Janine Patterson’s NFL loyalties always have been with Washington, but when one of her twin boys started playing running back, she would flip on the tape to show him some of the competition. She would have Jaret watch the greats — running backs such as Jim Brown and Marshall Faulk — and especially the ones similar in stature to her son, such as Maurice Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who stands 5-foot-7.
“I was like: ‘Jaret, you see this? You see this,’ ” she said. “We watched the Jaguars go to the playoffs, and we’re rooting for Byron [Leftwich] because he’s from Washington. And who ended up being his mentor during this whole process?”
In recent months, Jones-Drew, 36, has been more than an idol to Jaret Patterson. The former second-round pick has become a mentor and friend, helping Patterson make the leap from overlooked and undrafted to possibly a key piece of the Washington Football Team’s offense despite his own 5-7 frame.
The team has to pare its roster to 53 players Tuesday, and Patterson seems to have a hold on one of those coveted roster spots. To Jones-Drew, an analyst for NFL Network, this is hardly a surprise.
“To me it’s like, ‘Why are people shocked by this?’ ” said Jones-Drew, who was asked by his and Patterson’s agency, The Sports & Entertainment Group, to evaluate Patterson in college. “He’s been a baller everywhere he’s been. You just don’t become a great player in the National Football League. You have to have been good somewhere. When you watch his tape, that’s what he’s been doing.”
Jones-Drew started watching Patterson in 2018, when he took over the starting job at running back for the University of Buffalo and finished with a team-high 1,013 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, both school records for a freshman.
He followed Patterson as a sophomore, when he set Buffalo records with 1,799 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns.
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And he continued to watch him in 2020, when Buffalo’s season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. Patterson led the nation with a 178.7-yard rushing average in six games, and he set another school record with an eight-touchdown performance against Kent State.
“Jaret’s tape showed me everything,” Jones-Drew said. “He does it all. Yeah, I’m biased because he’s a shorter guy, but if he were 6 feet and he did that, he’d be a top-10 pick.”
What Patterson does have are vision and instincts. He also has an elusiveness that cannot be taught, a natural agility refined by his training and deceptive strength that sometimes allows him to power through three defenders at a time.
What he lacks are a few inches of height and a college résumé from a Power Five program — two factors that might have contributed to his going undrafted in April.
Being overlooked is nothing new to Patterson, who did not receive a scholarship from any major college program despite a productive four years at St. Vincent Pallotti High
“That’s the problem with our game, to be honest with you,” Jones-Drew said. “It’s baffling to me because when you watch his tape, regardless of his size, people can’t tackle him, one; he runs with great low-pad level; he protects; he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He does everything that you’re looking for. So why, all of a sudden, is it a problem because he’s whatever height?”
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But Jones-Drew also knew Patterson’s margin for error in the NFL was slim. So for nearly eight weeks in February and March, Jones-Drew worked with Patterson in Florida. In between workouts with trainer Pete Bommarito to hone his speed and strength, Patterson would catch tennis balls with Jones-Drew and run through drills that Jones-Drew used during his career to improve his jump cuts.
“When you’re a shorter guy, you have to be great at everything,” Jones-Drew said. “You can’t just be good at stuff. So after his training, we’d go and run routes and work on drills, and he was like, ‘I’m not good enough.’ I think that’s the mentality that you have to have in this business.”
Patterson was used minimally in the passing game at Buffalo. In the NFL and especially in Scott Turner’s offense in Washington, he will be asked to do more: run, catch and block.
“Kind of like what I was talking about with the quarterbacks, the running backs are decision-makers, too,” Turner said Thursday. “We have a blocking scheme, and then based on how the defense fits the run, they decide where the ball goes. He makes quick decisions; the ball goes where it’s supposed to go. And then he has the ability to make yards when it’s not there. So that’s really what you’re looking for from a back.”
Jones-Drew would tell Patterson that “availability is the best ability” and encourage him to invest in his massages and treatments to maintain his body between games and ultimately prolong his career. He would tell him to “practice like he plays” and to give the game everything because once it’s over, there’s no going back.
“As I got older, I kind of backed off a little bit, and I shouldn’t have,” Jones-Drew said. “I should’ve kept my foot on the gas, and that’s what I told him.”
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As a friendship developed between the two, Jones-Drew noticed what many others say is a distinguishing trait of Patterson’s: He wanted to know everything. So he peppered Jones-Drew with questions.
“He texted me nonstop,” Jones-Drew said. “He called me nonstop. He wanted to talk nonstop about football. He was just hungry to learn and understand. ‘What can I do more of? What am I not doing right? What else can I do?’ ”
After four weeks of training camp and a pair of preseason games, Patterson has shown what Jones-Drew and others expected. He led Washington in rushing (40) and receiving (30) yards in the preseason opener against the New England Patriots, and he had 133 total yards (71 rushing, 25 receiving, 37 on a kickoff return) against the Cincinnati Bengals. He has received ample reps with the first-team offense in practice, has been described by Coach Ron Rivera as a leader by example and has all but proved his place in a league that at first counted him out.
“I saw some guys get drafted that I scouted and didn’t think were half as good as Jaret was but they had the size and they passed the ‘look’ test,” Jones-Drew said. “He’s a guy that falls through the cracks in scouting. But I think he’s going to be a tremendous player for the Football Team for a long time to come.”