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'Special' Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson Leading On and Off the Field

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by Daniel Flick


The Atlanta Falcons struck gold with the signing of running back Cordarrelle Patterson. From his on-field breakout to off-field presence, the veteran has transformed Atlanta's rushing attack - while staying true to himself.


When Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith arrived in January of 2021 after spending two years as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, the question of who'd become his go-to running back immediately came up.

Smith enjoyed immense success with Titans All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, who stands 6-3, 247 pounds and is known as one of the game's premiere power rushers.

That April, Smith and the Falcons signed 30-year-old Cordarrelle Patterson, a former first-round pick as a receiver who starred as a kick returner but struggled to consistently make an offensive impact, to a one-year, $3 million contract. 

In the years leading up to his signing, Patterson had begun to make the transition to running back but didn't even have a 50-carry season under his belt. His best output as a runner totaled just 232 yards.

Now fast forward to the present, as Patterson and the Falcons enter a Week 4 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Patterson, the league's third-leading rusher, just won the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award and has firmly established himself as the dynamic running back that Smith's offense revolves around.

Through three games, Patterson has recorded 302 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries for an average of 6.2 yards per attempt. He's already set a new career high in rushing yards in a game - twice.

So, how has Patterson gone from historically good kick returner to high-end running back? Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota believes the ability has always been in him, it's just been about a matter of opportunity.

"Whether it was in the return game or as a receiver, his ability with the ball in his hands has always been special," said Mariota. "So why not just hand it to him (and) let him do his thing? It's fun to play with a guy like that; he keeps you ahead of the sticks, he makes explosive runs, he really helps our offense."

Patterson's been making "explosive" plays for so many years in a variety of ways that it would be easy to mistake the feel he has for running lanes as a natural skill.

On Sunday, Patterson will see a familiar face on the opposing sideline in Browns special teams coordinator Mike Pfiefer, who worked with the veteran playmaker during four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

Pfiefer was there when Patterson first began tinkering as a running back and knows how far has come. For him, picking a specific trait where Patterson has improved the most was simple.

"It's probably vision," revealed Pfiefer. "He didn’t have great vision, but I think he has developed really good vision, especially the way they use him down in Atlanta." 

Vision on the field has helped Patterson shine, but without the vision of Atlanta's coaching staff, there's a chance he wouldn't be experiencing this late-career revitalization. 

Patterson's role with the Falcons began with offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, who saw his potential firsthand with the Chicago Bears in the previous two seasons. Ragone pitched the idea to Falcons coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot, and the rest is history.


Smith shared that he's "glad I get to coach" Patterson, dubbing him a smart football player who he enjoys working with. Why? Because Patterson's genuine. He's real. When he talks, the team listens, and Smith revealed exactly why.

"I think it's consistency," Smith said. "Guys know they can depend on him in tough moments - that's how he's earned the respect of his teammates."

Mariota, who said that he plays cards with Patterson on flights, has been in the league for eight years. Patterson, ten. They're two of the key elder statesmen on the second-youngest team in the league.



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