Cordarrelle Patterson has been a receiver and return man most of his football life. His special teams contributions might earn him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in time, and his dynamic playmaking ability made him a real offensive threat in space.
Arthur Smith, however, saw an opportunity to use Patterson out of the backfield, as a running back. It worked, even after similar experiments on other teams failed to bear real fruit.
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Patterson was one of the league's surprise producers, a real standout on a Falcons offense that struggled at times last season.
The veteran made a strong push to stay in Atlanta after his one-year deal for 2021 expired, endearing himself to the fan base and Falcons brass. He got his wish, signing a two-year deal with the team in March.
He remains the biggest threat at the position, though his effectiveness waned somewhat down the stretch while he was dealing with injuries. Maintaining Patterson's production, while working in lots of new faces, will be a fascinating storyline to watch when training camp starts next week.
Let's put the entire position group under the microscope in the latest installment of Falcons position breakdown:
Who's in the room: Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, Qadree Ollison, Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, Damien Williams, Keith Smith (FB)
53-man projection: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams, Damien Williams, Keith Smith
Projected starter: Cordarrelle Patterson
Where the position was: The running back room was in serious transition after the 2020 season, with Todd Gurley, Ito Smith and Brian Hill on the way out and Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson on the way in. While Patterson was impactful and his versatility was showcased during his first year at running back, Davis never really got going.
The run game was a weaker spot overall, ranking 30th in yards per carry, 31st in total rushing yards and 32nd in first downs earned by rush.
Where the position is: Those lackluster totals prompted more change, with Davis let go and Damien Williams now in the fray. They also drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round, adding a solid scheme fit and physical presence who could make an immediate impact.
The Falcons also moved Avery Williams to running back from the defensive side of the ball, though his primary role will be on special teams as a return man and coverage player. Qadree Ollison will push for a roster spot. Keith Smith is a quality fullback and special teams contributor who should stick around.
Patterson's back on a new contract, and it will be interesting to see how many standard rushes he takes versus being a hybrid player moving across the formation. He's a big, powerful player who should only get better with a full year at running back under his belt. How many touches will he get overall? The coaching staff surely has a number in mind, and I'd bet they're hoping Allgeier and Damien Williams shoulder a significant portion of the load to keep him fresh and keep the team's carry count high.
Where the position is going: The Falcons have fingers crossed that Allgeier can develop into a steady contributor to a committee or, in an ideal world, as a feature back. If Avery Williams can be an option in the backfield, that's a bonus.
Patterson is 30 years old, working on a two-year deal, but he believes he can be effective well after that contract expires. Time will tell on that front, and whether he's part of the Falcons long-term plan at the position.