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2021 NFL Draft Profile: Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

The record-shattering running back is ready to continue tearing through defenses at the next level.

MAC Football Championship - Ball State v Buffalo Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Every week at Buffalo, it seemed like Jaret Patterson was destined to post a jaw-dropping performance. And then the next week, he’d run out of the tunnel and replicate that performance, or take it to another level. That was essentially the Jaret Patterson experience for three seasons in the Mid-American Conference.

Before the routine 190-yard performances rolled in, the Glenn Dale, MD product started as an under-the-radar halfback recruited to Buffalo along with his twin brother, linebacker James Patterson. Despite not entering campus at the top of the depth chart, the young freshman rose to superstardom instantaneously in 2018, rushing for 1,014 yards and 14 touchdowns,

As a sophomore, Patterson finished with 130+ yards in eight of 13 games, including a breathtaking 298-yard, 6-touchdown performance against Bowling Green. He capped the season in international waters with a Bahamas Bowl MVP while leading Buffalo to its first-ever bowl victory.

This past fall, Patterson became a viral sensation. In a COVID-19-shortened MAC season that almost never happened, the junior led the FBS in rushing yards per game with 178.7 (1,072 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in six games).

One week after setting a career-high 301 yards in a win over Bowling Green, Patterson put up numbers that rewrote the history books. The running back exchanged 36 carries into 409 yards and eight touchdowns in a record-setting 70-41 victory over Kent State. Patterson’s rushing output from that November afternoon ranks second all-time, arriving 18 yards shy of Samaje Perine’s 2014 record. The eight touchdowns scored in a single game tied an NCAA record held by Howard Griffith and Kalen Ballage.

Every time Patterson stepped on the field, he was bound to achieve something historic. He joined Ricky Williams as one of two running backs in the sport’s history to explode for 300 yards in back-to-back games. He also tied the record for fastest running back to attain 1,000 yards — accomplishing that feat in five games. After three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, Patterson declared for the NFL Draft in a bed of accolades, hoping to recreate that success on the next level.

What skills did Patterson exhibit in these performances that are translatable to the NFL? For one, he has one of the best cutback moves that college football has seen in the last decade. The cutback is a frequent go-to in Patterson’s arsenal, and it allows him to easily elude defenders.

Patterson is also one of the best running backs at breaking tackles. He’s on par with Travis Etienne as the best halfbacks in this draft in at shedding defenders. Patterson’s ability to keep his feet driving after contact allows him to frequently absorb hits and deflect virtually all arm tackles. While he ran behind an excellent offensive line at Buffalo, many of Patterson’s breakaway runs were a result of perfectly-timed cuts or absorbing contact at the line of scrimmage. Even after facing contact, Patterson wastes no time in reverting to full speed — and he clocked in at 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Buffalo’s Pro Day.

Despite being listed at 5’6” and 195 pounds, Patterson plays with the physicality of Derrick Henry at times. When he’s not finding an open lane, he’s a physical, downhill runner who isn’t afraid of initiating contact to accumulate extra yards.

Patterson’s physicality also benefits the offense when operating in pass protection, which remains an underrated area of his game. In his final 13 games at Buffalo, the team only yielded two sacks, and neither of them were due to the running back missing an assignment.

Additionally, stamina was never an issue for Patterson, who finished his college career with six games of 30+ carries. In those games, Patterson only seemed to improve as his workload increased. Every one of his 30+ carry games at Buffalo featured at least 4.7 yards per carry. He was able to remain relatively healthy in college, save for a right leg injury in the 2020 MAC Championship Game.

One element that is absent from Patterson’s game is utilization as a wide receiver. After 13 receptions as a sophomore, he wasn’t used as a receiving option once in Buffalo’s 2020 campaign. Route running and catching aren’t necessarily weaknesses in Patterson’s game — they might actually be converted into strengths in the NFL. Patterson clearly has worked on these areas in preparation for the draft and it will be interesting to see if he is utilized as a receiving back once the 2021 NFL season rolls around.

The last aspect of Patterson that is important to recognize isn’t exactly demonstrated by looking at all of those 190+ yard performances. Patterson’s collegiate head coach Lance Leipold and his teammates repeatedly cited his character, leadership, and work ethic qualities in postgame press conferences. Immediately following the 409-yard performance last fall, Leipold said of Patterson, “What makes him even special not just as an athlete, but as a person is the humbleness that he carries each and every week and the gratitude that he has to his teammates that help him get there.”

In terms of leadership, perhaps there’s no better demonstration than Patterson spearheading the player-led movement to reverse the MAC’s decision to cancel the fall 2020 season. Nine days after Patterson launched a movement to lobby for the season, the MAC reversed its course and announced a return. The decision worked remarkably well for the conference, which finished with multiple teams in the final AP Poll for the first time since 2003.

Patterson is a projected day three candidate of the draft (rounds 5-6) by many outlets. Similar to his recruiting process out of high school, it appears he may fly under the radar once again. There aren’t too many glaring weaknesses in his game, and I’d expect a team to select him in the third or fourth round. He’ll likely start his NFL career as a secondary back, and if an immediate opportunity arises similar to Kareem Hunt in 2017, Patterson can be the steal of this draft.