Cordarrelle Patterson is the kind of gadget player Bears coach Matt Nagy’s loves. His size, speed and athleticism as one of the best kick returners in the NFL give him a versatility that fits Nagy’s playful approach to the offense.
But like running back Tarik Cohen, a lot of other offensive parts have to be in order to make the best use of a player like the 6-2, 227-pound Patterson. When opponents were still trying to figure out Nagy’s offense in 2018, there seemed to be no bottom to his back of tricks. Cohen threw a touchdown pass to Anthony Miller against the Giants. Akiem Hicks rushed for a touchdown against the Giants. Tackle Bradley Sowell caught a touchdown pass against the Rams. Miller threw a pass to Chase Daniel against the Lions.
But last year, the Bears’ offense stumbled from the outset, the fun plays and Nagy’s inventive use of his personnel all but dried up. Cohen’s receiving average was nearly cut in half — from 10.2 to 5.8 yards per catch. Sowell caught fewer passes as a tight end (none) than he did as a tackle.
Nagy used Patterson — a wide receiver on offense in 2019 — in the backfield in the season opener against the Packers. But his two-yard loss on a key third-and-one carry in the first half in retrospect was a harbinger of a much more difficult offensive season. Patterson had a 46-yard run that helped beat the Broncos the following week, but that was about it. He had 11 rushes for 25 yards in the next 12 games.
But when you watch Patterson run, you can’t help but think there’s much more than he can do on a football field — wide receiver, running back, tight end or wildcat quarterback. Just about whatever it is, Patterson is built for it. He has seven touchdowns on kickoff returns and 10 on receptions in seven NFL seasons.
“I said that each and every year — I’m not one of those guys you just label as a wide receiver, a kick returner, running back,” Patterson said. “I just go out and do whatever coach tells me to do.”
Nagy was not deterred by last season’s limited success with Patterson on offense. On the contrary, he was more intrigued than ever to get as much out of Patterson as he could. So he moved him from wide receiver to running back, where he gives him a better opportunity to zig when the defense zags — a versatile complement to David Montgomery and Cohen.
“Anytime my number’s called, I’m always excited,” Patterson said. “Just being out with David and Tarik — just working with those guys every day, it’s just fun, man. It’s different for me, being a receiver my whole career, just going in the running back room. I’m just trying to pick those guys brains. I’m a veteran guy, but I’m learning something new.”
Patterson has been effective on end-around type plays throughout his career. He averages 7.6 yards per carry — 103 rushes for 785 yards and seven touchdowns. But the Patriots’ use of Patterson out of the backfield in 2018 made the biggest impact. He rushed 42 times for 228 yards (5.4 avg.) and a touchdown. But he was the beneficiary of a top-flight offense.
“First of all, you have to trust your offensive linemen,” Patterson said. “As a receiver, I didn’t know anything about that. You just have to trust those big guys up front to do their job. Just run between them.”
The Bears aren’t there yet — not with their line play or their weapons. But Nagy doesn’t think it’ll be difficult incorporating Patterson into a developing offense.
“Not really,” he said. “We have a lot of different players in this offense that are talented and he is one of them. It’ll be our job as coaches to make sure that however we use Cordarrelle that we think is best, we’ll do that.”