Pro Football Focus was perhaps the biggest cheerleader for several Atlanta Falcons‘ players during the 2021 NFL season. The analytics giant regularly championed the burgeoning talents of second-year cornerback A.J. Terrell, and also lavished praise upon Atlanta’s leading rusher.
That theme has continued recently, with PFF naming the latter among the best signings from last year’s free-agency period. It’s yet another endorsement of the impact made by a versatile playmaker the Falcons’ front office must work hard to keep this offseason.
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‘Gimmick Player’ Became ‘Dynamic Hybrid’ in Atlanta
Acquiring Cordarrelle Patterson on a one-year deal at a cost of just $3 million proved a masterstroke by Falcons’ general manager Terry Fontenot. Patterson went on to pace the team in rushing attempts, rushing yardage and receptions.
More than the initial cost, PFF’s Sam Monson lauded how the player’s game was transformed in Atlanta: “Patterson has bounced around the league lately as a core special teams player, the best kickoff returner in NFL history and a gimmick player on offense who can take a few carries and make some plays. The Falcons probably didn’t expect much more than that when they signed him, but they stumbled into one of the most dynamic hybrid weapons in the NFL this season.”
The transformation was borne from how effectively head coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone incorporated Patterson’s skills. Those skills were unlocked by Smith and his staff finally deciding where Patterson fits best on the field.
They opted to make the one-time wide receiver and noted return specialist a full-time running back. The switch yielded impressive numbers, per Monson: “Patterson recorded 207 touches between carries and receptions while averaging 4.0 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch. He finished with 11 total touchdowns and gained almost 850 yards either after contact or after the catch.”
Part of the reason those numbers were possible was because defenses started to see Patterson in new positions. He’d line up in the backfield as a lead back, often in I-formation sets, like on this play against the Carolina Panthers in Week 14:
Pro Football Focus took notice of how well Patterson responded to the changes in his role. He and Terrell were named to the site’s NFL All-Pro Team by Monson on January 10.
It was yet another acknowledgement of what Patterson achieved last season. A few days later, PFF doubled down by naming the 30-year-old “Breakout Player of the Year.”
Patterson’s value to the Falcons’ offense is obvious. Now, the onus is on Fontenot to work out a way to bring him back.
Re-Signing Patterson a Priority
Patterson tops the list of pending free agents the Falcons need to retain, even above middle linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and wide receiver Russell Gage. It won’t be easy since the franchise is currently projected to be $6,485,266 over the salary cap, according to Spotrac.com.
A deal should be worked out for a player who remains integral to both phases of the Falcons’ offense. Aside from his rushing chops, Patterson is still a useful receiver who can strike from out of the backfield, be flexed into the slot or split out wide.
He was out wide when he made this catch against the New Orleans Saints in Week 9:
That game against the Saints was the only time Patterson topped 100 yards receiving during the season, according to Pro Football Reference. Yet, it was the sixth time he caught five or more passes in a game.
Despite Patterson’s ability as a receiver, it’s his production in the running game the Falcons value most. His workload was sporadic, but ESPN revealed Patterson made a season-high 47 carries during December. The same source also noted Patterson had 103 of his 153 carries on first down.
Patterson is the player who sets the tone for this offense. He’s also one of the few members of the unit opponents need to gameplan specifically to stop. Only tight end Kyle Pitts demands a similar level of attention.
Obviously, Patterson has played his way into a better deal, but not everybody is convinced he should return. Among the detractors is Alex Lord of SportsTalkAtl.com: “Over The Cap has Patterson valued at $8.8 million, which will undoubtedly price him out of Atlanta. Because of his age and major role in the Falcons offense, it is almost a guarantee that he regresses in 2022.”
Patterson himself wants to stay put, per Kris Rhim of the Falcons official website. If there’s a will, there surely has to be way for both parties to reach a deal that makes sense.