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The Fantasy Case Against Cordarrelle Patterson: No Duplicating Career-Best Year

After a remarkable 2021 season, you shouldn't expect Cordarrelle Patterson to do it all over again.

The summer is here, meaning we’re getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds, while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2021. That latter exercise isn’t easy, however, especially in the case of players who are among the elite at their position or are coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets.

Case in point. In 2019, Michael Thomas went absolutely bananas for the Saints, and fantasy fans with nearly 375 fantasy points on a record 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns. As a result, he was the consensus No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy drafts and a surefire first-round pick. The aftermath, though, was not nearly as good.

Thomas averaged 12 fantasy points a game, down more than 11 points from the previous season, and missed nine games due to injuries. It's tough to predict a long-term ailment, of course, but Thomas wasn't nearly as productive even when he played.

The point here is that few folks saw this coming because Thomas was so good in 2019. That leads me to this series, aptly named "The Fantasy Case Against…" where I'll do my due diligence in looking at players who everyone in fantasy land thinks are a sure bet to remain uber-productive after finding a high level of success in past seasons.

The series highlights big-name players—or those coming off enormous statistical years— who could see a surprising decline in fantasy success. Like I always say, the only predictable thing about the NFL is that it's often unpredictable. And as much as we love our fantasy heroes out on the gridiron, no one is ever guaranteed to succeed.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Next up, I'll look at undefined breakout running back Cordarrelle Patterson.

Cooper Kupp | Davante Adams | Deebo Samuel | Amon-Ra St. Brown | Diontae Johnson

2021 Season
Patterson had a breakout year in 2021, finishing with career highs across the board in his age-30 season. He played a different role in Atlanta's offense than in previous years, as Patterson was utilized more often as a running back than his traditional wide receiver position. However, he still saw 69 targets in the passing attack and finished with 1,166 scrimmage yards. That was 539 more yards than his previous career-high, which he set as a rookie in 2013. Patterson also scored 11 total touchdowns, which was a new career-high. He had only scored 18 touchdowns in his previous eight seasons.

Did You Know?
Based on the average draft position totals from FantasyData, Patterson was the 70th running back selected in 2021 fantasy drafts. Runners such as Ty Johnson, Salvon Ahmed, J.J. Taylor and Tony Jones Jr. were selected ahead of him. Patterson would finish ninth in fantasy points at his position, meaning he outscored all but eight of the 69 running backs selected ahead of him. To put it bluntly, very few people (if any) in the fantasy football community saw Patterson's breakout season coming. 

Historical Trends
Patterson's 234.6 fantasy points rank fifth among Atlanta running backs during a single season since 1995. Only Jamal Anderson (1998), Devonta Freeman (2015, 2016) and Michael Turner (2008) scored more in that time. His 11 total touchdowns are tied with Turner (2010, 2012), Tevin Coleman (2016), TJ Duckett (2003), William Andrews (1983) and Eddie Ray (1973) for eighth-most among Falcons backs in the Super Bowl era. Patterson is the oldest player (30) to produce at least 11 touchdowns on this list.

Furthermore, Patterson is one of just 21 backs to score double-digit touchdowns in his age-30 season during the Super Bowl era. That spans 55 years! That number of backs shrinks to just 10 who recorded double-digit touchdowns at age 31. That trend doesn't bode well for Patterson's chances to duplicate his 2021 touchdown totals. 

Coaching & Personnel Changes  
Arthur Smith will enter his second year as the Falcons' head coach. Last year under his watch, the offense ranked next to last in average plays per game, 26th in points per game and eighth in pass percentage. Their net yards per game were the fourth lowest in the league, and their pass attempts per game average ranked just 19th out of 32 teams.

This all happened with Matt Ryan, now in Indianapolis, at the helm of the offense. His absence is one of several player personnel changes during the offseason. Marcus Mariota is now the favorite to start the season under center for Smith, though he could see some competition from rookie Desmond Ridder. Regardless, the quarterback situation is far more questionable going into 2022 than it was a season ago.

The Falcons have also added pieces in their backfield and passing game that could affect Patterson's touches. The team signed veteran running back Damien Williams and drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round. Atlanta also selected wide receiver Drake London with the eighth overall pick, traded for Bryan Edwards and signed both Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd to add depth to its core of receivers. The Falcons will continue to utilize tight end Kyle Pitts as its number one target in the passing game.

Verdict

Very rarely do we see a player break out in his age-30 season, no less at a completely different position than he's played before in the league. But that's what we saw with Patterson in 2021. Can he duplicate the role and numbers that made him such a valuable fantasy asset? In my humble opinion, the answer is no.

Patterson was fantastic in his first 10 games, averaging 18.6 points per contest. That was good for the sixth-most among running backs who played at least eight games up to that point. Patterson averaged a near 26% touch share and 13.4 touches per game in that time as well. He also averaged 9.3 carries a game and 4.4 yards per rush attempt.

Unfortunately for Patterson and his fantasy managers, that's when the statistical wheels fell off. Over his final six games, he was tied for 33rd in points among all running backs. In fact, his former teammate, Mike Davis, scored more points during this time. While his touch share was at 28%, his yards per carry average dropped to 3.5, and his fantasy points per touch dropped from 1.4 in Weeks 1-12 down to a meager 0.68.

Simply put, Patterson's body appeared to break down physically due to his extensive work as a running back. Remember, he had 153 carries during the 2021 campaign. He had never had more than 64 rushing attempts in any season. He had compiled just 167 rushing attempts during his NFL career heading into 2021. 

Patterson, who turned 31 in March, will be hard-pressed to compile the numbers he had last season again. While Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone will continue to utilize him out of the backfield, the team has more depth with the additions of Williams and Allgeier. I can even see a scenario where the rookie out of BYU plays a bigger role in the offense than some would project. He'll be worth a late draft flier.

Even if Patterson is used more often in the passing game this season, he'll have new competition from London, Tate and Byrd, not to mention Pitts. You also have to wonder the quality of targets that any Falcons receivers we'll see this season with either Mariota or Ritter under center. While Ryan is in the latter stages of his career, most folks would agree that he is a better quarterback option than the Falcons have in 2022.

The projected regression that most in the fantasy community expect from Patterson is evident in his current ADP in the National Fantasy Football Championships. Despite being a top-10 runner a season ago, he's been drafted as the RB34 in June. In most cases, I wouldn't have any problem drafting him as a flex starter, but I'd do it with the knowledge that Patterson likely won't produce at his 2021 statistical pace.

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!