This time a year ago, the immense hype trailed Cordarrelle Patterson to Mankato like a lockdown cornerback chasing him down the sideline.
Before he snapped on his helmet for his first padded practice since his thrilling rookie season, Patterson was hailed as one of the NFL’s biggest breakout candidates and a surefire fantasy football star. The Vikings promoted him heavily, too, and he had to shake free of screaming autograph seekers every day at camp.
But when the actual games started, Patterson was more dud than stud.
He caught only one touchdown pass as the Vikings got off to a 2-5 start. After Week 1, the designed plays to get the ball in Patterson’s hands with handoffs and screen passes were snuffed out by defenses. By November, he was relegated to backup duty.
“Last year is last year,” Patterson said recently. “I’m trying to put that in the past.”
Last year, the 2013 first-rounder lacked consistency and an attention to detail, leading to legitimate questions about whether he will ever become a reliable, starting-caliber wide receiver. But the Vikings remain committed to the 24-year-old, pointing out that talented young man is, well, still young and talented.
Patterson, meanwhile, says he is humbled and hungry to get his career back on track.
“I tell everybody, I feel like this is the make-or-break-me year, man,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to prove. I need to get back to the old me and have fun and not get too serious like I did last year.”
Patterson was all smiles during his rookie season. It took a while for the Vikings to give him a major role in the offense, but when the season was over, he had seven touchdowns on offense and two kickoff return TDs that helped him score All-Pro honors.
All those trips to the end zone masked the fact that Patterson was far from a polished product as a wide receiver after two years at a junior college and a few months at Tennessee.
In his second NFL season, Patterson struggled to grasp the nuances of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s playbook and too often lined up incorrectly or ran the wrong route. As a result, he never fully earned the trust of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
He admits now that his lost 2014 season, during which he had only 33 catches for 384 yards, was a needed wake-up call.
“That urgency, it needs to be there for me every play,” Patterson said.
Patterson said he set out to become a more reliable target this offseason. He also changed up his offseason routine by running up sandy hills and lugging around heavy buckets of water with an unorthodox personal trainer in San Francisco.
He didn’t feel it was necessary to work out with the mystery former NFL wide receiver that coach Mike Zimmer set him up with, though he said he did chat with him at the Super Bowl and that Zimmer seemed cool with that.
“I feel like this is the best spring I’ve had all throughout my years,” Patterson said. “I’m just working hard, man. I’ve been talking in the past about my work ethic and just trying to get better in my routes. I feel like I’ve improved a lot.”
But Patterson still was running with the second-stringers as spring workouts wrapped in June. Charles Johnson and new addition Mike Wallace were Bridgewater’s top two targets with Jarius Wright working out of the slot in three-wide sets.
Turner insisted that Patterson is in the mix for a starting role, and he had positive things to say about what he was seeing from Patterson in noncontact drills.
“I think he’s working on doing the little things we’re asking him to do,” Turner said. “He’s got a smile on his face, and he’s working hard.”
But when the Vikings report to Mankato on Saturday, Patterson will be flying under the radar, unlike last summer when all eyes were on him. And he’s OK with that for now.
“Just have fun and enjoy the moment,” Patterson said, his trademark grin back again. “Football don’t last forever, so go out there and play every down like it’s your last and make sure you enjoy it.”