Vikings: Has the narrative on Cordarrelle Patterson changed?

Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

The career of Cordarrelle Patterson has been defined by a harshly twisting narrative, but do the Minnesota Vikings’ latest comments suggest an upward trend?

Progress, improvement, and potential. Those words have been spoken about Cordarrelle Patterson for years, and every year they prove hollow as soon as he steps on to the field.

Other than a brief stretch of dominance in his rookie season, Patterson has simply never lived up to the hype. Yet somehow, year after year, fans and analysts talk themselves in to believing that Patterson will finally capitalize on his extraordinary physical tools.

To this point, Patterson’s career has been little more than a tiresome cycle of excitement followed by disappointment.

So when Patterson reported for OTAs this year and the coaches effusively praised his development, it was met with groans rather than cheers. After buying in on the buzz around Patterson for years, many finally gave up on the talented but frustrating receiver.

But this year the praise was different.

Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) returns a kickoff for a touchdown in the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Minnesota won 28-14. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) returns a kickoff for a touchdown in the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Minnesota won 28-14. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

To fully appreciate the comments, it’s necessary to delve back in time to explore the context. Looking back at Patterson’s career, the coaches’ quotes create an interesting narrative through all the highs and lows.

While the remarks often reflected exasperation, overall the narrative conveys genuine support for the struggling receiver— that success is right around the corner.

After being picked in the first round of the 2013 draft, Patterson was immediately pegged as a future great. Between his brilliant athleticism, flashy attitude, and infectious self-confidence, everything about Patterson screamed superstar.

The hype grew to astronomical proportions after Patterson scored nine touchdowns in a dazzling rookie campaign, seemingly validating everyone’s lofty expectations.

Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner were no exceptions to the excitement. When they were first hired for the 2014 season, they viewed Patterson as a rising star just like everybody else. After working with him throughout training camp and the preseason, Turner expressed his intention to make Patterson a focal point of the offense.

"“We need to get Cordarrelle the ball and we need to find different ways of doing it. Whether it’s with handing it to him or throwing it to him, moving him around a little bit. . . He needs to be a big part of what we do when we get going.” (via"

Entering his sophomore year, Patterson had the vocal support of the new coaching staff. However, as he was unable to capitalize on the opportunities given to him, eventually earning himself a spot on the bench, his narrative began to rapidly change.

When asked why Patterson was no longer in the lineup, Zimmer gave a characteristically blunt answer. “He needs to get open,” Zimmer told The SiriusXM Blitz. “Pretty simple.”

With that harsh, but fair assessment of his game, Patterson’s story hit rock bottom. Zimmer’s comments suggested not only that Patterson wasn’t producing, but also that he wasn’t capable of producing— at least not yet.

As the season went on and Patterson became the subject of more and more criticism, however, Zimmer doubled back to express his support.

"“I believe that he’s going to be a really good player, but everybody is impatient, including me, and I’m sure he is, too. It will come. It just may take a while.” (via the Star Tribune)"

While Zimmer’s comments conveyed belief in Patterson’s potential, it pointed to the distant future as his only chance to succeed.

It wasn’t until the 2015 offseason that the coaching staff truly began to praise Patterson again.

After watching him in training camp, Zimmer gave reporters a generally positive review of Patterson’s performance.

"“He’s been impressive. So, you know, today’s a new day. We’ll see how he does today. I don’t know that he’s turned the corner yet. But he’s definitely kind of rounding it.” (via the Star Tribune)"

Zimmer was impressed by Patterson’s improvement, but his comment conveyed more that he was on the right path than that he had arrived. Once again, he still implied that Patterson had a long way to go.

General manager Rick Spielman echoed Zimmer’s sentiments.

"“CP is working extremely hard right now. He wants to be a good football player. He’s a talented athlete, and he is a good football player. . . I believe he’s going to do everything he can to make himself the best player he can be.” (via Fox Sports)"

Both Spielman and Zimmer made a point of praising Patterson, but neither one pointed to any specific improvements. Rather, they just said that he was “impressive” and “working hard”, using typical buzzwords to show that he was on the right path.

This year, however, the praise for Patterson had a different tone. Take Zimmer’s comments on Patterson’s performance during OTAs, for example:

"“He’s not making mental errors, very few mental errors. He’s running routes at the proper depth, he’s lining up in the proper place.“ (via Pioneer Press)"

Zimmer later doubled down on his comments in an interview with KFAN:

"“This is the best I’ve ever seen him since he’s been here. He’s running good routes, he’s catching the ball good, he’s really been motivated to do well this spring."

While at first Zimmer’s comments seem to conform to the annual trend of patting Cordarrelle Patterson on the back, they actually convey far more optimism than we’ve heard from the coaching staff in years.

Rather than simply expressing support for Patterson or saying that he’s on the right track, Zimmer talked about specific aspects of Patterson’s game that he’s improved on. Unlike previous years, Zimmer pointed to concrete results rather than some sort of undefined “progress”.

Zimmer didn’t even use Patterson’s past performance as a reference, opting to describe his route-running as “good” rather than just “better”. The comments suggest that the mental part of the game is finally starting to come together for Patterson.

Zimmer has earned a reputation as a straight-shooting and honest coach in his two years with the Vikings, so this praise for Patterson can largely be taken at face value. No longer is Zimmer talking about the future, he’s talking about real, tangible, current results.

Unfortunately, inundated by years of praise for Patterson and years of failure, fans disregarded many of the nuances of Zimmer’s comments. While they are certainly no guarantee that Patterson will re-emerge as the star everyone expected, they at least show that the coaching staff believes he’s gotten significantly better.

Whether it’s enough to make a difference for Patterson and the Vikings remains to be seen, but it certainly provides a much-needed glimmer of hope in the Cordarrelle Patterson story.

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The narrative of Cordarrelle Patterson has been rapidly and ruthlessly evolving throughout his career, twisting and turning from first-round pick to superstar to backup to afterthought. There’s room for another chapter in the book on Patterson, but from here on out it will be up to him to write it.