Cordarrelle Patterson is a Hall of Fame-caliber kick returner. However, the former first-round pick has yet to find a true home on offense during his first eight seasons.
The speedster started his career in Minnesota as a wide receiver but never generated a season with 470-plus yards. In his sixth NFL season, the New England Patriots used him as a running back, which proved to be a prescient move, as he averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 42 attempts in 2018.
Patterson signed a two-year, $10 million contract in Chicago in 2019. Matt Nagy had designs on using him as an offensive weapon who could be a threat from the backfield and out wide, and generally cause havoc from wherever he lined up. Whether it was poor planning, worse execution or an offense that couldn't get off the ground to meet the expectations, Nagy's vision for Patterson never seemed to coalesce. In two years with the Bears, Patterson generated 550 total scrimmage yards -- 335 on carries, 215 on receptions.
Moving to Atlanta, Patterson immediately boosts a previously struggling return game. The question will be his offensive role.
"Honestly, man, it don't matter where they put me on the football field," Patterson told reporters Wednesday, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I just go out and try to make a play for my team. If they want me at running back, receiver, quarterback, tight end or whatever. Just put me out there, and when my name is called, I just go out there and make a play. That's something I've been doing my whole life."
After signing Patterson, the Falcons cut Ito Smith, which indicates Atlanta plans to use Patterson as a running back. As it currently stands one week before the 2021 NFL Draft, Patterson would sit behind Mike Davis along with Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James in the backfield. Depending on what the Falcons do next week, Patterson could finally be in line for a more significant backfield role.
A heavier workload is something he wanted in Chicago but never received.
"Last year didn't go as planned at running back. Hopefully, this year will go better," Patterson said.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone spent last season as the passing-game coordinator under Nagy in Chicago. That familiarity could help Patterson's workload in Atlanta's new scheme under Arthur Smith.
There is little doubt about Patterson's talent in the open field. He's a generational kick-return talent who immediately upgrades the Falcons' special teams. Whether Smith and Ragone will finally unlock his role on offense remains to be seen. How significant a part Patterson could play as a backup running back likely depends on what the Falcons do during next week's draft and whether they add another veteran RB down the line later this summer.