After luring-in an impressive crop of free agents in 2018, the Chicago Bears’ offseason was a bit quieter this year. However, the team showed they weren’t done adding pieces for head coach Matt Nagy’s rapidly-improving offense.
Instead of spending the big bucks, general manager Ryan Pace invested in several low-cost, potentially high-impact veteran pieces. Among them, and maybe the most important, was none other than ex-division rival Cordarelle Patterson.
Listed as a wide receiver on the Bears’ depth chart, Patterson is much more than just that. A player who’s made a name for himself on limited opportunities as a home-run threat, teams in recent years have found ways to get him the ball in more than just the passing game.
Most are aware of the damage the 28-year-old can do in the return game, but his newly-added element as a ball carrier has helped his game evolve.
Over the past two seasons in Oakland and New England, Patterson’s carry total (55) almost doubled his 31 rush attempts in his four-year stint with the Vikings. Last season for the Patriots, although he caught just 21 passes (second-fewest of his career), he posted an admirable 75 percent catch rate for three touchdowns. His impact on the ground was felt more so than ever, seeing a career high in rushing attempts (42) and rushing yards (228) on 5.4 yards per carry.
While the former high-capitol draft selection (first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2013) draws some criticism for failing to pan out as a top-tier receiver in the NFL, his game-breaking explosiveness and versatility have been evident.
With rookie David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen manning the post at running back, Patterson may not see near as many carries as he did a year ago. Also keep in mind that the team brought in veteran RB Mike Davis on a two-year, $6 million deal, so opportunities on the ground may be hard to come by for Patterson. The beauty of the matter, however, is that Paterson can be used in multiple ways.
Chicago also currently possesses a loaded wide receiver corps alongside Patterson. With Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Riley Ridley and either Javon Wims or Emanuel Hall all going to be fighting for targets, Patterson may not receive a ton of volume in his first year with the Bears. However, as he’s shown over the course of his career, he makes his opportunities count.
Patterson thrives on catching the ball in space. In 2018, 14 of his 21 receptions came at or behind the line of scrimmage. This is ideal for Nagy’s offense that likes to create mismatches with a lot of motion pre-snap. It’ll be exciting to see how Nagy moves Patterson around the formation and finds creative ways to get the ball in his hands.
You can bet Nagy, himself, is also thrilled to try out his new toy. In early April, the Bears head coach discussed the role he has in mind for Patterson.
You see what he did in New England with the jet sweeps, the arounds, the screens, and I think that that’s a good fit for him,” said Nagy. “But for me it’s kind of like a kid in a candy store. You get to kind of pick which candy you like best, put it together and figure out what he does best.”
As for Patterson’s impact on special teams, there’s not enough that can be said about his dominance as a returner, but let me give it a go. Throughout the Tennessee alum’s six-year career, he’s been one of, if not the best returner in football.
His 30.0 yards per kick return ranks second all-time just behind only Bears’ Hall of Famer Gale Sayers (30.6). Additionally, his six career kick return touchdowns have him tied for third in the all-time standings. His most recent may be all-too-familiar to Bears’ fans, as it was one that sparked New England’s 38-31 comeback victory against the team last October.
Go ahead, let out that sigh of relief now that he’s now in navy and orange.
With Patterson handling kickoff return duties and Cohen taking the honors on punts, the Bears now have perhaps the scariest return duo in the game. Also important to note, now with Patterson back deep returning kicks, the Bears are finally able to solidify a position that was a revolving door for them a season ago.
His offensive role should become more clear once training camp is underway. However, if fans can be certain of one thing, it’s that Patterson, from a scheme perspective, is a seamless fit in the “Windy City.” Albeit in a limited role, he’s yet another valuable piece for a Super Bowl-contending franchise in 2019.