- Programming note: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full interview with Greg Papa on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Friday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area
Coach Kyle Shanahan has wanted Cordarrelle Patterson on his team since the weeks leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft.
Nine months ago, Shanahan thought he was going to get him.
He was wrong.
Now, the 49ers will have to figure out a way to slow down Atlanta’s running back/wide receiver/kick returner on Sunday in a game with huge NFC playoff implications.
“We’ve tried three different times when he’s been a free agent,” Shanahan said of Patterson in an interview with Greg Papa on 49ers Game Plan, which airs Friday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
“But we were close. He chose Atlanta. He’s doing a good job with them. His skill set is great. He’s probably the best I’ve studied coming out of college a long time ago.”
Patterson, 30, signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Falcons as a free agent.
First-year Atlanta coach Arthur Smith is deploying Patterson in much the same way Shanahan said he has envisioned using him for nearly a decade.
“The way he could get in the I formation at (the University of) Tennessee and run it, he was the best I’ve seen in college,” Shanahan said. “And you can see that right now in the NFL.”
Shanahan said every time Patterson has been a free agent, he has tried to get him on his team to serve as the starting kickoff returner, running back and wide receiver.
“Cordarrelle’s been an unusual guy, and he’s been that way from 10 years ago when he was in college,” Shanahan said. “We were in Washington at the time, and he was our top guy in the draft. It had to do with he was a really good receiver but, also, his running skills.”
Patterson entered the NFL as a receiver and return man. He is a four-time All-Pro selection as a kick returner and was chosen NFL All-Decade for the 2010s, along with Devin Hester.
In 2018, the New England Patriots began to shift Patterson’s role. He was used on 42 plays as a runner while catching 21 passes that season.
This season, No. 84 lines up primarily in the backfield.
Patterson is the Falcons’ leading rusher with 547 yards and five touchdowns on 122 attempts (4.5-yard average). He has 46 receptions for 519 yards and five touchdowns.
“We always wanted to use him that way,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers’ Deebo Samuel has experienced success in the second half of the season as a runner/receiver. Patterson has been doing it all season -- all his football life, really.
Shanahan said Samuel’s role in the offense has evolved as he’s been needed.
“Deebo, he didn’t get to do that in college, so it’s not like we planned on that being a part of it,” Shanahan said. “We thought it could because of how good he looked on screens. That’s something we just fell into.”
Samuel leads the 49ers with 57 receptions for 1,028 yards and five touchdowns. He has 33 rushing attempts for 240 yards and six touchdowns.