Kevin C. Cox
How does Cordarrelle Patterson stack up to Falcons standout Julio Jones?
In the legal world, nobody can file a lawsuit without first achieving standing. Standing, as defined by Cornell's Law School website, is the, "capacity of a party to bring suit in court." Bringing us back to the NFL Draft, does Cordarrelle Patterson have standing against Julio Jones, as a wide receiver prospect?
Recently, many analysts have likened the Rock Hill, South Carolina native to former Alabama phenom, Julio Jones.
The two are very similar in size, with Jones (6'3" 220 lbs. at the 2011 combine) having a slightly larger build than Patterson (6'2" 216 lbs. at the 2013 combine). Athletically speaking, they are almost indistinguishable: both receivers returned kicks, and routinely ran fly sweeps, bubble screens, and other reverses. Both wide outs are incredibly elusive, with great vision, and startling acceleration. Both receivers even struggled with drops in college (albeit for different reasons, as we'll see below).
However, when comparing their levels of NFL-readiness, and receiving capabilities, there are stark differences between Patterson and Jones.
Below we have some examples of Jones' play at Alabama, compared with Patterson's play last season at Tennessee.
First off, here is a look at Patterson running an intermediate crossing route against Florida.
Patterson's pad level is too high on this route. Patterson needs to keep his shoulders over his knees when running routes, in order to disguise his intentions from the secondary. Playing with high pads either indicates that a WR is about to make a break, or that he is not running with great intensity.
As Patterson makes his cut, he taps his feet multiple times against the ground, what Michael Irvin refers to as,"beating the drums," slowing up his cut, and allowing the CB to regain lost territory. This is a very common error for young receivers to make.
This might be the biggest problem I have with Patterson's game: Patterson catches the ball with his palms facing up, and his fingernails downwards, almost as if he were cupping the ball. Patterson completes the catch by bringing the ball to his chest. This bad technique will lead to a lot of drops.
Typically, if a pass is headed above your waist, you want your palms facing downward (or sideways), and your fingernails facing skywards. If a pass is headed below your waist, you should have your palms facing up, and your fingernails facing down. Patterson makes this error innumerably; it may be a hard habit to break.
Here is Julio Jones running an out route.
Jones slightly shades his route towards the inside, which will draw the CB to the left (his left) in anticipation.
As Jones begins his route, notice his pad level, his shoulders are overtop his knees, and he explodes out of his stance. The CB must continue backpedaling, because he has no idea if Jones is going to try to beat him deep.
Jones has the CB fooled into thinking the route will be either deep, or to the goalpost; not in the intermediate range, and towards the sideline. Jones' cut is not perfect, and it eats away at some of the separation he would have had.
Nevertheless, as Jones comes out of his cut, he has achieved separation, and the ball should be waiting for him.
Now take a look at another of Jones' plays against Auburn. In this play he'll be facing NFL caliber DB Neiko Thorpe in man coverage.
Jones will basically be running a short flag route with a double move to the inside first.
At the snap, Thorpe stabs at Jones' inside shoulder, in an attempt to slow him down at the line of scrimmage (LOS) and take away the timing of his route with the QB. Jones parries the blow, and swims his outside arm/shoulder over Thorpe, gaining the inside leverage.
Jones does a perfect job beating the press, and establishing inside leverage, also shielding the CB from any potential passes. However, the play isn't done yet.
Jones cuts back outside. In fear of completely losing the WR, Thorpe holds Jones. Jones' cut is sharp, and he doesn't lose any speed coming out of it.
Jones breaks free from Thorpe, and accelerates, establishing 2-3 steps of immediate separation.
The pass is inaccurate, but Jones does a nice job of catching it with his hands, away from his body, and with proper technique, so that he doesn't need to break stride. Jones is then able to run through Thorpe's diving arm tackle on his way to a thirty yard gain (and the picture at the top of this page). Proper route running enabled Jones to achieve separation, while proper hand placement allowed him to make the big play, and possibly prevent a drop.
Now here is a look at Patterson facing press man coverage.
Patterson (distinguished by the red triangle) is charged with running a quick comeback route (5 route).
Patterson engages the press, but he isn't able to break free from the CB, and continues to run his route.
Although it is tough to see, Patterson makes his cut, and still hasn't broken free from the press.
Patterson is covered. As he finishes his route, and notices Bray throwing the ball his way, he extends his arms out for the football. Bray makes an incredibly risky throw; Patterson is tightly covered, and the CB is sitting on the route. Rather than coming back for the football, and possibly breaking away from the CB, Patterson waits for it to come to him.
Surprisingly enough, Bray makes a phenomenal throw, and threads the needle between the CB and Patterson. Patterson also makes a solid play, making the catch, using proper technique (palms upward) to make the catch. But I don't think an NFL QB would even attempt that throw; Patterson was covered. He was not open in any way shape or form. An NFL CB would be hard pressed to mess that opportunity up.
Here is Jones running a comeback route.
Jones (top of the shot) again explodes out of his stance with great pad level, masking the depth of his route.
Jones does not make a great cut, but his route running has garnered him separation.
The pass is inaccurate again, however Jones makes a nice grab, using proper technique, and is able to hold on to the ball as he is tackled.
Here is a look at how improper technique can cause drops.
Patterson is facing man coverage against CB Loucheiz Purifoy, a projected 2014 first round pick. Patterson will be running a slant against Purifoy. Versus man coverage, technique is very important, especially on short routes.
After two steps, Patterson makes a fine cut inside; he has one step of separation.
As he makes the catch, Patterson has his palms facing upward, fingernails downward; bad technique. Purifoy, basically on top of Patterson now, immediately wraps Patterson up and has one hand going for the ball.
As Patterson goes down, he begins to lose control of the ball. It's as much Purifoy's ball as Patterson's.
Purifoy successfully strips the ball from Patterson; it's a drop. Had Patterson caught the ball away from his body, with his palms facing downward, odds are he successfully makes the catch, and possibly breaks free from Purifoy. Perhaps he even succeeds in drawing pass interference from the Gator.
Here are two screenshots of Jones making the exact same play, on the exact same route.
Jones catches the ball away from his body, and with good technique, he is able to make the catch before being tackled.
Yet, Jones too, dealt with drops in college. However Jones' drops were not as much a result of improper technique, as loss of focus.
Here Jones has run a skinny post route. Jones gained separation against the zone coverage, and has his arms up, hands in position for the ball. Take note of the safety closing on Jones.
As the ball reaches Jones' hands, Jones takes his eyes off the ball and places them on the soon arriving defender. Running across the middle of the field, Jones should be aware that he could take a hit, and instead should focus on making the catch, watching the ball into his hands.
As the safety makes contact with Jones, the Alabama WR loses the ball, and it falls to the turf. This is an area that Jones, who will be entering his third season in the NFL, has improved marginally, however he did have 8 drops last season.
Here is a look at Patterson running a go route.
Patterson is facing man coverage. The safety gets caught looking into the backfield, and will not make it overtop in time.
Patterson gets a free release from the LOS and turns on the jets. Patterson will rarely get a free release in the NFL, which is why beating the press is an important skill. Hand-checking the whole way, Patterson's superior straight line speed has afforded him two steps of separation.
However, he makes a key error in his route running: Patterson continues to run with his shoulder pads parallel to the sideline. This opening could allow the DB to recover and make a play on the ball, or if the ball is underthrown, intercept it. Instead, Patterson should cut over in his route, and place his back to the CB, and his shoulder pads perpendicular to the sideline. Patterson would then be able to dictate the pace of the route, and take away any possible play from the DB.
Possibly a remnant from the earlier hand-checking, Patterson's left hand is practically at his waist when the ball arrives. As a result, Patterson only has one hand up ready for the ball. On the positive side, here the passive catching technique (palms upward) is preferred.
Patterson is unable to make the one handed catch, and the ball bounces from his hand and hits the turf. Had Patterson had his back to the CB, he would have been in a much better position to make the over the shoulder catch with two hands.
As is evident, Patterson is a relatively poor route runner at this stage of his career. However, every now and again he will flash excellent technique, and make a good play, like this one below versus Vanderbilt.
Here Patterson runs a seam route versus man coverage. Patterson explodes of his stance with good pad level.
Patterson makes a double move, and cuts back towards the inside. The CB, out of position now, jabs his arm towards Patterson's inside shoulder.
Patterson executes a swim move, swinging his arm over the CB and gaining the inside leverage.
Patterson has gained a step of separation, and extends his arms for the football, a little too early, but inconsequential on this play.
Patterson actually uses proper hand placement, with his palms sideways, to catch the ball away from his body, allowing him to catch the ball in stride, and pick up a few more yards.
Yet, just as Patterson flashes proper route running and technique, he fades into lazy route running, and poor hand placement.
Here Patterson, top of the shot, is running a comeback route. Running the stem of his route with poor pad level, Patterson makes an extremely lazy cut.
Patterson then takes his route two steps deeper. However, he's not yet finished.
The Volunteer WR kind of hops back two more yards and plants his feet.
Patterson makes the catch with improper hand placement, his palms facing upward, and catches the ball against his body before being hit.
You don't want to see this sort of lazy route running from a potential top ten pick.
Entering the NFL, Julio Jones was not a finished product, however he had a good grasp of route running, and solid hand placement, which in concert with his athletic gifts, would allow him to contribute immediately, and with seasoning develop into one of the top NFL WR's in the NFL.
And while Patterson's athleticism holds commensurate to Jones', his receiving ability does not. Shoddy technique can survive on the college stage, however against NFL DB's, Patterson will not be able to enjoy the same successes. And who's to say how long it will take Patterson to develop, or if he'll be able to develop at all. As of right now, Cordarrelle Patterson is not a starting caliber WR in the NFL. He likely won't see the field much early on because he simply won't be able to get open.
Route running is very important: only a special few WR's can beat NFL DB's on athleticism alone. That's why Lamont Bryant wasn't the Panthers #2 WR last season. Jones was able to exploit his athletic abilities through solid route running. Without the route running, Patterson won't be able to utilize his elusiveness.
If the Panthers draft Patterson, it will be because of the potential they see in him, not because he will be able to contribute immediately, or solidify the Panthers WR Corps.
A team like the Panthers, itching to make a playoff run, needs another 1-2 players who can contribute right away. The coaching staff particularly cannot afford to wait around 2-3 years for Patterson to develop into a starter.