Cordarrelle Patterson’s 2021 season was one of the great stories in recent NFL history, and if that feels like hyperbole, certainly one of the great individual stories in Falcons history. Patterson went from a legendary kick returner who was lightly utilized on offense to breakout star, managing over 1,000 combined yards on the ground and in the air and 11 combined touchdowns. In a largely forgettable year for Atlanta, Patterson was unforgettable.
As I’d hoped, the Falcons managed to keep the instant fan favorite around, ensuring a versatile weapon is available for an offense both the team and fans are hoping is greatly improved in 2022. The question going forward isn’t “is Patterson going to be effective”—we saw that Arthur Smith, Dave Ragone, and company can play to his strengths—so much as it is “what kind of role is Patterson going to be effective in?”
Yesterday, I put the “who will lead the team in rushing?” prompt out there, and Patterson is an obvious candidate after he led the Falcons a year ago. My hunch, after the team made significant personnel changes on offense, is that you’re going to see the balance shift a bit toward Patterson being a receiving threat both split out wide and out of the backfield rather than as a runner.
Why? While the knock on Patterson throughout the early years of his career was that he wasn’t a particularly great route runner, he was not-so-quietly more effective catching the ball than he was running it. Part of that can likely be pinned on the fortunes of the offensive line, which put Mike Davis and Patterson in bad spots routinely, but C-Patt was one of the most targeted players per routes run in the entire NFL last year. He got enough separation, and of course Matt Ryan and the coaching staff knew he was lethal once he had the ball in his hands.
All players who ran 100 or more routes in 2021 and their TPRR (target per route run):— Amr Gabr (@amrgaabr) March 4, 2022
Christian McCaffrey 40%
Tony Pollard 34%
Antonio Brown 34%
Cooper Kupp 33%
A.J. Brown 32%
Davante Adams 32%
Cordarrelle Patterson 32%
Myles Gaskin 31%
Want more? Patterson was arguably the team’s most efficient receiving option, reeling in 75.4% of his catches (second to Mike Davis, who averaged half as many yards per catch), had the third-best yards per target rate behind Kyle Pitts and Russell Gage, and led the team in touchdown grabs. Patterson did good work split out wide, in the slot, and out of the backfield as a pass catcher, and his size, speed, and ability after the catch will make him an attractive target again for Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder.
As a runner, Patterson led the team and was a lot of fun to watch, but was far less efficient in averaging 1.9 yards after contact (Mike Davis had 1.7) and breaking 7 tackles (Davis broke 9). That’s not to suggest that he was anything other than a capable back—he was—but Patterson was more useful and efficient as a pass catcher. That’s a role the Falcons, who now have more receiving options available to steal defensive attention away from Patterson, should emphasize.
The personnel changes at running back and receiver are factors here, as well. Atlanta added Tyler Allgeier to the backfield, and he’s a player I think will step into a huge role right away. Damien Williams is an efficient runner, as well, and the Falcons seem ready to take a longer look at speedy Avery Williams as a runner as well. Only Williams is a true pass catching threat out of the backfield today, however, and for all the additions at receiver, the Falcons don’t have anyone with Patterson’s track record and physicality behind Drake London and Bryan Edwards. If you assume that Allgeier and the Williamses will soak up Mike Davis’s carries and then some—a very fair assumption, I think—Patterson probably will take on fewer carries as the team focuses on maximizing his production per touch.
My strong hunch is that you’ll see Patterson more involved as a receiver than he was a year ago, but his combined touches will drop because the team won’t have to lean quite so heavily on him as their top weapon. The Falcons clearly plan to focus on keeping him fresh all year and getting the most out of him on every route run and carry, a wise decision given his dropoff in productivity late in the year.
The only guarantee is that a healthy Patterson will be fun to watch and productive, and in another transition year for this Falcons team, that’s sure as hell something to look forward to.