ATLANTA — Cordarrelle Patterson, the leading rusher on the NFL’s No. 5-ranked rushing offense, has been activated from injured reserve, giving the Atlanta Falcons one of their most dynamic players back.
The 31-year-old Patterson had been one of the NFL’s top running backs prior to suffering a knee injury that needed a procedure to fix and kept him out the last four weeks. He’d been in the midst of the best running stretch of his career, gaining 340 yards on 58 carries with three touchdowns over the first four games of the year.
Twice in the first four weeks of the season, Patterson set career highs for rushing — first, for 120 yards in the season-opener against New Orleans on Sept. 11, and then again in Week 3 when he ran for 141 yards in a win over Seattle on Sept. 25.
Patterson said Wednesday he felt 90 percent — but at this time of year, Patterson said, no one will be 100 percent — and during his rehab from injury, he continually posted videos of his progress.
“I just try to give the fans what they want to see, man,” Patterson said. “I was missing for a couple weeks. I know the fans missed me on Twitter and stuff, so I had just to post a video showing what I was up to.”
It had been the continuation of a career rejuvenation for the 2013 first-round pick, who had largely played receiver throughout his career. He started seriously making a move to running back in 2020 in Chicago, and when he signed with Atlanta in 2021, he had a career year with 618 yards rushing and 548 yards receiving.
He re-signed with the Falcons on a two-year contract in March after openly campaigning to return because of his comfort with the coaching staff, the offense and the city, where he quickly became a fan favorite.
Then, this season, he began the year as one of the league’s top rushers. In his absence, the Falcons have continued to run the ball well with running backs Tyler Allgeier (84 carries, 324 yards, one touchdown), Caleb Huntley (57 carries, 265 yards, one touchdown) and Avery Williams (10 carries, 58 yards, one touchdown) along with quarterback Marcus Mariota (55 carries, 280 yards, three touchdowns).
But the return of Patterson offers a different dynamic to the Atlanta offense because of the variety of places Falcons head coach Arthur Smith can put him in a formation.
“When he comes back, I think that makes us a better offense,” Smith said in October. “Put him in there in multiple [packages]. Is he a wideout? Is he a back? Is he a quarterback? Is he a tight end? That’s where you want to get to because I know that when he touches the ball, he’s effective and he made big plays for us in the passing game a lot last year and the run game and he was certainly having a pretty good season so far running the football.
“When he comes back, I know this, there’s a lot of things he can do for us and that’ll make us better as a complete offense.”
He also creates more problems for defensive coordinators knowing what a set might look like because of his positional versatility.
Patterson said when he returns he sees himself as being part of the group that has been one of the best rushing offenses in the league and a large reason why the team is 4-4 and in first place in the NFC South. He also said one of the things he is going to pay attention to — and that went into the decision of when he would return — would be his conditioning.
Atlanta tries to use Patterson all over their formations. He had been in on 55 percent of the Falcons’ snaps pre-injury. This season, he’d primarily been as a running back (106 snaps in the backfield, 12 in the slot, two as a tight end and seven as a receiver). Last season, Patterson had 291 snaps at running back, 100 at receiver, 51 in the slot, 16 at tight end, one at quarterback and two at free safety.
The Falcons face the Los Angeles Chargers — one of two teams remaining on the Atlanta schedule over the .500 mark — on Sunday.
Atlanta also signed defensive lineman Jalen Dalton to the 53-man roster. To make room for Patterson and Dalton, the Falcons placed starting left guard Elijah Wilkinson on injured reserve and released edge rusher Quinton Bell.
Matt Hennessy is expected to start at left guard in place of Wilkinson.