As recruiting coordinator at the University of Tennessee last season, Darin Hinshaw laughed at what Hutchinson Community College used as its hook for Cordarrelle Patterson.
But Hinshaw couldn’t ignore the December 2011 barrage from three Blue Dragons coaches as they tried to get a college to make Patterson an offer.
“They said, ‘This guy is a freak of nature,’ ” said Hinshaw, now the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Cincinnati.
Hinshaw went to Hutchinson, Kan., on his way to Garden City Community College. The discovery he made redefined the way he looks at recruits who take that route.
“I said, ‘I’m going to stop by and see this freak,’ kind of laughing at him,” Hinshaw said. “I saw him and went, ‘You are right. There’s no doubt this kid is special.’
“You get those phone calls all the time and I always try to see, ‘Is this the next Cordarrelle Patterson?’ ”
The Browns are expected to use the sixth overall pick in the April 25-27 draft on a defensive player. But should they trade down to replace the second-round selection they used on Josh Gordon in the 2012 supplemental draft, explosive receiver and kick returner Patterson could be a target.
In that case, they could also be tempted by teammate Justin Hunter, a lithe leaper nicknamed “Gumby” at UT.
In rounds three or four, the Browns could also take a chance on another ex-Vols receiver, Da’Rick Rogers. He was indefinitely suspended by Tennessee last August after multiple violations of the school’s substance abuse policy and ended up playing at Tennessee Tech.
All three have negatives to overcome. Although he set a school record with 1,858 all-purpose yards last season and averaged 16.9 yards per catch, Patterson is considered a one-year wonder. He will also need personal tutoring because of his limited experience in a pro-style scheme, Hinshaw said. Hunter dropped several passes, some excused by Hinshaw because he got to footballs others wouldn’t. Rogers’ off-the-field issues will be scrutinized, especially since he has the toughness and strength to play inside or outside.
Hinshaw touted the potential of all three in a telephone interview last week. But Patterson was the one he raved about most.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen with the ball in his hands. He can make people miss, explode and get vertical,” Hinshaw said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Patterson. “He made numerous people in the SEC look stupid who will be playing in the NFL, and I believe he’ll do the same thing at the next level.
“He’s not a one-year wonder. He’s a 15-year wonder in the NFL.”
Versatility in scoring
Patterson arrived at Tennessee in July and went on to become the first NCAA player to score a touchdown four different ways since 2008. That had happened before in Knoxville, but it took future Cincinnati Bengals receiver Carl Pickens three years to do it. Patterson (his first name is pronounced CORE-dare-uhl) joined Bobby Gordon in 1957 as the only Vols to score on a kickoff and a punt return in a single season.
Patterson’s 10 touchdowns came on five receptions, three rushes, one kickoff (a 98-yarder) and one punt (an 81-yarder).
His season low in all-purpose yards was 58 against the University of Akron. Facing eventual national champion Alabama, Patterson managed 130, 111 on kickoff returns, with just one catch for 25 yards.
Hinshaw said that wasn’t all because of the coverage of Crimson Tide cornerback Dee Milliner, another candidate for the Browns’ sixth pick.
“It wasn’t necessarily the matchup,” Hinshaw said. “There’s not many guys who can guard him one-on-one.
“When our run game’s not going well, they can put a safety and a corner on him. They’re pretty salty inside being able to stop the run with an even amount of people in the box. Can do different things in the secondary to force you to throw away from them. That’s Alabama, that’s why not many teams have beaten them.”
Two best cornerbacks
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Patterson said Milliner and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, projected as a top 50 pick by Pro Football Weekly, were the two best cornerbacks he faced.
Patterson didn’t think he’d be a starter when he arrived in Knoxville, but took advantage of his opportunity when Rogers was suspended.
“Some things happened at Tennessee and people started expecting big things from me, so I had to fill that role,” Patterson said.
Asked in February what he needed to work on, Patterson said “route running and learning coverages.”
Those will be Patterson’s challenges, Hinshaw said. A former quarterback at Central Florida, Hinshaw was a rookie minicamp invitee of the Browns in 1995, but was not signed by player personnel director Mike Lombardi, now the Browns general manager.
“I’ve talked to a large amount of NFL teams. I told them, ‘He’s a guy you’re going to have to teach and be patient with. Not because he’s stupid by any means, the guy’s as smart as can be,’ ” Hinshaw said. “His issue is every single play, ‘What’s the scheme? What’s my responsibility? Am I hot? Am I not hot? Oh, yeah, now I’ve got to beat this guy in my route. Or if it goes to Cover 2 I’ve got to run a little different route. Cover 3, I’ve got to run a different route.’ Those are things that he will get [much] better at when he’s doing it all the time, when he doesn’t have to worry about school.”
At the combine, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called Patterson “a height/weight/speed freak.” Before he went to Indianapolis, Mayock said Patterson “might be one of the most talented physical specimens in this class. He’s taking your breath away from the ability to make plays, especially after he gets the ball in his hands.”
But in reference to junior college receivers with only one year at a major program, Mayock said, “There’s a bunch of those guys that have failed over the past 20 years.”
Hinshaw said Patterson is motivated and warns those who pass on drafting him.
“He will impact the game next year,” Hinshaw said. “After games, people from Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina would come up to me and go, ‘That’s the best player I’ve ever seen.’ Numerous people said, ‘Man, the guy’s unbelievable.’ He scared defenses to death and he’ll do the same thing in the NFL.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.