Boclair: UT draftees pose question: playmaker or receiver?

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 12:22am

At this point, the 2012 football season is resigned to history, which is just fine with the University of Tennessee faithful.

Most, in fact, would just as soon forget about the six losses in the last eight games that brought an end to Derek Dooley’s tenure as coach. Certainly no one wants to be reminded that the defense surrendered more than 40 points six times.

Interestingly enough, though, that team — one way or another — could have a significant impact on the short-term future of NFL offenses.

Amid all the shortcomings the Volunteers displayed last fall — and there were plenty — were two guys who could go long.

Even on a bad team, wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson were talented enough that their NFL potential was impossible to overlook. Affirmation of such came a week ago during the NFL draft when the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings felt compelled to trade up to ensure no one else would get either.

The Vikings, having already made two-first round selections, dealt with New England to get back into the first round and take Patterson 29th overall. The Titans jumped up six spots — thanks to a trade with San Francisco — and took Hunter with the second pick of the second round (34th overall).

These guys were so good, in fact, that all 32 NFL teams decided that quarterback Tyler Bray had little, if anything, to do with his team’s production in the passing game. Bray, after all, looks the part of an NFL quarterback and had the numbers to go with it. He was not drafted, though, and settled for a free agent deal from Kansas City.

But amid all of the similarities, Patterson and Hunter share there is one profound difference: One is a wide receiver; one is a playmaker.

There is concern about Patterson’s ability to run precise routes and/or master the complexities of an NFL offense. No one has any doubt, though, about his ability to make things happen when he has the ball.

UT listed him as a wide receiver but also used him as a return man and even a running back on occasion. He scored touchdowns four ways (receiving, rushing, punt return, kickoff return), which no NCAA player had done in five years, and led the SEC with a school-record 1,858 all-purpose yards.

Hunter was absolutely a wide receiver. A year removed from reconstructive knee surgery he put up some of the best numbers in the program’s history — 73 receptions, 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns.

Increasingly in recent years the NFL has started to rethink what it wants in a quarterback. Not everyone is sold on the traditional idea of a big, strong guy who stands in the pocket and can fire the ball more than halfway down the field with ease, if need be. Players like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick have shown what an asset mobility can be at that spot.

Patterson, likewise, challenges the accepted standard. It is less important where he lines up prior to the snap or what he does at that moment. What matters most is to get the ball in his hands quickly and allow him to do his thing.

The Vikings wanted him as a replacement for Percy Harvin, a similar player with whom they had much success in recent years.

If he, too, is successful, more and more teams are likely to look at a player of that ilk to call their own. In which case, they might not be in such a hurry to go after players like Hunter, as the Titans were this time.

Sure, it seems unlikely. Then again, before last fall how many people thought it was possible UT could lose to Vanderbilt by 23 points?