It may not be easy for a 6-foot-4, 225-pound NFL wide receiver prospect to slip onto a closed high school football field without being noticed, and the thick, frizzy bush of black hair on top of Dezmon Patmon’s head probably doesn’t help the Washington State product out that much.
For about the last month, Patmon has tried to negotiate California’s stay-at-home order while squeezing in on-field drills when he can. The workouts themselves require plenty of focus and effort, but sometimes not as much as finding a suitable field, park or patch of grass.
“Really, this is kind of hard because you have to be so self-disciplined now because a lot of places are shut down, so it’s kind of like going to a park wherever you can,” Patmon said in a phone interview earlier this week. “But you really have to stay low-key about it, because the police can come and shut you down whatever time they want just because you’re not really supposed to be out there. I’ve been going to my high school and just catching balls from whatever quarterback I can find. So it’s kind of a lot of staying low-key and staying discreet about it.”
Patmon has been shooed off by local authorities once and it was after he and a few others had already finished up a workout. Granted, if the police understood what the Cougars’ outside receiver was up against this week at the NFL draft, they might have been more lenient.
The 2020 class of draft-eligible wide receivers is considered to be one of the best in history, front-loaded with players such as Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Alabama’s Henry Ruggs and LSU’s Justin Jefferson, who were all taken in Thursday’s first round, along with two other receivers. But players like Patmon are the ones padding the group’s depth.
Despite his production with the Cougars, his imposing 6-4 frame and a solid performance at the NFL scouting combine, where he ran 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash — the second-fastest time by a receiver that tall — Patmon is considered a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick who may not be taken at all and will have to find his way into the league as a free agent.
Either way, he’ll be playing professional football by the time COVID-19 shutdowns are lifted — a dream he’s been pursuing since he wore a Pop Warner football jersey in San Diego, and one that began looking more like a reality during his later years at Patrick Henry High School.
“As a little kid playing football,” Patmon said, “that’s everyone’s dream, that’s the most cliché thing, ‘I want to play in the NFL.’ ”
Patmon’s physical traits are obvious, but not until his junior and senior seasons in Pullman did he figure out how to use them to his advantage, taking constant reminders from WSU outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. to “Be big! Be big!”
“Everyone would always say that, like, ‘Dez you don’t realize how big you are,’ ” Patmon said. “So they’re trying to remind me I’m 6-4, 200 out there going against guys that are 5-foot whatever and weighing like 50 pounds lighter than me. It was a good little constant reminder I need to play true to my size.”
Defensive backs are more athletic and more intuitive at the next level, so Patmon will have to get crafty, but he’ll have the opportunity to create mismatches on smaller players with his towering size. He was WSU’s leading receiver in 2018, with 61 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns, and posted 58 receptions for 762 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.
“They’re probably going to be more technically sound than me,” he said, “so I just really need to use my physical attributes to win and get to an NFL vet’s level of technique and what not.”
Patmon got a head start during the predraft process. He trained at EXOS in San Diego, catching passes from NFL quarterbacks such as Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, as well as incoming ones like Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick out of LSU, and Cole McDonald, who played for new WSU coach Nick Rolovich in the run-and-shoot.
Much of Patmon’s predraft process was tailored toward preparing the receiver for the combine, with EXOS coaches often reminding the aspiring pros, “you’re not football players, you’re a track athlete.”
Patmon’s training also emphasized making the adjustment to a more traditional offensive scheme — something he got a full dose of while competing at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“The last four years I’ve been with Leach and his Air Raid, and we don’t huddle, we don’t have run plays, so you go there and they’re just talking about 11-personnel, 12-personnel,” Patmon said. “I’m like, ‘Yo, what is that?’ Then you’ve got to go run to the huddle each time. You’ve got to focus on, am I lining up in the slot, am I lining up on the right side or left side, am I converting this route to something else based off coverage?”
Coaches also worked with Patmon on loosening up his hips and improving his footwork. Former Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was also stationed in San Diego, helping Patmon and the other receivers with more position-specific tools such as their release from the line of scrimmage. Because the Air Raid’s receiver patterns are simple and not too great in quantity, the WSU receiver said he also focused on learning more complex, expansive “route trees.”
Now that he’s shifted from a full academic and athletic schedule with classes, workouts, study groups and practices to a life solely dedicated to professional football, Patmon’s discovered he has much more downtime.
He spent a chunk of it in the Salt Lake City area training and golfing with his good friend and former teammate Cammon Cooper, offering an honest evaluation of how their rounds usually played out.
“I’m not going to lie, most of the time it’s him (winning),” Patmon said, “but I’ve beat him a couple times.”
Back home in San Diego, he’s killed time playing Call of Duty, hopping on a game with fellow WSU receiver and NFL hopeful Easop Winston Jr. earlier this week. At night, he usually winds down by taking on his family members in Catan, the popular multiplayer strategy-based board game.
It’s been a rewarding experience and at times also a taxing one. Patmon recalled his week at the NFL scouting combine, where he roomed with WSU teammate and projected draft pick Anthony Gordon. Often, Gordon’s days began at 7 a.m. and Patmon’s at 8.
“It’s a long five or six days,” he said. “Obviously, it’s great to get there. You kind of want to leave after a few days. Just because the fun days — the testing — isn’t the last thing. And most of the time, really, I remember sitting around for two hours waiting for an MRI. You’ve really just got to be patient and just stuff like that.”
Patmon spoke with a handful of NFL teams informally — too many to count, he said — and answered a handful of bizarre questions from media members and inquisitive scouts.
One of those was, “How many unread text messages do you have on your phone?”
Patmon’s response: “2,400.”
The WSU receiver apparently hasn’t filtered through them since, reporting he still had 2,460 unread texts as of Wednesday.
If Patmon gets the news he wants this week at the NFL draft, he can expect that number to balloon again.