The Falcons dropped their initial depth chart for the 2023 season, and the surprises were few. The one that attracted the most attention by far was the giant bolded J next to Cordarrelle Patterson’s name.
For a couple of hours, Twitter (X? whatever) was abuzz with questions of what the designation meant. The answer is pretty simple: Patterson has become the Joker.
While the league may not be thrilled with Arthur Smith’s carefree attitude toward depth chart organization—the Falcons not only have twelve listed starters, but I can’t recall that I’ve seen Joker actually listed out as a position on an NFL depth chart before—the designation makes a ton of sense for what Patterson’s role is expected to be and frankly should be in this offense.
First, let’s start by defining a Joker, which is not to be confused with the Joker designation on defense, which is typically used to describe a blurring of lines between a player who is listed at defensive end or even a spot in the secondary who also can effectively play linebacker. On offense, though, the idea is much the same, in that you’re usually talking about a tight end (more usually) or other position (in Patterson’s case) who has traits that allow him to be used to exploit matchups.
Let horrible doughy goblin man Sean Payton explain this one for you:
“The ‘joker’ player for us is not a receiver,” Payton explained. “It’s either a running back or a tight end with exceptional ball skills and then you can work matchups. We’ve had that at the running back position]. Reggie Bush was the ‘joker,’ Darren Sproles and [Alvin Kamara. Those were all unique players, not just in the running game, but they had passing game skill sets that allowed you to do multiple things, and I think Greg does, too.”
It’s not difficult to understand how this applies to Patterson, who is 6’2” and 230-plus pounds and has spent significant time at both receiver and running back in his career. A truly gifted athlete who is a nightmare to tackle, Patterson isn’t significantly smaller than MyCole Pruitt and could probably take snaps as a tight end if this coaching staff wanted to have some fun. Even if he’s “only” used at receiver and running back, the Falcons exploited to that great effect in 2021, when he took 177 snaps at receiver in addition to a heavy workload as a runner, authoring some of the biggest plays of the season both on the ground and through the air.
The Falcons clearly plan to get Patterson involved in as many places as possible.
Falcons playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson was listed as the starting “J” on Arthur Smith’s Week 1 depth chart. The “J” stands for JOKER meaning Patterson can play anywhere and Smith said he’s taking meetings with every offense skill groups.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 6, 2023
Patterson loves it: pic.twitter.com/Uksn5iLgbI
Atlanta’s added a ton of talent to the roster in the interim, but Patterson’s shrinking role as a running back shouldn’t lead to him being sidelined, and this depth chart is as much amusing as it is an indication that Patterson is still very much a part of the team’s plans. Being able to line up players with the pedigree of Patterson in the backfield with a dangerous player like Bijan Robinson in the slot and a unicorn like Kyle Pitts out wide, to use one of many possible permutations, is the kind of fun and (for defenses) aggravating luxury that few teams in the NFL can enjoy. Just because the Falcons are good enough this year to play it straight and put up points doesn’t mean they will; sowing confusion and working matchups is going to be more effective and more enjoyable.
Joker is a fine designation for a player who, like his comics and cinema counterpart, causes chaos wherever he goes. In typical Cordarrelle Patterson fashion, he found the new depth chart pretty funny.
Using Patterson as creatively as possible is necessary for an offense that is going to pride itself on blurring those positional lines and being difficult to defend, given that he’s an effective pass catcher and bruising runner who can line up in multiple spots to wreak havoc. We still don’t know if Patterson is healthy enough to be out there in Week 1, but I know this: we’ll see the Joker in action soon enough, and he’ll live up to his name.