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Nerdy Birds: One-of-a-kind Cordarrelle Patterson, Drake London at home and a pair of rookies make their presence felt

Patterson is the only player NFL history to have 20-plus rushing touchdowns, 15-plus receiving touchdowns and 7-plus kickoff return touchdowns. 

Why so serious?

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Cordarrelle Patterson has been one of the most unique players in the NFL during his time in the league. Patterson was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings and made an immediate impact as a kick returner, earning first-team All-Pro honors, finishing third in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.

He would go on to pick up five more All-Pro selections, three first-team and two second-team nods, and nab three more Pro Bowl appearances primarily for his work as a return specialist.

During his sixth season in the NFL and his lone year in New England, Patterson saw more carries than receptions and began to re-invent himself as a player, morphing from receiver to running back to the joker position he now occupies in Atlanta. Patterson had his best season as a pro in 2021 with the Falcons, setting career highs in scrimmage yards (1,166), rushing attempts (153), rushing touchdowns (6), receiving touchdowns (5) and tying his career-high in receptions (52).

Although his overall production may be down in 2023, he scored the 16th rushing touchdown of his career in Week 15 against Carolina and has again marked himself as one of the most unique players to take the field.


According to Tru Media, Patterson and Darren Sproles are the only players since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have at least 20 rushing touchdowns, 15 receiving touchdowns and multiple kickoff return touchdowns.  

Patterson has posted 22 rushing touchdowns and 16 receiving touchdowns in his career to go with his NFL record of nine kick returns. He is the only player in NFL history to have 20-plus rushing touchdowns, 15-plus receiving touchdowns and seven-plus kickoff return touchdowns. According to StatHead, there have only been three players in NFL history with 20 or more rushing touchdowns, 15 or more receiving touchdowns and multiple kickoff return touchdowns.

Rush TD - Receiving TD - Kickoff Return TD

Table inside Article
Player Rush TD Rec. TD Kick Ret. TD
Cordarrelle Patterson 22 16 9
Timmy Brown 31 26 5
Ollie Matson 40 23 6
Darren Sproles 23 32 2

Impact rookies

Atlanta appears to have hit on a pair of late-round defensive backs in cornerback Clark Phillips III and safety DeMarcco Hellams.

The Falcons selected Phillips in the fourth round (113th overall) and Hellams in the seventh (224th overall). Both players have shown steady progression which has been rewarded with more playing time. Phillips has been active for eight games but has only recently seen the field on defense, playing 28 snaps against the Cardinals in Week 10. After not playing in Week 12, Phillips has played a significant role over the last three games due in part to injuries to Jeff Okudah and A.J. Terrell.

Phillips has made the most of his recent opportunities. He has played 178 defensive snaps over the last three games, including 82 in coverage. During that span, Phillips ranks second among all rookies in target EPA (-7.3) and third in completion percentage above expectation (-17.3%). He has allowed just five receptions on 13 targets for 52 yards with two passes defensed and has limited opposing passers to a 50.8 QB rating.

Phillips has forced tight window throws on 38.5% of his targets, which ranks fourth among rookies over the last three games. He has surrendered four yards per target with a 15.4% ball hawk rate (the percentage of targets in which the nearest defender makes a play on the ball via a pass defense or interception). The former Utah defender has a 76.9 coverage success rate, which ranks third among rookies over that span.

Meanwhile, Hellams leads all rookies in CPOE at -41.6% and ranks second among rookies over the last three games in coverage success rate (83.3). Hellams has surrendered just two catches on six targets for 11 yards and a 42.4 QB rating. He's held opposing passers to a completion percentage of 33%, a minus-2.6 target EPA and a measly 1.8 yards per target.

Table inside Article
Stat D. Hellams C. Phillips III
Coverage Snaps 70 82
Targets 6 13
Receptions 2 5
QB Rating 42.4 50.8
Target EPA -2.6 -7.3
CPOE -41.6% -17.3%
Coverage Success Rate 83.3% 76.9%

Home sweet home

In his second season, Drake London has clearly become comfortable playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Over his past four home games, the Falcons 2022 first-round pick has averaged 116.5 yards per game, which is the second-most in the NFL over that span. Only Tyreek Hill (132.6) has averaged more yards at home over the past 10 weeks.

Here's a look at the league leaders in receiving yards per game at home in the last 10 weeks:

Table inside Article
Player Team Rec. Yards/G
Tyreek Hill Miami 132.6
Drake London Atlanta 116.5
Brandon Aiyuk San Francisco 112.3
CeeDee Lamb Dallas 109.8
Mike Evans Tampa Bay 109.0

In those four home games, London has been targeted 39 times with an average of 12.49 air yards per target. London has caught 30-of-39, or 76.9% of his targets, the third-most in the league among receivers with 10+ air yards per target (min. 25 targets) over the past 10 weeks. Only DeVonta Smith (85.2%) and Brandin Cooks (78.6%) have caught a higher percentage of targets at home during that span.

London enters Sunday's game with 130 receptions for 1,635 yards over the past two seasons. With four receptions against Indianapolis, he would surpass Julio Jones (133 from 2011-12) for the most receptions by a Falcon through his first two seasons in franchise history.

Additionally, with 54 receiving yards, London would surpass Calvin Ridley (1,687) and Bert Emanuel (1,688) for the second-most receiving yards through a player's first two seasons in team history.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke #4 and wide receiver Drake London #5 during practice at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Wednesday, December 20, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Jonnu Speed

Last week, Jonnu Smith recorded a 56-yard reception to set up Patterson's 1-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Smith reached a top speed of 20.29 miles per hour per Next Gen Stats, marking the second-fastest speed by a tight end in the NFL this season.

The fastest recorded time? That also belongs to Smith, who reached 21.15 miles per hour on his 63-yard touchdown against Minnesota. In fact, Smith's 21.15 miles per hour is the fastest time recorded by a tight end over the past four seasons.

Smith is the only tight end with multiple receptions of 50-plus yards this season and leads all tight ends with five receptions of 50-or-more yards over the past five seasons. George Kittle, Travis Kelce, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are all tied for second with three such receptions over that span.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Indianapolis Colts, presented by Fast Twitch by Gatorade.

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