The easiest way to lose your edge in fantasy football – or in anything – is to become overconfident in your predictions. This trap becomes especially relevant after a recent run of success. Even more than that, I think it can even be a trap to want to be right on specific players. The need to always be right can cause us to ignore new information and foster a reluctance to explore new ideas. So one of the things I plan to do this offseason is to create the best possible argument for players about whom I’ve been previously skeptical. This will help me challenge my preconceived notions and discover where my reasoning may be faulty. Hopefully, the arguments will be useful to readers as well. I’ll always make it clear when I’m engaging in one of these arguments with myself.
Entering the NFL, the case against Patterson was fairly straightforward. Based on his collegiate production, you could easily have assigned him an undraftable grade heading into the 2013 Draft. During his rookie campaign, Patterson confirmed both the positive and negative theses surrounding him. Depending on format, Patterson finished between WR32 and WR44. He had his best game in Week 14, going off for 141 yards and a touchdown. I faced the Patterson owner in the BroCartel playoffs that week, and his big game should have cost me the victory. Except my opponent started Tiquan Underwood. If a quality fantasy owner would rather play Tiquan Underwood with the season on the line, that’s probably a pretty good sign you weren’t fantasy relevant.
For a less prejudicial take on his rookie year, we can look to his receiving stats. Among his rookie peers, he finished 10th in receiving yardage. That number was ahead of No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin but trailed two UDFAs – Tim Wright and Marlon Brown – and clipped a third by only three yards (Kenbrell Thompkins).
Moreover, receiver is probably not Patterson’s best position. He ran for an impressive 158 yards on 12 carries, and his receiving profile reinforces the idea that he should be used more as running back hybrid. A ridiculous 87% of his yards after catch came on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, Patterson was rarely even asked to run NFL-style patterns. C.D. Carter recently used PFF’s aDOT metric to show that Patterson has very little in common with former stars in Turner-led offenses.
It’s also problematic that the two most commonly cited pro-Cordarrelle themes are probably spurious.
Theme 1: Due to his rare size/speed combination, Patterson perfectly fits Turner’s vertical offense. In addition to his low overall target depth, Patterson was rarely used deep. He had the lowest deep target rate among the top four Minnesota receivers. Per PFF, he caught only three of 14 deep targets for 84 yards and no touchdowns. Moreover, the Vikings already have an underappreciated deep threat who could be primed for breakout. On one fewer deep target, Jarius Wright went for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Wright operates completely below the radar because he toils in obscurity for a bad offense, but he was a tremendous talent coming out of college.
Theme 2: The Vikings’ quarterback quandary isn’t a problem because Josh Gordon went supernova with very poor quarterback play a year ago. The idea that Turner and Patterson could each fulfill expectations without a good quarterback is a pretty clear red herring. Despite working with the elite duo of Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson in San Diego, Turner never pushed VJax above borderline WR1 status in standard leagues. Jackson was more of a high end WR2 in PPR. Immediately upon departing the Chargers, Jackson climbed all the way to No.6 with a passing-challenged Bucs squad. You can run the narrative backward as well. While Philip Rivers was undergoing an Eli Manning-like slide under Turner’s tutelage, it only took the entrance of the Mike McCoy, Ken Whisenhunt combo for him to re-emerge and pair with Keenan Allen to help author one of the stronger rookie receiving seasons in NFL history.
If Patterson breaks out in 2014, these circulating memes will have little to do with it. In fact, it will probably be for an almost diametrically opposite reason. Patterson’s chances of a breakout could increase if he catches passes from a rookie quarterback. Neophyte signal callers tend to dump the ball off frequently, and that’s where Patterson does his best work.
The Case for Patterson Morphing Into a Breakout Star
Patterson is an unusual guy to say the least. Of the 36 receivers drafted since 2006 and labeled hits in the WR Holy Grail article, only seven sported a Dominator Rating below .30. Excluding his rushing yards, Patterson’s was .17. In my examination of breakout age and the sophomore class, I suggested the numbers were against Patterson but he might fit the “basketball-player-turned-NFL-tight-end” model. Patterson was neither a college basketball player, nor is he trying to be a tight end, but rare athletes do occasionally make the jump at a receiving position. Jimmy Graham had 213 receiving yards in college, and after Calvin Johnson he might be the best receiver in the league.
Patterson’s on-field performance as a running back and returner suggests rare athleticism. But as fantasy owners of Devin Hester and Ted Ginn can tell you, being an elite return man doesn’t mean anything if you fail to master the route running skills of an NFL receiver. Athleticism in a vacuum is meaningless.
Fortunately for Patterson, he has one thing that Hester, Ginn, and Percy Harvin do not have. Size.
Size is the reason Patterson remains trendy while Tavon Austin’s bandwagon has emptied. It’s also the reason you can put Patterson next to a very exclusive group of former rookies if you create just the right set of criteria.
Rookie, 22 years or younger, 210 pounds or heavier, 5 or more total touchdowns, 600-850 scrimmage yards
|Age||Weight||Recs||Yards||Yds/Rec||Rec TDs||Scrim Yds||Total TD|
I haven’t deleted the negative comps. This is everyone. Since the NFL merger, these are the only receivers who fit this profile.
These comps are obviously optimistic since Patterson comes in at the bottom of both the receiving yards and scrimmage yards categories, but he also led the group in touchdowns. Touchdowns are central to the RotoViz approach. While we don’t simply ignore regression to the mean – Patterson will almost certainly have to be a better overall player to score nine or more times in 2014 – we’re also adamant that touchdowns and big receivers track pretty closely. All other things being equal, you would expect Patterson to find the end zone more consistently than similar but smaller players like Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb. (All other things are not equal. Cobb and Harvin play with Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson and were superior college performers.)
Although the listed comps were better than Patterson, they weren’t that much better. None of these guys turned in a Keenan Allen-like rookie campaign – a fact worth remembering when hoping to get a 2014 starter from this draft class. In their second seasons, however, the above cohort was extraordinary.
As second year players, Patterson’s four comps averaged 1360 yards and 10.5 touchdowns. Such a stat line would make Patterson a WR1 and a bargain at almost any ADP.
What Do the RotoViz Similarity Scores Say?
The 2014 WR Sim Score App is up and ready for business. Creating accurate comps is the backbone of our approach here at RotoViz. While the aforementioned comps are fanciful to say the least, it may be that we find some equally encouraging players with the app.
Patterson first played in 50% of Minnesota’s snaps in Week 11 last year. Using Weeks 11-17, this is his projection.
Patterson’s comps at the high level would place him squarely on the WR2 radar. His year N+1 comp list is littered with busts but also includes exciting names like Dez Bryant 2011, Larry Fitzgerald 2005, Braylon Edwards 2007, Eric Decker 2012, and Alshon Jeffery 2013. It’s easy to forget now, but in 2007 Edwards exploded for 1289 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jeffery is one of the very enthusiastic comps bandied about in the mainstream media, and it’s good to see the app agrees.
His Year-Over-Year Change Plot looks like this.
You would hope a young, big player like Patterson would have a favorable plot, but it’s certainly nice to see one with so many positive breakouts. If you’re planning to draft Patterson in 2014, you’ll have to be willing to reach for him ahead of many like-minded owners. You’ll want to latch onto those most optimistic projections.
At Any ADP?
When I said at almost ADP earlier, it’s worth noting that the likely cost will be astronomical. James Todd, or The Intersect as I’m going to call him from this point forward, recently provided a breakdown of the early MFL10 results. Patterson is flying off the board at No. 36 overall. Julio Jones earned a late first round ADP as a second year player. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Patterson ends up generating similar buzz.
While I agree whole-heartedly with Ryan Lessard that one key to winning fantasy titles is discounting player “news,” Patterson is one of a very small group of players you want to follow closely. If the scuttlebutt from Vikings camp suggests their athletic marvel is going to be the offensive focal point and challenge 150 targets, you might want to have at least some exposure to him on your teams. It’s much better to take a risk on a likely bust with a high ceiling than burn a mid-round pick on a small/light receiver with inconsistent production and a theoretical high floor.
Since this article is about the best possible argument for Patterson, I’ll close with the irrationally exuberant breakout stat line from earlier.
1360 yards and 10.5 touchdowns.
Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.