MINNEAPOLIS -- If Cordarrelle Patterson comes back to the Minnesota Vikings on a new contract, could he make a Ty Montgomery-esque move and help solve some of the team's questions at running back? Our Vikings Twitter question of the week:
— Chad Durand (@_Coach_Durand) February 9, 2017
@GoesslingESPN: We've received a number of questions in recent weeks about Patterson becoming a running back, should he return to the Vikings next year. That's an important qualifier, with Patterson about to hit free agency, so I'll answer that part of your question first.
Patterson seemed to find a role in the Vikings' offense with Pat Shurmur taking over as the offensive coordinator, and I expect the Vikings will have some interest in bringing him back on a new contract, a year after they declined his fifth-year option. Patterson showed impressive personal growth in his contract year; his contributions as a gunner on special teams were critical to his increased role in the offense, as he restored coaches' faith in him by showing he'd do whatever they asked. Patterson led the league in kick return average for the third time in four years, and his 52 catches were a career high. I'm sure the Vikings will see a role for Patterson during a full year in Shurmur's offense -- he became a frequent target for quarterback Sam Bradford on bubble screens last year -- and while there's a chance they'll lose Patterson to some team that waves big money in front of him along with promises of making him a star, I think they'll make a strong effort to bring him back at a reasonable price.
Now, if he's back, can he be a running back on occasion? We saw him do it to great effect in 2013, when he ran for 158 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns as a rookie, and he showed again last year he can gain yards after contact on his receptions. His average of 2.08 yards after contact per catch was 20th in the league, just behind Montgomery's average of 2.11 yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information. But it's another step entirely to expect Patterson to become the kind of consistent factor in the Vikings' running game that Montgomery was for the Green Bay Packers last year.
When coach Mike Zimmer was asked about Montgomery in a conference call with Packers reporters in December, he praised the receiver's ability to switch positions especially from the standpoint of mastering a new set of responsibilities in pass protection. There'd be a learning curve for Patterson there, and I'm not sure another significant role change is the most prudent course of action for a player who's needed some time to learn the intricacies of the receiver position. And while Patterson is big enough to handle contact, he'd probably have to run lower than he does as a receiver, to take on defenders near the line of scrimmage and protect the ball.
Lastly, when Patterson set the league on its ear as a rookie, he still only carried the ball 12 times. His vision and speed served him well, as it's done on kick returns, but he'd be subjected to more pounding the more he lined up in the backfield. If he's back in Minnesota next year, it certainly makes sense to use him out of the backfield on occasion, but I think the ideal role for him might be something closer to what we've already seen from him at his best points in Minnesota: one where he can line up all over the field and make significant contributions when he does touch the ball, but not be subjected to the physical toll of a player who carries the ball more frequently.
Patterson, who only turns 26 next month, is at his best when he has a chance to be explosive; I'd expect the Vikings would want to preserve that as long as they can.