Back in 2013, the Minnesota Vikings made a speedy wide receiver out of Tennessee their first-round draft pick. His name: Cordarrelle Patterson. Just looking at his receiving numbers, one would come away with the impression that Patterson had a solid, if not spectacular, first season in Minnesota.
He caught 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns. But his speed and his versatility made him a more valuable contributor. Patterson also carried the ball 12 times for 158 yards and three additional scores, and he was arguably the best kick returner in the league: he led the NFL with two kickoff returns for touchdowns and an average return of 32.4 yards.
When Patterson started off the 2014 season with 128 total yards and a touchdown, it looked like he was set to become a breakout star. But in the last 31 games, he's totaled only 392 yards on 39 touches -- just over one touch and 12.5 yards a game. Why has he not been as big a contributor as one might have thought?
"Sometimes you can be here and you feel like you've got to be on the team," Patterson said, per the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "You feel like, 'Yeah, I'm a first-round pick, I'm on the team.' Things like that, sometimes they make you not work hard, they make you don't want to do things, make you be lazy."
It's not very often that you hear a player admit that he hasn't worked hard enough, but maybe when you hear it often enough from the coaching staff, it starts to sink in.
"Sometimes players understand when they're not playing, that in order to play, they have to do things this way or that way, and if they want to play, this is what you have to do," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. "And sometimes it just takes time to learn it."
Patterson enters 2016 lower on the Vikings' wide receiver depth chart, unsurprising after he caught just two passes last season. But that doesn't mean he isn't confident that he'll be able to contribute.
"People say, 'It's your make-or-break year,' " Patterson said. "I've just got to go out and do what I'm supposed to. It's a big year for me. ... We all know what I can do, and I've just got to show the coaches I can be there when I need to be, and be on time, be in the right place, the right depth on routes catching the ball. If I do all those things, I feel like things will work out well."
It remains to be seen whether or not he'll be given the opportunity to contribute to the Vikings' offense, but there should be no doubt that he'll have an impact in the return game. Even while being phased out of the offense the last two seasons, Patterson has kept his status as one of the NFL's best return men. He led the league in yards per return again last season, and returned two more kicks for touchdowns as well. So he should at least be able to help the Vikes get good field position.