By Bob McGinn Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Good luck to the National Football League coaching staff and quarterback that expect Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to play well from scrimmage as a rookie.
In fact, many of the red flags that portend B-U-S-T will accompany Patterson if/when he’s brought to the Radio City Music Hall stage Thursday after his name is called in the first round of the draft.
Patterson, a strapping 6 feet 2 inches and 217 pounds, is the most dynamic big man in the draft — at least when he has the ball under his arm. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (5-81/2, 173), the other leading wide receiver, is the most electrifying little man.
Each year, the game on offense is being called more at the line. In turn, defensive coordinators live and die on their ability to confuse passers and receivers.
The last-second adjustments have placed additional burden on wide receiver, a position that wasn’t always associated with mental acuity.
“When you look at the skill positions, the receivers usually take the longest to acclimate,” said Howie Roseman, general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles. “Because they’re not seeing a lot of press coverage in college football. Then they’ve got to pick up offenses that sometimes are more complex than they’re used to in college.”
C.O. Brocato of the Tennessee Titans, the grand old man of NFL scouting, said IQ is a vital part of the wide-receiver equation.
“They say it’s not, but I think it is,” Brocato said. “They say just put a guy out there with speed and let him go. Where is he going to go? If he can’t learn, how is he going to play?”
Therein lies the rub, particularly with Patterson. In the last two weeks, scouts from 10 teams expressed varying degrees of reservation whether he’ll be up to the coming challenge.
“Mentally, it’s going to be a project,” one personnel man said. “Running routes, he doesn’t know how to do any of that stuff. You may have to keep it simple for him, but this is football. It’s not building a super glider or anything.”
According to several teams, Patterson wasn’t impressive during interviews at the combine. He also scored 11 on the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test, which caused more consternation.
“You’re not expecting receivers to be in the 30s,” an AFC personnel director said. “But you’ve got to have some type of intelligence to pick up the system.
“Toward the end of the year, they started to go away from running Patterson down the field on routes and gave him the ball on reverses and screens, even as a halfback at times. That starts to put a question mark in your head.” Why?
“Well, there’s reasons, and it’s just not being as proficient with his route-running and not having the ability to make adjustments during the game,” the AFC personnel director said.
Austin’s test score was even lower at 7, but the majority of scouts expect him to learn a playbook without a major hitch.
“He’s not a quick study and it will take him a little time,” another personnel director said. “He will work at it. He cares greatly about it.”
Justin Hunter, Patterson’s teammate, scored just 12, but scouts consider him less of a risk mentally.
Patterson’s journey to this point was unconventional, to say the least.
After spending time at two junior colleges and playing the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) College, Patterson was admitted to Tennessee in July. Six months later, he was declaring for the draft a year early.
It’s difficult to find JUCO wide receivers that spent just one season at a major college before entering the draft. One was Robert Ferguson, a junior-college player who spent six months at Texas A&M before being drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers in 2001.
As a rookie, Ferguson had no idea what it took to be a pro and was inactive for 17 of 18 games. In nine seasons, he caught 151 passes.
Of the Packers’ six No. 1 wideouts in their West Coast era (Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver, Javon Walker and Greg Jennings), the only one to flourish as a rookie was Jennings.
Sharpe dropped eight passes and didn’t score a touchdown until Game 14. Brooks had several key drops and lost confidence. Freeman made eight receptions, and Driver made three. Walker kept blowing assignments and dropped nine.
“There’s a huge correlation between experience playing the position in college and success in the NFL,” one scout said. “Intelligence and work ethic are probably the two most important qualities because it’s extremely tough.”
During the past decade, 10 wide receivers that declared at least a year early and were drafted in the first two rounds can be categorized as busts.
With their Wonderlic scores, they are Jon Baldwin (14), Darrius Heyward-Bey (14), Devin Thomas (23), Malcolm Kelly (22), James Hardy (14), Dwayne Jarrett (14), Chad Jackson (15), Troy Williamson (21), Reggie Williams (17) and Charles Rogers (10).
Meanwhile, intelligence is deemed a plus for Keenan Allen (19) and Robert Woods (23), the next-best receivers behind Patterson and Austin.
“Allen and Woods just know how to play,” an NFC personnel director said. “You throw them in, they’re going to run the right route, get open and catch the ball.
“You can run fast 40s and be this and that, but if you don’t know how to play it just kind of goes out the window.”