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Should Patterson Remain Vikings Full-Time Kickoff Returner?

Posted Aug 20, 2014

There is an on-going debate around water coolers populated by Vikings fans. Should Cordarrelle Patterson continue to be the Vikings primary kickoff returner? At first blush, it’s a silly question. Why would a team remove a guy from this role coming off a season in which he ranked No. 1 in the NFL?

But the Vikings have actually faced this question before, with Percy Harvin from 2009-12. Harvin, a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2009 just as Patterson was in 2013, came into the League and made an instant impact as both a receiver and a returner. He played in 15 games during his rookie season, catching 60 passes and returning 42 kickoffs. In 2010 Harvin caught 71 passes and logged 40 returns. In 2011, though, the team encountered this dilemma and began to limit his kickoff returns. Harvin returned just 16 kickoffs that season and increased his focus on his role in the offense, with his pass reception total rising to a career-high 87.

Those who feel Patterson should be removed from this role will cite the fact that the second-year budding superstar is expected to have a larger role in the offense than he did a year ago, and preserving his energy and his health by taking him off kickoff return duties will enhance his ability to make a difference on offense. It’s sound reasoning, and one can argue it has worked for the Vikings in the past. But is it the right move this time around?

Proponents of keeping Patterson as the primary returner will reference the Vikings No. 1 ranking in drive starts after kickoffs in 2013 (27.2 yard line) as well as the homerun potential the dynamic returner possesses; he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season and logged 10 returns of 40 yards. While being the primary kickoff returner may take away from what Patterson can provide the offense, isn’t the top-ranked drive start average as much a help to the offense as an additional two or three snaps for Patterson? Also, with Patterson waiting in the end zone to receive a kickoff, opposing teams may choose to kick away from him, which could result in the ball bounding out of bounds (penalty against the opponent) and/or mortar kicks, which result in quality starting field position for the offense, as well.

On a per-game basis, it’s clear that having Patterson as the primary returner is the way to go. But this decision won’t, and shouldn’t, be made with a per-game perspective. This is a big picture decision. Is having Patterson as the primary returner – a job that results in more wear and tear and also requires additional practice and meeting time with the special teams – worth keeping Patterson from focusing exclusively on his craft as a receiver and, potentially, becoming a true No. 1 receiver for the Vikings down the line?

This decision is a one that will not be made around the water cooler or on the team’s website. It’ll be made by intelligent football people such as Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.

There are clearly two sides to this debate and both sides can make a compelling case.