The Washington Football Team has no shortage of styles in its running back room. Need a rushing touchdown? That's how Antonio Gibson, who had 11 scores in 2020, made his mark during his rookie season. How about a pass-catcher? It can turn to J.D. McKissic, who was third on the team with 589 receiving yards. And Peyton Barber is the go-to for short yardage plays.
So what does undrafted free agent Jaret Patterson add to the group? A little bit of everything.
"I feel like I'm an all-around [back]," Patterson told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "I can be versatile, I can get the tough yardage. I'm small, so I feel having that low center of gravity helps. I can't wait to show that."
Patterson was the only college free agent Washington signed this offseason, and given that the team has been selective about bringing in such players, it speaks highly of how the team feels about his abilities. There is no guarantee for college free agents to make the roster, but should he prove his worth by the end of training camp in August, Patterson could be a multidimensional piece to Washington's offense.
"I was just going to mention a specific player: Darren Sproles," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I had an opportunity to be with Darren in San Diego and that is who this young man reminds me of. He is small, but he is explosive and dynamic. He is stout. He looks like a football player. He is a guy that we are going to give every opportunity to see if he can make our football team."
In terms of size, Patterson is virtually a copy of Sproles. At 5-foot-6-and-a-half and 195 pounds, he is only a half-inch taller and five pounds heavier than the three-time Pro Bowler. He showed he can be just as versatile, too, as he had 4,155 yards from scrimmage in three seasons at Buffalo.
But while Sproles was known as the "Lightning Bug" during his time with the Chargers franchise, Patterson is known more for his physicality. "Good luck knocking this bowling ball of balance and power off his feet with a single blow," wrote NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. He knows how to break tackles, and he has some decent speed, as he recorded a 4.52 40-yard dash at Buffalo's pro day.
That's why it only makes sense that he tries to model his game after former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who was known as "Pocket Hercules" for his 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame.
"Him being that undersized back, he tells me, 'You can do this thing. It's not very hard, you've just got to get your routine going and keep it going from there,'" Patterson said. "We're in constant communication every day."
Jones-Drew's situation was a little bit different than Patterson's, since he was a second-round pick by the Jaguars in 2006. But he does know a little bit about having to prove himself to coaches, as he only started in four games before becoming the Jaguars' feature back in 2009. He was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls after that and even led the league with 1,606 rushing yards in 2011. So, from one little running back to the other, Jones-Drew has preached consistency to Patterson.
"Once you get your routine, master it and keep it going," Patterson said Jones-Drew tells him. "Don't take any days for granted. Every day, come [to] get better and just be a pro."
A mixture of Sproles and Jones-Drew certainly sounds dangerous, and the prime example of what that concoction of styles can do came in the form of Patterson's eight-touchdown explosion against Kent State, which tied an NCAA record. Patterson outran and ran through defenders on his way to 409 yards on 36 carries, displaying a blend of physicality and speed.
A lot of that comes from having the right preparation, Patterson said, but he also credits his mentality of wanting to find the end zone again and again.
"I'm not the flashy type," Patterson said. "I'm a blue-collar underdog type of guy and I handle business."
Patterson's speed, elusiveness and physical nature is a rare combination. Then you add his hard-working mentality, and he is exactly what Rivera looks for in players. He still has to prove himself in a crowded running back room, but he is backed by Chase Young, who briefly played with Patterson in high school. That should be enough to at least inspire confidence in his ability.