Can Cordarrelle Patterson offer the Falcons more than just returning kicks?

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Per Mike Garafolo, wide receiver and return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson has signed a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Falcons.

According to Lineups, the Falcons were one of the worst teams statistically at returning punts and kickoffs — 28th and 30th in the league, respectively. Enter Patterson, one of the best returners in football — named to four first-team All-Pros for his special teams work and twice a second-team All-Pro. In his eight seasons in the NFL, the former Tennessee Volunteer has returned 239 kickoffs for 7,118 yards and eight touchdowns. Yes, eight touchdowns. His career average is 29.8 yards per return.

Last year, Patterson posted 1,017 yards on 35 returns for an average of 29.1 yards per return with no fumbles. The Falcons undoubtedly need help in the return game, and Patterson will surely improve the team’s third phase by returning kicks and defending them from the gunner spot. But in addition, he’s played snaps at running back and wide receiver. Last season, he had 21 receptions for 132 yards and 64 rushing attempts for 232 yards and a touchdown.

Patterson’s 42 touches out of the backfield in 2018 with the Patriots were a career-high, which he averaged 5.4 yards per carry — mostly on jet sweeps. He is a versatile player on offense that can play wide receiver or running back and line up just about anywhere Arthur Smith needs him. Smith is a creative play designer who will find ways to get him the football whether he’s lined up out wide, in the slot, or in the backfield.

Last year in Chicago, Patterson took on more of a running back role, to which he embraced the challenge, “I’m just trying to get better running between the tackles, just running it period.” Patterson said last year before the season, “All my career, I’ve been running it outside a lot, so that game’s natural to me. I’m just trying to learn to run it in the A and B gaps. It’s all new to me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that there isn’t a coincidence that ex-Bears running backs coach and current Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London came to Atlanta, and Patterson followed. Back around the same time as Patterson was learning how to become a better running back, London had this to say, “When we were evaluating him, we went back and watched all the touches he’s had at running back in his entire career,” London said. “You see an explosive player. You see a big player. You see a guy who can outrun guys. You see a guy who’s hard to tackle. I think a lot of the traits you see with him as a running back you see with him on kickoff return, as well. We’re pleased with where he’s at. A lot of it is new to him. He’s never been asked to do some of this stuff before.”

The Falcons signed Mike Davis recently, and Ito Smith is still under contract, but all signs point towards Patterson getting reps as a gadget player on offense. Smith is a much more natural runner than Patterson but isn’t nearly the threat in the receiving game or in space. Davis is trustworthy in the passing game, but the former Viking is a homerun threat every time he gets the ball in his hands. I envision [Arthur] Smith using him on end arounds, run-pass options, and any motion plays. If a deal comes to fruition, there’s no doubt Patterson will provide more than just special teams help for the Falcons.

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