Every season, we do our best to predict who the big sleepers and breakout candidates are going to be. Every season, we get a few of them wrong -- very wrong. But just because a certain player goes bust one year doesn't mean they'll be a bust forever. Welcome to "Bust-a-Move", where we're breaking down some of 2014's biggest fantasy football disappointments to determine if you can expect some stat sheet salvation in 2015.
Let's begin by going back to the heady days of summer 2014. The world was searching for a missing airplane. The Los Angeles Clippers officially got a new owner. "Breaking Bad" won another Emmy. Meanwhile, the NFL pundit class had found a new darling in Minnesota.
You get the point. Anytime Cordarrelle Patterson's name was uttered in mid-2014, it was normally accompanied with breathless, glowing tributes. He's fast! He led all receivers in fantasy points over the final month of 2013! Norv Turner is putting in 10 new plays just for him! Did we mention that he's fast?!
We all giggled with the delirious, self-satisfied high of validation when Patterson broke off a 67-yard touchdown run in a Week 1 win over the St. Louis Rams. Little did we know that Patterson would visit the end zone just once more in what would become a nightmarish season ... all the while, Charles Johnson became a breakout star for the Vikings in the latter part of the season.
With a change of the season, hope once again springs eternal in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. After questions were raised about Patterson's attitude in 2014, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman says the wideout has "grown up a lot." Just as importantly, head coach Mike Zimmer says Patterson is running better routes. All of it made me want to go back and see what contributed to such a major second-year flop and whether or not things could be corrected.
What went wrong
As far as swings and misses go, this one was near unanimous. While the aforementioned story of Turner installing new plays is probably what ultimately sent the hype train careening out of control, it initially gained steam with Patterson's strong finish to 2013. The Tennessee product averaged 16.1 fantasy points over the last four weeks of the season, thanks in part to plays like the one to the right.
Yet, a deeper look into Patterson's rapid rise shows that much of his success was dependent on big plays. He scored seven touchdowns on plays from scrimmage in 2013 with four of them coming on plays of 30 yards or more -- including runs of 33, 35 and 50. That (combined with a pair of 100-plus yard kickoff return TDs) did a lot to enhance Patterson's "Flash" moniker, but it belied a player who lacked explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. It was a weakness that became much more pronounced when Patterson was asked to become the team's primary wideout in 2014. It was also compounded by his poor route-running and limited grasp of the entire route tree. While an adjustment to a new offensive scheme could have something to do with Patterson's on-field confusion, it is also equally attributable to poor technique.
In essence, Patterson was at his best when he could get a full head of steam going. It's part of what made him a good kick returner as well as making him particularly effective on fly sweeps. But it's also what made Patterson ineffective at getting open downfield as a pass-catcher. Fun fact: Through two NFL seasons, Patterson averages more yards per carry (12.5) than yards per reception (10.9).
What must improve
First and foremost, Patterson must become a better route-runner -- something that is reportedly in the works (see above). What he lacks in burst and agility, he more than makes up for in straight-line speed. Yet, the deficiencies mandate that Patterson's technique improve if he wants to be able to take advantage of his greatest weapon.
The other needed area of improvement has little to do with Patterson himself and more to do with the Vikings offense overall. Adrian Peterson's return to the lineup is an automatic boost to everyone around him. Part of what made Patterson's fly sweep so devastating was that it usually came after an initial fake to Peterson. That is bound to freeze any linebacker in his track. It's an element that Minnesota lost without Peterson last season. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata played well in stretches, but the duo combined for 1,108 yards last season. Compare that to Peterson who rushed for 1,266 yards by himself in a "down" year in 2013.
What we expect
The biggest obstacle between Cordarrelle Patterson and success is ... Cordarrelle Patterson. If he can improve upon some of the skills that are lacking, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him finally have the breakout season we expected last year. The difference is that the expectations won't follow him around in a passing game that added Mike Wallace and has up-and-comer Charles Johnson. That means Patterson isn't guaranteed anything in the way of targets and touches this year. That puts Patterson somewhere between being Flash and being a flash in the pan. It's a far cry from where we were a year ago. Life comes at you fast.
Verdict: If you're waiting for a bounce back, keep waiting. Patterson's ceiling is as WR 3/4 this season.