The Atlanta Falcons apparently have a thing for All-Pro returners from Chicago. One day after reports surfaced that a deal was close, the Falcons have officially signed wide receiver and returner Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson is a four-time First-Team All Pro as a kick returner. He made All Pro each of the last two seasons with the Bears. He led the NFL in return yardage and scored a touchdown on a kickoff return in both 2019 and 2020.
Patterson turned 30 in March, but there aren’t any signs that he’s slowing down. He has averaged at least 28.0 yards per return in every season since 2015. During that same stretch, he’s posted an average of one return touchdown per season playing for the Minnesota Vikings, then Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Bears. Patterson averaged 28.2 yards per return in three playoff games with the Patriots in 2018 on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
At least in part because of salary cap constraints, the Falcons haven’t featured an elite returner in quite some time. Brandon Powell and Chris Rowland returned all but one kickoff for the Falcons last season and averaged 20.8 yards per return — in other words, more than eight yards fewer per kickoff than Patterson.
The Falcons haven’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2010.
Signing Patterson is reminiscent of the Falcons adding Devin Hester at age 32 in 2014. Hester led the NFL in kick return yardage and made the Pro Bowl during his first season in Atlanta. He signed with the Falcons after being a three-time First-Team All Pro with the Bears.
Hester never returned a kickoff for a touchdown with the Falcons, but he took a punt to the end zone on Thursday Night Football in Week 3 of the 2014 season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That return gave Hester the all-time record for most return touchdowns in NFL history and was icing on the cake in a 56-14 Falcons rout of their division rival.
That was Hester’s final touchdown in the NFL. He finished his career with 20 return touchdowns, one ahead of another former Falcons returner, Deion Sanders. Patterson has 8 return touchdowns in his career, but unlike Hester, Patterson has not consistently returned punts.