However, it’s a current Vikings return man that’s caught the eye of his predecessor.
Patterson took notice, giving Nwangwu some supportive words on Twitter after Minnesota’s primetime win.
Cordarrelle Patterson Shouts out Vikings’ Kene Nwangwu
Late Thursday night, Patterson tweeted at Nwangwu, saying “boy you special.” Nwangwu liked and retweeted Patterson’s praise as Minnesota has found its next return man of the future in the second-year back.
A fourth-round pick out of Iowa State, Nwangwu returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in his first five games as a pro, setting a record as the fastest player to reach that mark. He earned All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers of America for his work as a return man.
After striking early his rookie year, Nwangwu had been quiet this season with no return touchdowns through the first 10 games of the season.
“All year long I hit him at pregame meals. Is today the day? Is today the day? He’s just so talented, such a special athlete,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said in a November 24 postgame press conference. “I just thought in that moment for Kene, even when it looked like maybe they were closing in on him there, he’s just so explosive, to get that thing going. Then to finish that in a moment where it was a huge play for our team. You’d like to think we would have gone on the field right there and drove for a touchdown. But to get that immediate response allowed the defense to get their cleats back in the ground and be ready to go on the next drive.”
Nwangwu leads the league with 620 kickoff return yards at a 25.8-yard clip in 11 games. He joins Baltimore Ravens returner Devin Duvernay and Patterson as the only players who have kickoff return touchdowns this season.
Cordarrelle Patterson the Ageless Wonder
Last Sunday, Patterson returned his ninth kickoff for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears to be the league’s all-time leader — and his record may be one that’s never broken despite Nwangwu’s tremendous start to his career.
Patterson’s career has followed a path few players have followed, which has worked to his benefit. Patterson underdelivered as a first-round wide receiver selection by the Vikings but kept his career afloat by becoming an indispensable return man while he convinced his coaches to line him up at running back.
Few teams fully committed to the idea, including the Vikings who’ve had a wealth of talent at the position over the years. Despite two All-Pro mentions as a return man, Patterson was not re-signed and took his chances, taking stints with the then-Oakland Raiders (2017), Patriots (2018) and Bears (2019-20) before landing with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons fully committed to deploying Patterson as a full-time back — a move that sparked a career renaissance in his age-30 season.
Patterson posted career highs in nearly every offensive category — carries (153), rushing yards (618), rushing touchdowns (6), receptions (52), receiving yards (548) and receiving touchdowns (5).
A positionless player, Patterson’s involvement proved difficult to game plan against, unlocking his efficiency as a pass-catcher as well. He posted a career-best 7.9 yards per target.
“It feels like I haven’t been doing enough these last, past eight years,” Patterson told ESPN. “This year, every year is just a blessing. We know football don’t last long, so every year is a blessing to come here and just to showcase myself and just show the team what I can do to help this team win.”
Few NFL returners have seen the longevity in the role that Patterson has in his career. They either graduate to becoming stars at other positions and strike lucrative contracts that deter teams from deploying them on one of the most dangerous plays of a football game. The other side of returners often don’t see second contract and have short-lived careers.
Patterson happens to be a special case that may not be matched again.