Patterson took a bit of a gamble in transferring to Michigan without a guarantee that he could bypass the usual one-year waiting period for transfers. Now that the NCAA has granted his waiver, it's a safe bet he will be the quarterback who leads Michigan's offense into a potentially pivotal year under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The offense regressed in 2017 on the way to an 8-5 record in Harbaugh's third season at Michigan. A mixture of injuries and underwhelming performances kept the Wolverines from settling on a quarterback last season. The hope of many in Ann Arbor this summer will be that Patterson's arrival will cure what ailed the offense a year ago.
The thinking goes that Harbaugh, a former quarterback himself, has been just one breakout star at the position from sending the Wolverines to new heights. But that's far from the last question looming for the program.
Patterson proved during his two years at Ole Miss that his athleticism will help him extend plays. The knee injury he suffered last October doesn't seem to have stripped him of that ability, according to the first impression he made on his new coaches and teammates.
Passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton described the newest addition to his quarterback group a "playmaker." Former quarterback turned pass-catcher Zach Gentry told reporters this spring Patterson "brings a good amount of athleticism to the table." Defensive end Rashan Gary, one of the men tasked with trying to contain Patterson for the last couple months, said "having him around changes the offense a little bit."
Quarterback trainer Steve Clarkson, who has worked with Patterson for the past five years, said Patterson is unique because of his ability to get rid of the ball in a hurry and in a variety of ways.
"He has one of the fastest releases I've ever seen," Clarkson said. "It's so fast that you really don't see the ball leave his hand. It's like one of those old pitching JUGS machines. It just pops out of there."
Michigan's offense hasn't had a quarterback as athletic as Patterson in Harbaugh's three seasons as coach. That should help from time to time with an offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the Big Ten last season and now has to replace Mason Cole, a four-year starter and its top lineman. It's not, however, a sustainable recipe for success or the type of formula that has worked best for the offense Harbaugh runs at Michigan.
Patterson alone won't fix a Wolverines offense that ranked 111th nationally in passing yards per game and 119th in passing touchdowns. He can't teach a young group of receivers how to create space and run sharper routes to get open. He won't be successful if new offensive line coach Ed Warriner doesn't find a way to get more consistency from his group.
Being the new guy isn't a new role for Patterson. Michigan is the well-traveled 21-year-old's fifth team in the seven years since he started high school. While those moves have come for a variety of reason, none has been in search for more playing time. He climbed to the top of the depth chart in less than a year at all four previous stops.
Part of that quick rise for a quarterback requires winning over a locker room and showing leadership. A quiet guy off the field according to his new teammates, Patterson has plenty of experience with ingratiating himself in a new group. Clarkson said Patterson's move to IMG Academy -- a haven for elite high school prospects looking to focus on their sport -- for his senior season of high school should serve him in well in asserting himself at Michigan.
"You're talking about a bunch of alphas in a locker room," Clarkson said. "They were all 'the guy' where they came from at their previous schools, and he had to go in there and be the alpha."
What Patterson can't do, even if he establishes himself as the top dog among Michigan's quarterbacks this summer, is give the Wolverines an offensive identity. The innovation that helped the Wolverines average more than 35 points per game in Harbaugh's first two seasons in Ann Arbor seemed to disappear at times last fall. On an individual level Patterson can add some creative spice to the mix in 2018, but the decision to make creativity a staple of the playbook again will have to come from revamped leadership.
High expectations have been the norm for the former five-star prospect who garnered comparison to Archie Manning when he first showed up at Ole Miss. He's capable of shouldering the pressure that comes from a team's lofty goals, but heaping all those hopes on him in unrealistic. Michigan got one answer it needed in order to improve; it has several others it needs to provide on its own.