Not every NFL prospect takes the same journey. Not every prospect goes off to play college ball for the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world. To the casual football fan, you might not even know what the Mid-American Conference (MAC) is — they’re the NCAA D1 conference that you’ll find playing in the middle of the week. Don’t write off this conference from producing NFL talent, however. Michael Turner, Greg Jennings, Antonio Gates, Ben Roethlisberger, and Randy Moss all called this conference home in their collegiate careers.
This year, there’s another MAC star waiting — and working — to hear his name called in the NFL Draft. If you don’t know the name Jaret Patterson, running back from University at Buffalo, allow me to introduce him to you.
In an interview with Patterson, it took no time at all to hear the passion and love that he has for the game of football. When I asked him about his background, after saying that he grew up in Maryland, he was quick to point out this lifelong love affair. “Me and my twin brother James got into organized sports when we were seven years old, and we just fell in love with the sport at a young age.”
Jaret went on to play for a private high school, St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Maryland. “When we went to the high school, it wasn’t really a power house in Maryland,” Patterson said. “It was kinda an up and coming program, and it’s something that we wanted to be a part of to build a culture and a competing program.” They accomplished that, winning two state championships. During his senior season, Jaret ran for 2,045 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Despite the success and the high-level production, Patterson didn’t garner interest from any of the power five conference schools. At 5’8” and 185 pounds his senior year, he was labeled as being undersized. “The recruiting process for me was kind of slow. Coaches said that I was undersized and stuff like that, but I knew I had the talent to play at the next level,” Jaret said. “Coaches would say ‘he’s a good player, but he’s just not the type of back we’re looking for.’”
Patterson’s high school offensive coordinator was Justin Winters, one of the best University at Buffalo linebackers in school history. The connection between Winters and UAB had an impact on the recruiting process for both Patterson brothers. “Winters would tell us stories, ya know about how they won a MAC Championship in 2008. He started introducing us to guys like Khalil Mack and stuff like that, and that’s really when me and my twin brother kinda fell in love with Buffalo. They offered to both of us, and it was kinda a no-brainer. [James] had a couple offers bigger than me, I had a few offers on the table, but we knew if UAB was going to offer both of us, we were going to go there.”
Jaret burst onto the scene in his freshman season, logging 1,013 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on only 183 attempts. He followed that up with 1,799 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns his sophomore year, and 1,072 rushing yards and another 19 touchdowns in only six games because of a COVID-shortened season. He posted back-to-back games of over 300 rushing yards. One game with 301 and four touchdowns, the next week logging 409 rushing yards and a whopping eight scores.
With his college career now behind him, where he was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, had the most rushing attempts, rushing yards, touchdowns from scrimmage, and the ninth-highest rushing yards per attempt in MAC history, his eyes are turned to the NFL Draft.
A year ago, the first running back selected was Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU. At the Scouting Combine, he measured at 5’7”, 207 pounds. When asked his thoughts about seeing Edwards-Helaire get drafted in the first round by the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, Patterson said “It helps a lot, ya know. It’s not just Clyde, but it’s crazy that we’re still in this measurement-type game. There are people that have done it before me. Darren Sproles, I mean one of the greats Barry Sanders — he wasn’t that big, and we’re still talking about undersized backs like they’re frowned upon.”
This year, because of COVID, there will be no NFL Scouting Combine. Paterson will have to showcase his abilities in other ways, and expressed that in some ways, he actually likes that there is no Combine this year. “Of course I wanted to go to the Combine for the experience and to compete with the other running backs and show what I can do, but I’m not going to lie — I’m kinda glad that there isn’t going to be a Combine. Scouts are really going to have to do their jobs and watch tape. They’re going to have to do their homework, which I think is a great thing,” Patterson said. “For me, with the NFL rules, we can still have Pro Days. The Buffalo Pro Day is March 18, so right now I’m just working out and training. I have seven weeks to get right and put on a showing, and show that I can run routes and be diverse and add value.”
Being labeled as an undersized back, Paterson has always played with a chip on his shoulder. He’s filled out since high school and plays now at about 195-200 pounds, he runs with explosive physicality, and embraces contact. “Being an underdog, always being slept on, people saying I’m undersized — I just like playing big. I feel like being my size is an advantage, having that low center of gravity, being low to the ground, having a strong stature, that plays to my advantage,” Patterson said.
Jaret is taking the same chip on his shoulder and carrying it into his draft prep, training six days per week. “I’m at the facility at 6:30 am, and don’t usually get done until 4:30 pm.” Training to chase his NFL dream, the “undersized” underdog from a small conference is out to prove that he belongs.