Patterson’s road to the NFL wasn’t your prototypical story, which adds both a level of intrigue and concern.
He didn’t play football during his freshman year at North Carolina Tech, and had to transfer to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas the following year before getting a chance to play. He excelled at the community college program, breaking multiple school records and being named the nation’s top JUCO player by the end of 2011 season. That means Patterson’s one season at Tennessee is his only experience playing against Division-I caliber talent.
So, his lack of experience may raise some doubts for teams, but there is no question about his abilities.
Patterson has the size, speed and awareness to become one of the best receivers in the NFL in the near future, much like his physical counterpart Julio Jones has done with the Falcons. Fortunately for the teams like the Patriots, it won’t take trading your entire draft board — like Atlanta did for Jones in 2011 — to land Patterson. He is a definite first-round talent, but he’s not a top-five or even top-10 lock like Jones or A.J. Green were just a few years ago.
Some questions about his character do remain, as there were some negative reviews about his intelligence and maturity during interviews at the NFL combine. But even if he’s not the sharpest guy in the room or doesn’t have the best grade-point average, Patterson proved to be a very smart and innovative player on the football field — and that’s where it really matters.
The Patriots aren’t afraid to take risks, but they do put an emphasis on intelligence with players especially considering their complex offensive scheme. So, Patterson likely presents an intriguing case for them.
Concerns aside, they almost certainly have him earmarked on their draft board because of his unique skill set. But with the buzz surrounding his ability, they might not even have a shot at drafting him.
Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots draft prospect every day from March 27 up until the start of the NFL Draft on April 25. Patterson is the ninth player in that series.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 216 pounds
40 Time: 4.42 seconds
Vertical Jump: 37 inches
Patterson wasn’t even the most productive receiver for Tennessee last year — that title goes to Justin Hunter — but he still produced at a high level. In his only season at the Division-I level, Patterson had 46 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns but he did so much more than just catch passes. He was also a constant threat for the Volunteers both out of the backfield, rushing 25 times for 308 yards (12.3 yards per carry), and on special teams, returning both a kick and punt for scores.
Patterson still has very raw potential, but his talent and versatility should allow him to step in and contribute from the get go. He has the potential to be a gamebreaker on special teams and would provide Tom Brady with the big-play receiver he so desperately wants. The character questions could steer the Patriots away from him, but his versatility is definitely something Bill Belichick would covet.
Likelihood He’s Around at No. 29:
Not great. There are some questions about Patterson’s maturity, attitude and lack of experience against top-tier talent. But his skill set is too elite and diverse for some teams to overlook. The Jets (9th overall) Dolphins (12th), Rams (16th and 22nd), Vikings (23rd and 25th) and Texans (27th) all may be in on receivers and likely wouldn’t let Patterson pass them by. So, for the Patriots, it would probably take a trade into the top 20 to have a shot at him.
Game Tape breakdown:
Strengths: Patterson is the most versatile skill player in this draft. He easily creates separation on routes, using quick first step and deadly head fake right off the snap. He uses his size and skills to his advantage and figures out how to convert on tough plays even when draped by defenders. His vision in the open field is also almost unparalleled, which is highlighted by his success on kick and punt returns.
Weaknesses: He wasn’t challenged much at the line of scrimmage at Tennessee, but would get thrown off his route if defenders got physical. He relies on catching the ball into his body too often, which can be good in situations but may also be a cause for mistakes. He sometimes loses concentration, which resulted in a few unnecessary drops, too. He also seems disinterested and lacks effort when asked to block.
Scout Patterson for yourself below.
*Friday: Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
Other potential prospects: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee | Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse | Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor | Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina | Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia | David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State