A PERIODIC LOOK AT SOME OF THE MOST INTRIGUING RISING STARS
GIVE CORDARRELLE PATTERSON the ball and a 100-yard canvas, and he'll express himself in bold, vigorous strokes: a kickoff return that curlicues from one end of the field to the other, a reception that ends with a streak up the sideline, an end run that's stippled with dekes. His talent derives from an alchemy of speed (a 4.42-second 40), size (6'2", 216 pounds) and—above all—vision. "I think it's something God gave to me," the second-year receiver explains six days before Vikings training camp. "I feel like when I see the hole, I've got to approach it at 100 miles an hour because the gap can close just like that."
Patterson's NFL career opened up in the second half of his rookie season. In his first 10 games he made 21 catches for 196 yards; over the final six he snared 24 passes for 273 yards and scored six touchdowns (three receiving and three running). The burst complemented Patterson's kickoff returns, in which he'd already established himself with a pair of game-opening touchdown romps: a 105-yarder against the Bears in Week 2 and a 109-yarder against the Packers in Week 8, which equaled the NFL record for the longest TD. For the season, his 32.4-yard return average led the league.
While he couldn't save 5-10-1 Minnesota from sliding to the bottom of the NFC North, Patterson did earn a Pro Bowl berth and became only the third Vikings rookie to get a first-team All-Pro nod. The first to do it was Randy Moss, a player Patterson admires. After the Vikes chose him with the 29th pick in the 2013 draft (the team traded four picks to the Patriots for the privilege), Patterson requested Moss's number 84.
He wore the number at Tennessee, where he arrived as a transfer from Hutchinson Community College near Wichita, Kans., in 2012 and became a star after barely five months in Knoxville, and at Northwestern High, a Rock Hill, S.C., powerhouse (whose colors happen to be purple and gold). "To go from growing up and watching Moss do his thing to practicing on the same field he did is crazy," says Patterson.
Besides the jersey number, the Minnesota address and the feats on the field, Patterson has resembled Moss in another way: At times the second-year player has appeared spoiled and rebellious. At Northwestern High, he says he was a class clown and badass, and he sat out his first two years in defiance. But he missed sports, so as a junior, he suited up and excelled at basketball, track and football, which came most naturally to him. His attitude was better, but a tongue-lashing from a coach would still send him storming off the field. He'd throw his pads to the ground and call his mother, Catherine, to come pick him up. She had perhaps foreseen his divalike ways, naming him Cordarrelle (cor-DAR-uhl) after a hunky protagonist, Cordero, on One Life to Live. As a senior, in 2008, Patterson stayed on the field long enough to help Northwestern to a state title.
His career stats (944 yards, 18 TDs) were good enough to get him into his pick of BCS schools, but his grades were not. So he set out for North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy in Charlotte, where the principal was also the football coach, his wife the only teacher, and student-athletes slept five to a room. After six months it was on to Hutchinson. There he ditched the petulant star routine, committing to the classroom and opening up to his coaches and teammates. By the end of his sophomore year, he had emerged as the nation's top junior college prospect (61 catches, 924 yards; 32 carries, 379 yards; 10 kick returns, 482 yards; 24 total TDs), while also working as an RA and earning his associate's degree.
The place still tugs at him. "I miss Hutchinson," he says. "I feel like this year, the bye week, I'll probably try to get back there." Patterson isn't nearly as sentimental about his five months at Tennessee. He arrived two weeks before summer classes in 2012 and racked up a school-record 1,858 all-purpose yards while becoming the first college football player in four years to score a touchdown in four ways (receiving, rushing, and returning both a kick and a punt).
That's why the Vikings made such a bold trade to get him and why expectations are so high for him this season, Minnesota's first under head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whose reputation as a receiver whisperer was reaffirmed when Josh Gordon broke out as a league leader under him last year in Cleveland.
To avoid a repeat of last season's slow start, Patterson spent the off-season refining his routes with Vikings receivers coach George Stewart and getting his timing down with quarterback Matt Cassel, the presumptive starter. "He's really impressed me," Cassel says. "He's been in the right spots. I'm sure it's just from being in the system now a year and from also being around the guys and understanding how to work."
It's more evidence of Patterson's maturation, and the extra work has improved his most valued instruments—those eyes. "It might sound crazy, but my vision is slowing things down even as the game's speeding up," he says. With vision that clear, Patterson can't see any limitations.
"FROM GROWING UP WATCHING RANDY MOSS DO HIS THING TO PRACTICING ON THE SAME FIELD IS CRAZY," SAYS PATTERSON.
For an exclusive one-on-one video interview with Cordarrelle Patterson and the entire Rising Stars series presented by Symetra, go to SI.com/risingstars
Paul Worrilow, LB, ATL
The 6' 1" 232-pounder had consecutive 19-tackle games against the Panthers and Seahawks and a league-high 110 stops over the last nine games.
Josh McCown, QB, TB
The journeyman backup's late-season assignment in relief of the Bears' Jay Cutler (66.5% comp., 1,829 yards, 13 TDs, one INT) set him up to become the Man in Tampa.
Justin Tuck, DE, OAK
For his Broadway curtain call, the Giants' All-Pro collected 9½ sacks over the season's final six weeks—a performance that helped earn him an extended run in Oakland.
Michael Floyd, WR, ARZ
As the Cardinals caught fire late in '13, winning six of eight, the second-year receiver grabbed 31 balls for 608 yards and three TDs.
Ryan Mathews, RB, SD
In his fourth season he finally emerged as a workhorse. The 775 yards he tallied over the Bolts' final eight games outdistanced his 12-game 2012 total by 68 yards.
BRACE HEMMELGARN/USA TODAY SPORTS (PATTERSON)
CARY EDMONDSON/USA TODAY SPORTS (PATTERSON)
CHRIS O'MEARA/AP (MCCOWN)
JEFF ZELEVANSKY/GETTY IMAGES (TUCK)
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (FLOYD)
KIRBY LEE/USA TODAY SPORTS (MATHEWS)