Combing through Norval Turner’s history with wide receivers and looking for evidence of how he might turn Cordarrelle Patterson into a fantasy football phenom is a mostly fruitless venture.
This isn’t surprising, of course, since Turner’s offense is one predicated on a vertical attack that has created more than a few viable fantasy wideouts. None of them, however, made fantasy hay the way Patterson would: with short routes and lots of yards after the catch (YAC).
Patterson, when he finally got a chance to start over future Hall of Fame candidate Jerome Simpson, was deployed in a decidedly nontraditional way. He did his damage with smoke screens, hitches, and various other shallow routes, in part because his route running is raw — to put it kindly — and his quarterbacks were hardly competent.
Before we look at fantasy receivers who thrived with mostly shallow pass routes, let’s take a look at average depth of target (aDOT) for wideouts who have thrived in Turner’s offensive system. aDOT, for the uninitiated, is a measurement of depth per aimed throw.
Patterson’s 2013 aDOT was a low 8.5 — a not-inconsiderable concern for fantasy owners skeptical of the second-year Minnesota pass catcher.
Turner’s primary wide receivers since 2008 have an average aDOT of 16.2, a mark that would consistently rank among the highest aDOTs in any given season. Probably you noticed that that inflated average is nearly double Patterson’s rookie season aDOT — not exactly the hopeful sign we sought.
It’s important to recognize that the receivers listed above are all bigger than Patterson and excelled at the deep route. Jackson, for one, was made to dominate on contested throws way downfield.
One would hope that Turner uses Patterson in a way that fits his strengths, which don’t yet include precise route running and the sort of deep-ball acumen that Gordon, Jackson, and Alexander showed time and again as centerpieces in Turner’s offenses.
If the assumption is that Turner will play to Patterson’s strengths and not shoehorn him into a role that doesn’t fit his skill set, the question becomes: how often have receivers will exceedingly low aDOTs — guys who make their livings on short throws and YAC — ranked among the top fantasy wideouts.
Here’s a look at top-12 receivers with aDOTs of less than 10. I know that number is a bit arbitrary, but I think it’s important to have some wiggle room on either side of Patterson’s 8.5 aDOT.
Percy Harvin’s 2012 season didn’t make this list because he missed the season’s final eight games with a high ankle sprain. Harvin, in the midst of a campaign that would’ve made him fantasy’s third highest scoring receiver, is probably the best usage comparable to Patterson.
Patteron’s value, if he’s used the way we think he’ll be used in Turner’s offensive system, will hinge on his ability to get the ball in space, shatter defenders’ ankles, and outrun all comers once he’s in the open. If we’re going to put some stock in the players listed above, we might as well compare their YAC to Patteron’s 6.5 YAC average from 2013.
I think this, more than anything so far, is a good sign that top-end wide receiver fantasy production can be had with uncommonly short routes and high YAC. Even Welker, hardly a good Patterson comparable, was able to take a boatload of short routes and turn them into top-10 fantasy numbers.
Harvin’s unholy 8.9 YAC was sure to level off in 2012 if he had played a whole season, or anything close to it. Remember that Harvin was a dominant force for the first couple months of that season while maintaining an aDOT of around 4.5. That, dear reader, is ridiculous.
We’re not going to find pass catchers who have posted big numbers with short routes and plenty of yards after the catch in Turner’s various offenses. it’s important to know that if Norval plays to Patterson’s strengths in 2014, he wouldn’t be the first receiver to make his fantasy football living with a bottom-dwelling aDOT and an exceedingly high YAC.
In Norval we trust.