When I say ‘Buffalo,’ what’s the first thing you think of? For most of you, I’d guess it’s probably the Buffalo Bills. Others may have an association with Niagara Falls. But how many things would you have to think of before you got to the Buffalo Bulls? If our next sleeper for the 2021 NFL Draft — Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson — has anything to say about it this year, not many!

If you’re a fan of MAC football, you likely already know Patterson’s name. Patterson has been a star for the Bulls since setting foot on campus. He topped 1,000 yards as a true freshman. Then Patterson exploded for nearly 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore. With another performance like last year’s, he should find himself as one of the top running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Yet, few analysts are talking about him.

The 2021 NFL Draft class of running backs is full of talent, with the likes of Chuba Hubbard, Travis Etienne, and Kylin Hill. Let’s get out in front of the crowd and take a look at what makes this Buffalo running back a sneaky pick as one of the top backs in his class.

Who is Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson?

Despite rushing for over 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior year, Patterson wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. Patterson quickly showed why he won Player of the Year for his high school team, becoming the first Buffalo freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. A total that earned him Freshman of the Year honors in the MAC conference, as well as a spot on the All-MAC Second-Team.

His sophomore season is where Patterson truly made a name for himself. He finished the season just one yard shy of 1,800 yards, fifth-most in the entire nation, and good enough for a school-record. Patterson’s incredible sophomore season included another school-record — 296 yards and 6 touchdowns against Bowling Green State University. Patterson finished his sophomore campaign with All-MAC First-Team honors and an Offensive MVP award in the Bahamas Bowl against Charlotte.

Now Patterson comes back to Buffalo for his junior season — and what will likely be his final season as a Bull. What does Patterson need to do to separate himself from a powerhouse 2021 running back class? Let’s find out what I believe makes Patterson a prime candidate to be one of the biggest running back sleepers of the 2021 NFL Draft.

What makes Patterson a 2021 NFL Draft sleeper?

One of the biggest things I look for in a running back is the ability to create more yards than a play is designed for. This can come in several different ways. For some running backs, it’s the strength to keep their legs moving and push the pile. For others, it’s the home-run speed to turn a moderate gain into a touchdown. For Jaret, it comes in the form of being slippery.

Patterson isn’t the fastest or most explosive running back. But what he does well is somehow manage to slip out of tackles and keep going for extra yardage. Of the nearly 1,800 yards Jaret Patterson ran for last season for Buffalo, more than half of the running back’s yards came after contact. A whopping 961 yards! That kind of production after contact is incredible and invaluable at the next level. Whether or not it will translate to the NFL remains to be seen.

As a sophomore, the Buffalo offense worked more on getting Patterson involved in the passing game. Last season Patterson caught 13 balls for just over 200 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but it does show that there is some diversity in Patterson’s game. Today’s NFL is a pass-first league, and having a running back who can contribute to that facet of the game is increasingly important.

What’s holding Patterson back?

The biggest hurdle Patterson is going to face should he declare for the 2021 NFL Draft is going to be the amount of talent this class has at the position. Etienne returning for his senior season really ramped up the talent level that’s going to be available in this class. Beyond Etienne and the aforementioned Hubbard and Hill, the 2021 class also has the likes of Alabama running back Najee Harris, Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell, and two running backs I’ve already profiled — Josh Johnson and Pooka Williams.

There’s a ton of talent to be had, and running back is not a position that teams value highly. That means talented players, like Patterson, may get pushed down draft boards in favor of other, more highly-regarded positions. Additionally, while there’s a lot to like about Patterson’s game, no one trait really stands out among the crowd. There are faster backs in this class. There are more powerful backs in this class. And there are backs with more agility than Patterson.

With all that being said, I still think that Patterson will have a season on par with the incredible sophomore effort he put out and will declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. When he does so, I expect him to be squarely in the top-10 at his position and become a potential steal for some team in rounds three or four.

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