Three former Tennessee Volunteer receivers took part in the NFL combine this past week with their eye on moving up draft boards and towards NFL stardom. Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Da’Rick Rogers all flashed their various talents, the ones that had given Tennessee fans hope before the season started, at the combine. Each have different talents that can bring them success at the next level, but which one will make the biggest impact?
Much of their success will depend on the quarterback and organization they play with, but in my mind, Patterson has the least question marks and most potential of the group. He has the size (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) and speed (4.42 forty) to play in the NFL. What gives him the chance to be special is his rare elusiveness for a player that size.
Patterson has excellent vision that helps him to plant his foot in the ground to quickly cut in another direction without losing forward momentum. This made him one of the most dangerous kick returners in college football (28-yard average) and gives him the ability to get some quality touches as a running back (12.3 yards per attempt).
Both Hunter and Rogers have special ability that, in the right system, can allow them to have great careers. Hunter has the ability to be a Randy Moss-type vertical threat due to his height (6-foot-4), speed (4.44 forty) and leaping ability (39.5 inch vertical). Once he learns to use his jumping ability and long arms to catch the ball at its highest point, he will be nearly impossible to defend in jump-ball situations. The bad news with Hunter is that he’s not a physical receiver over the middle at just 196 pounds and suffered a torn ACL that caused him to miss his sophomore season.
Meanwhile, Rogers is the strongest receiver of the trio and isn’t afraid to go over the middle a la Anquan Boldin. He excels in using his body to shield defenders to make difficult catches in traffic. However, Rogers was dismissed from Tennessee due to off-the-field antics and will show questionable effort on the field, both of which are glaring signs to NFL teams as they determine if he’s a good addition.
Patterson’s play-making abilities and no glaring weaknesses separate him from Hunter and Rogers. Sure, he is a raw receiver who needs to learn better technique to get separation from NFL defensive backs. But, he has the size and strength to go over the middle and the speed to be a vertical threat. He showed improvement throughout this past season in catching the ball consistently, especially making the tough catches with defenders draped on him. Combine that with his ability to take a 6-yard slant into an eye-opening touchdown and that makes him the better NFL prospect with a higher ceiling than Hunter and Rogers.
All three are special talents who can succeed in the right system in the NFL. However, Patterson is a truly unique talent. You don’t see shiftiness and elusiveness from a player his size. Given time to learn, he will learn how to become a better receiver. That’s when Patterson will become a nightmare to defend.