The Minnesota Vikings, desperate for a big-play receiver, traded their way back into the first round to pick Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th overall pick of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
“With his hands on the ball, he can be outstanding,” said former NFL coach and current analyst Jon Gruden on the ESPN broadcast. “He’s going to be an electrifying return man, but he’s a work in progress as a receiver.”
The Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin last month, so when they traded with New England to acquire a third pick in the first round, speculation immediately centered on Patterson, who was still on the board.
“The Vikings have a desperate need for a wide receiver,” said ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper. “Is he ready to start as a rookie? That would be my only question.”
Patterson was the first Vol selected in the first round since safety Eric Berry and defensive tackle Dan Williams were picked in the first round in 2010. He’s the 20th UT player chosen in the first round in the last 20 years.
Teammate Justin Hunter, also a receiver, is expected to follow closely on Patterson’s heals and could be selected early in the second round on Friday. Gruden even said he believes Hunter is a better prospect than Patterson.
Patterson, invited to watch the proceedings at Radio City Music Hall in New York, spent most of Thursday evening in the green room as teams stocked up on big men in the trenches.
The first seven players selected were offensive or defensive linemen. West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin broke the drought when he was selected with the No. 8 pick by the St. Louis Rams, but a receiver wasn’t called again until Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins went to the Houston Texans with the 27th choice.
In addition to Hunter, several Vols — and former Vols — could be selected on Day 2, which includes the second and third rounds. Quarterback Tyler Bray and offensive lineman Dallas Thomas are all possibilities. Additionally, former UT receiver Da’Rick Rogers and defensive lineman Montori Hughes could be selected.
Patterson is from Rock Hill, S.C., about 30 minutes south of Charlotte, and went to Northwestern High School, where he played with current Vol quarterback Justin Worley.
Patterson wasn’t close to qualifying academically out of high school, but he was considered one of the nation’s top junior college prospects when he left Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College two years later.
He signed with the Vols despite Tennessee already having two elite-level receivers in Hunter and Rogers. But when Rogers was kicked off the team shortly before the start of the 2012 season, Patterson moved quickly into a major role.
Patterson set a UT record with 1,858 all-purpose yards and scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and by a punt and kickoff return.
Patterson is already readying for the NFL lifestyle. Hours before the draft, apparel and shoe brand PUMA announced that it had signed a three-year endorsement deal with Patterson.
In a release, Patterson said he felt “on top of the world” with “PUMA by my side.”
PUMA, based in Germany, has a stable of soccer players and also outfits track legend Usain Bolt. Patterson will join New England tight end Aaron Hernandez as only its second signed football player.
Known for its bold colors, PUMA seems a good fit for Patterson, who attended the draft wearing a colorful bow tie and oversized sunglasses.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones didn’t have to wait long to see one of his former players drafted. Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher was picked first overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.