As a former first-round wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson may not have been the most prolific player at that particular position. But as a kick returner, Patterson is building quite the resume that ranks among some of the greatest at the role.
Patterson originally came into the NFL out of Tennessee in 2013, when the Minnesota Vikings took him with the No. 29 overall pick. Patterson spent four seasons with the Vikings. While he wasn’t one to miss games (he played in all 64 regular-season games during those four seasons), Patterson never provided the offensive spark Minnesota was hoping for (especially considering they just missed out on DeAndre Hopkins, who went at No. 27).
Patterson’s initial offensive struggles
In four years as a Viking, Patterson caught 189 passes for 1,905 yards and ten touchdowns. His highest catch total was 52 in 2016. He never reached 500 receiving yards in a season and never caught more than four touchdown passes in any given season.
The offensive production simply was never there for the former Volunteer, even as he bounced around the league over the next three seasons, spending time with the Raiders, Patriots, and currently the Bears. Between 2017 and 2018 in Oakland and New England, Patterson recorded 52 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns (all as a Patriot). He has basically accepted the fact that his game isn’t on offense.
His special teams contributions, however, are a much different story.
Patterson’s return history
In those four years with the Vikings, Patterson also became the primary kick returner and returned at least one kickoff return for a touchdown in three of his four seasons as a Viking.
He continued his work as a kick returner as he bounced to Oakland, New England, and now Chicago. While he did not find pay dirt in his lone season in Oakland, he did the deed in 2018 with the Patriots and just came off recording a 102-yard kickoff return touchdown for the Bears last week against the Saints. That’s at least one kick return touchdown in five of Patterson’s seven seasons in the league.
How Patterson ranks among kick return greats
That kickoff return touchdown for Patterson was the seventh career kick return touchdown for Patterson, which is now tied for the third-most in NFL history. Only former Browns returner Josh Cribbs (eight) and former Jets and Seahawks returner Leon Washington (eight) had more.
Cribbs recorded at least one kick return score in each of his first five seasons in the league, including a hat trick in 2009. He also returned a punt for a touchdown in that season, along with returns in 2007 and 2011.
Washington did most of his work over two seasons. He posted three kick return touchdowns each in 2007 for the Jets and 2010 for the Seahawks. Washington returned punts for both teams but never found the end zone in that fashion.
Now you may be wondering where Devin Hester, arguably the greatest returner ever, may be on this list. Keep in mind Hester did most of his damage in the punt return game, rather than on kickoffs. Hester returned 14 career punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns, plus one kickoff return in the playoffs (the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI). Hester’s last kickoff return for a touchdown came back in 2011, while his last punt return for a touchdown came in 2014.
There were some that left Patterson for dead after things didn’t completely work out in his favor with the Vikings, despite the success on special teams. But all of a sudden, we’re now talking about Patterson as one of the greatest returners in league history, on this 100th season of the NFL.