On Tuesday, we introduced the first part of our 2021 NFL Draft hidden gem series by detailing how Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book could be an enticing late round developmental option for the Patriots.
Next up is running back.
On paper, the position doesn’t rank highly as one of the team’s top needs this offseason. Second-year rusher Damien Harris broke out in 2020 following a redshirt rookie campaign, earning a starting role that saw him tally nearly 700 yards on just 137 attempts. Sony Michel, following his return from another injury, ended the year showing the flashes that led to his first-round draft pick status from three years ago. (Sidenote: Michel had 449 rushing yards on just 79 attempts last season, which is pretty spectacular).
One may suggest the Patriots are set at the position, but with veterans James White and Rex Burkhead entering free agency – the latter rehabbing from a torn ACL – combined with Michel potentially entering a contract year if his fifth-year option is not picked up, and all of a sudden running back depth is a sneaky need.
Perhaps no position would infuriate fans more if it were addressed early on in the draft than running back. But with how universally injury-prone the position is, coupled with the instability at quarterback right now, it can’t hurt to keep the position well stocked.
So, what if the Pats could draft a versatile running back, not too early on of course, who was one of nation’s most productive rushers three years in a row? Someone who doesn’t have much tread on his tires and could be had on day three? Someone like Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson.
Jaret Patterson – Buffalo
Week 1 Age: 21
2020 Stats: 1,072 rushing yards, 19 rushing touchdowns, 7.6 average
Size: 5’9” 195 lbs
Projected Round: Round 5
Patterson had an impressive three-year collegiate career, which includes becoming the first freshman in school history to rush for 1,000 yards and breaking the single-season school record for rushing as a sophomore. Despite only appearing in six games for Buffalo in 2020, the junior still managed to eclipse 1,000 yards and racked up 19 touchdowns – fourth most among FBS backs – for the second consecutive season.
You didn’t think we were going to leave out his day against Kent State did you? Perhaps no one in college football had a bigger day than Patterson had on November 28. The Golden Flashes had zero answer for Patterson, who set the FBS single-game rushing touchdown record with eight, including five in the first half, on 409 rushing yards.
Patterson displays impressive patience for blocks and running lanes to develop between the tackles and attacks the second level of the defense.
And his physical running style allows him to punish tacklers.
Patterson has to build up speed to be most effective, but once he gets going, he is a bruiser ready to bowl over defenders. However, enough short quickness is there to evade defenders on his way to picking up steam.
Unfortunately, Patterson was nonexistent in the Bulls passing game in 2020…as in he didn’t log a single catch. It’s odd considering his 209 receiving yards in 2019. He certainly wouldn’t be tasked with replacing the production of James White should he elect to leave in free agency.
Is he a fit for the Patriots? It’s been reported they have virtually met with Patterson. He may be a little redundant to 2020 undrafted free agent rookie J.J. Taylor and his lack of production in the passing game, which the Patriots value, is disappointing. But it’s hard not to like what Patterson can bring to the table as a north and south runner, something the team has not been able to replace since the days of LeGarrette Blount.
As a result of a COVID-shortened season and a knee injury that kept him out of the Bulls’ bowl game, Patterson only logged a modest 141 carries in 2020. There’s a lot of tread left on his tires. Hard runners are fits in all NFL offenses, but Patterson’s style would suggest he is better off in an offense with a running-back-by-committee approach – like New England.
Make no mistake about it, the Patriots were a run-first offense in 2020. Powered by Harris, Michel and Cam Newton, the Patriots had the league’s fourth-best rushing attack behind one of the best offensive lines in football. That shouldn’t change in 2021, and reminiscent of the early days of the dynasty, it just may be the team’s quickest path back to the playoffs. It would be wise to keep the stables fully stocked