How has nobody thought to use Cordarrelle Patterson the way Arthur Smith has?

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The Falcons struck gold this past offseason in the form of free-agent acquisition Cordarrelle Patterson, who signed with Atlanta on a one-year deal worth $3 million, which is looking more and more like the best value signing of any player. Patterson wasn’t expected by many to be Arthur Smith’s workhorse back; Terry Fontenot also signed Mike Davis on a two-year, $5.5 million in free agency around the same time as Patterson. Davis was thought of as the lead back, but it has been Patterson who has been most effective.

Patterson (111) and Davis (108) have nearly identical touches out of the backfield, but the difference in their effectiveness is jarring; the former is averaging 6.6 yards per touch while the latter is averaging nearly half that at 3.6 yards per touch. Everyone knows who is more dangerous as a receiver — 38 receptions for 459 yards (12.1 YPC) and five touchdowns for Patterson compared to Davis’s 24 catches for 115 yards (4.8 YPC) and one touchdown.

It wouldn’t take a football connoisseur to figure out that, but what is surprising is how Patterson has outpaced Davis on the ground. The former All-Pro returner has carried the ball 73 times for 278 yards (3.8 YPC), and Davis has 84 carries for 271 yards (3.2 YPC). Production-wise, Patterson is the focal point of this offense because of all the different ways Arthur Smith uses him. 

Patterson, much like rookie phenom Kyle Pitts, is a positionless player. He can line up anywhere a running back or wide receiver can be on the field — in the backfield, in the slot, split out wide, etc. Arthur Smith has unlocked his full potential. However, that begs the question of why has nobody thought to use Cordarrelle Patterson the way the Falcons have?

In short, the modern NFL offense has evolved into something it wasn’t when Patterson first entered the league. In 2013, most offenses were still run-centric and rigid in their approach to attack defenses. As offenses evolved, positions began to melt together. There was increasing value in this “gadget” role in the league, but nobody figured out how to harness one of the most explosive return men in NFL history.

Patterson spent a year in New England where he carried the ball 42 times, which was three times his previous career-high. He also caught 21 passes, averaging 11.8 yards per reception — successful if you ask me. However, that didn’t seem to open the eyes of the league as to what Patterson could become if featured in an offense. He played the subsequent two seasons in Chicago with Matt Nagy, known (once upon a time) for his exotic looks and explosive offense. His first year with the Bears was underwhelming, but in 2020, Patterson set career-highs in nearly every statistical category.

Dave Ragone has to be credited with the vision for what Patterson could be if given a full-time role in an offense. Ragone and Smith have devised a system where Patterson can attack defenses from every alignment, and all it took was some belief in the 30-year-old use-to-be return specialist. His unique combination of size, explosiveness, and receiving ability has given defenses fits all season; we have the front office and coaching staff to thank for that.

Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Andy Reid, Matt LaFleur, and the rest of the offensive masterminds in this league didn’t have the vision the Falcons organization had for Patterson, and now that he’s shown the world what he can do, it seems insane this experiment didn’t happen before he turned 30.

And don’t think just because he is on the wrong side of 30 that he will be slowing down anytime soon. He’s long been used as a special teams ace and nothing more, so he doesn’t have near the tread on his tires as others like Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, etc. who are used in both the passing and running games.


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