 202.9 per game. But the Vikings might already have that player on their roster in Cordarrelle Patterson if he could regain his first-year form.
Patterson had a great rookie season not only as a returner but as a receiver as well. He caught 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns. His production dipped in 2014 with 33 receptions for 384 yards and a score, and then he completely disappeared in 2015 with two receptions for 10 yards all season.
It was a dramatic drop in production for a player who was once assumed to be the future of the receiving corps after he was drafted in the first round in 2013 out of Tennessee.
Despite Patterson’s poor performance as a receiver, Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said recently that there is no chance the team will get rid of Patterson because he is the best kick returner in the NFL.
The numbers bear that out, as Patterson was second in the NFL in return yards with 1,019 last year, first in return average at 31.8 yards per game and first in return TDs with two.
Still, this is Patterson’s last year under his rookie contract of four years at $7.2 million, and while he can earn $1.5 million in 2016, it remains to be seen what the Vikings would want to pay him to stay with the team if he can’t prove himself as a receiver this season.
Coach Mike Zimmer told reporters at the NFL owners meetings this week in Boca Raton, Fla., that this is a key season for Patterson.
“If he wants to be something other than just a returner, this is the year he has to do it. If he wants to be an NFL wide receiver, this is his time,” Zimmer said. “A lot of guys grow up slower than others, at different times, in different stages. Guys kind of blossom in their third or fourth year. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I hope it does, for our sake. And I’m not trying to make excuses for him, but he wasn’t at Tennessee very long.
“There’s a lot of other factors. I don’t think he was quite really ready when he came into the NFL as far as being a really good professional football player. You’re always hoping, because he has the talent to do it. We’re hoping that he does. But there are guys that do and guys that don’t. Right now, he’s right on the fence.”
Kickoff rule change
One thing that could influence the Vikings’ future interest in Patterson, if his receiving numbers don’t pick is up, is that the NFL introduced a new rule for kickoffs this week where any touchback now will have the ball placed at the 25-yard line instead of the 20.
Kickers and kick returners will be put in an interesting spot. For kickers, it will be whether to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone and put the ball at the 25 or kick it high and short and hope to pin the returner inside the 20. For returners, it will be whether to return a kickoff that reaches the end zone instead of taking a knee and the guaranteed 25 yards.
For the Vikings, it will be interesting to see how they direct Patterson on returns. They have long given him freedom to return any kickoff. That’s how he produced the longest kickoff return in NFL history, a 109-yard score in 2013.
While the Vikings made a splash in free agency signing offensive linemen Alex Boone and Andre Smith, a quiet signing they made that is great was giving Marcus Sherels a two-year, $4 million contract with $1.5 million guaranteed. Sherels is a former Gophers walk-on from Rochester John Marshall who made the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2010 at a position, punt returner, that he never played in college. Most of his service for the Gophers was as a cornerback.
When Priefer was asked about the signing of Sherels, he said, “There was never any question about trying to keep Marcus.”
It’s easy to see why, Sherels has been the teams punt returner for five seasons, averaging 301.4 return yards per season to go along with three touchdowns, including a 65-yard return last season at Chicago. He also plays other roles on the Vikings special teams units and on defense at cornerback too.
He’s one of the best stories on the Vikings and will be a key player again in 2016.
• The word around Target Center is that with only 11 Timberwolves games left this season, Kevin Garnett has told team owner Glen Taylor that he would like to play in some more games, but his knees are not healthy enough. Still, Garnett will try to get in shape during the offseason, and then decide whether he will play the second year of his contract. If Garnett were to play next season, he would tie Kevin Willis for the most seasons played by an NBA player in the history of the game at 21.
• Sports Illustrated had a writer here this past week following Andrew Wiggins for a big story in the magazine. … One thing current Timberwolves General Manager Milt Newton did before joining Flip Saunders with the Wizards was work with former NBA Commissioner David Stern in forming the NBA Development League.
• Zach LaVine had one of his most impressive performances of the season in the second half of the Wolves’ 113-104 victory over Sacramento on Wednesday. LaVine scored 23 points in the second half, going 7-for-10 from the floor and 4-for-7 from three-point range. He is shooting 50.6 percent from the floor and 46.1 percent from three in 17 games since the All-Star break.
• Gophers baseball coach John Anderson is encouraged by what he has seen from his team, which has started 7-6: “It looks like we’re going to have a better offensive team than we’ve had the last few years,” Anderson said. “I’ve been encouraged by how well the kids compete and play the game and play together as a team here. There’s a lot of good signs, positive signs that this thing is trending in a better direction than last year.”
• Akolda Manyang, the Oklahoma men’s basketball player from Rochester who left the team last weekend to return to Minnesota following the death of his brother, Ater, won’t be at the team this weekend in Anaheim, Calif., either. Oklahoma beat Texas A&M on Thursday night to reach the Elite Eight.
• After writing about the legacy of Chuck Cooper on Thursday, his son Chuck Cooper III, the president and CEO of the Chuck Cooper Foundation, wrote me to say that this is a big year for his father’s legacy as he is officially listed as a candidate for the Naismith Hall of Fame as one of the early African-American pioneers of the game of basketball. Certainly there’s no one more deserving of that award than the first African-American drafted into the NBA.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org