The 2021 NFL Draft is fast approaching.
Last season’s UB team is well-positioned to make some noise in the annual event, even after playing through the COVID-19 pandemic. That team secured an undefeated regular season, a Camellia Bowl victory over Marshall and its first Associated Press Top 25 ranking in program history.
Now, a number of the team’s players are looking to take their game to the next level.
With the 2021 NFL Draft just 15 days away, former NFL offensive lineman and current CBS Sports football analyst Ross Tucker spoke with The Spectrum about UB’s NFL Draft prospects.
Tucker, the host of “The Ross Tucker Football Podcast,” called UB games as a color commentator for CBS Sports and has a unique perspective as a former NFL player and as someone who studied the 2020 Bulls throughout their historic season.
As last season’s stars gear up toward the NFL Draft, here are Tucker’s thoughts on this year’s top UB draft prospects:
Position: Running Back
Patterson has had the nation’s eyes on him since he was a sophomore at UB, but this is only the beginning for him.
The first-team All-MAC and second-team All-American tailback looks to build upon his historic career at UB by taking his game to the NFL.
In just six games last season, Patterson rushed for 1,072 yards and led the nation with 178.7 yards per game. The Glendale, MD native also found the end zone 19 times and was named the Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
Patterson tied the all-time FBS record for fewest games needed to reach 1,000 yards in a season in just five games. He also rushed for 710 yards in back-to-back games against Bowling Green and Kent State last November, which is the highest total in consecutive games in FBS history.
Patterson received national attention following his record-breaking 409-yard, eight touchdown performance against the Golden Flashes.
Tucker commentated for CBS Sports’ broadcast of the game, an experience he said he’ll never forget.
“I’ve been doing the media thing since I retired in ‘07, and that's probably a top five game that I'll remember,” Tucker told The Spectrum.
Having seen Patterson’s record-breaking performances in person, Tucker says he is slightly baffled by scouts who project Patterson to go as late as the sixth round.
While Patterson benefitted from stellar offensive line play last season, Tucker says the All American’s innate ability to bounce off tacklers using a low center of gravity reminds him of former Jaguars Pro-Bowl running back Maurice-Jones Drew.
“UB had an awesome o-line this year. They did a terrific job, I mean he was untouched on some of those [runs],” Tucker said. “But he is so good at never taking a big shot from people, and his center of gravity is so low. And he’s so good at jump cuts and being able to absorb blows and sort of bounce off of them and keep going. Jaret has an MJD-type body, he’s pretty put together.”
Patterson’s freshman season — 1,013 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games — was also extremely impressive to Tucker, who said players who excel in their freshman campaign are usually on a good path.
“He did it right away as a freshman, which is usually a really good sign. There’s something special there if the guy’s able to do it right away when they’re freshmen,” Tucker said. “So it sounds like he’ll be like a mid-round pick, and I think he’ll be a very effective one.”
While Tucker loves Patterson’s running style, he says there are elements of Patterson’s game that may not translate well to the NFL level.
“One is, he doesn’t have any dominant physical traits. He’s not big, he’s not overly fast, so he doesn’t have anything that really stands out,” Tucker said. “And then his production came in the MAC where it’s not considered as good of a level as the Power Fives.”
Another reason Patterson may be falling down the draft boards is because of his lack of pass-catching prowess.
Patterson didn’t catch a single pass during the 2020 campaign, and while he proved to be a workhorse back at the collegiate level, his relative invisibility in the passing game may be worrisome for NFL general managers.
In 2020, 90% of NFL teams passed the ball on at least 50% of offensive plays; just three teams ran the ball more than they threw it during the season.
In a league that’s dominated by spread principles and a high-powered passing game, Patterson’s lack of dexterity in the passing game is concerning.
“You really need to be comfortable in that aspect of the game. I think that really hurts him, and he might be able to do it, he just hasn't shown that he can do it,” Tucker said.
Patterson showcased his pass-catching skills at UB’s Pro Day in March, and looked rather impressive doing so.
Despite being utilized strictly as a runner during the 2020 season (averaging 23.5 carries per game while splitting touches with fellow junior running back Kevin Marks), Patterson is confident in his ability to contribute in the passing game for an NFL team.
“I always could [catch the ball], I just wasn’t given an opportunity. If you have a good offensive line, a dominant offensive line and a running back that’s getting eight yards a pop, you’re not gonna fix it, you’re gonna stick with what’s working,” Patterson said at UB’s Pro Day. “I don’t blame anybody, we were winning, we were dominating teams with our run game, but I could always run routes and catch.”
Tucker says that while Patterson may be capable of catching passes out of the backfield, NFL teams can’t take the risk in assuming he can without seeing it on tape.
“They [NFL teams] can’t project Jaret for the third-down back role right now, and he’s not going to be the starter,” Tucker said. “So they got to either be comfortable keeping him as the fourth back [on the depth chart], or they got to be convinced that he is going to be able to be the second guy and be the change of pace guy that’s different from the starter.”
Patterson has some evident weaknesses to his game, but Tucker is still confident in Patterson’s ability to succeed at the next level.
“You can’t get that many yards and be as productive as he is and not be really good,” Tucker said. “He’s figured it out, man. I think he’s gonna end up having a really, really good career. I think he’s going to be that next MAC back that surprises people.”
Position: Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
In his last two seasons at UB, Koonce terrorized collegiate quarterbacks.
During his 2019 season, Koonce led the MAC with nine sacks and was named Defensive MVP of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, after helping lead UB to its first bowl win in program history.
Following his dominant 2019 campaign, Koonce was named to the 2020 Bronco Nagurski Trophy Preseason Watch List, an award that recognizes the best defensive player in college football.
The Peekskill, NY native earned first-team All-MAC honors for the second consecutive season in 2020, recording 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in just six games.
A 2021 Reece’s Senior Bowl invitee, Koonce ranks seventh all-time at UB with 17 career sacks.
Scouts have projected Koonce as a day three pick, falling somewhere between the fourth and seventh rounds. But, on Tuesday, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected Koonce to go off the board in the second round — a surprising projection for an under-the-radar prospect.
While Koonce has the raw athletic ability to become a solid contributor in the NFL, many teams consider Koonce to be a developmental project.
“He’s got a lot of what a lot of what teams are looking for,” Tucker said. “The big thing for me is that he knew what he was doing. I’m surprised to hear a little bit [of a] project just because I thought he had a really good feel for using his hands and had a good pass rush plan.”
After watching Koonce’s tape, Tucker says he believes the senior pass rusher is more NFL-ready than others think and would be worthy of a third or even second-round pick.
“He’s got a good get-off and he knows how to finish,” Tucker said. “I thought he had a pretty wide array of moves and used his hands really well which is what you need to do as a pass rusher. I was pretty impressed with him in that regard.”
As a former offensive lineman, Tucker called Koonce’s arm length a “huge pain in the butt” for offensive tackles. Koonce’s 33 ⅜-inch arms along with his 81-inch wingspan can create problems for offensive lineman due to the leverage advantage he has.
Many elite pass rushers have this quality, and Tucker says it gives offensive linemen fits.
“They’re [long-armed defensive ends] able to affect your body before you’re able to affect them,” Tucker said. “It’s like they’ve got a jab to use a boxing term, they can jab you and feel you and keep that hand on you and get you before you get to them.”
Tucker says he is thoroughly impressed with Koonce’s career at UB, and can see him carving out a nice role for himself in the NFL.
“Every time I watched him on tape, every game I did of UB, he was always pretty darn impressive to me,” Tucker said.
Position: Wide Receiver
Despite playing in UB’s run-heavy offense, Nunn has thrived at Buffalo.
The Tampa native started all seven games for the Bulls in 2020, leading the team with 37 catches for 584 yards and two touchdowns.
A second-team All-MAC selection, Nunn tied a school record with 13 catches and recorded a career-high 182 yards in the MAC Championship Game against Ball State.
Nunn was a third-team All-MAC selection in his junior year, starting in 12 games and hauling in 49 catches for 687 yards and six touchdowns.
While scouts praise Nunn’s deep-ball prowess, questions have been raised about his limited route tree and lack of No. 1 receiver production.
Tucker says he likes Nunn’s potential and that the senior ball catcher had to shoulder the load of being UB’s primary receiver in a run-dominant offense.
“He was the deep threat on the play-action stuff, so you know he can run,” Tucker said. “What is impressive about him is everyone knew that when they were throwing it, it was gonna go to him, and they still weren’t really able to stop him.”
But it wasn’t all positive. When Patterson was on the field, opposing defenses stacked the box in an attempt to stop the running game, which left more opportunities for receivers to get one-on-one matchups.
“The flip side is they got so many heavy boxes so he had so many favorable looks and coverages,” Tucker said. “I don’t think he was going up against a ton of double teams because I think it was usually just one deep safety to the middle of the field. So when he was on the outside it wasn’t like he was getting bracketed a lot.”
At UB’s Pro Day, Nunn addressed his critics by saying he gained valuable strengths, like blocking, from being in a run-heavy offense.
“I had to learn things different from other receivers who probably get the ball seven to 10 times a game. It forced me to know the defense more [and] be more physical in the run game,” Nunn said. “We’re not here just to catch footballs all day, you’re a special teams guy and you have to be willing to block.”
Nunn’s intrigue as a speedy receiver in a run-heavy offense may entice some teams to take a flyer on the Tampa product. Tucker thinks some teams may appreciate that Nunn played in a run-heavy offense and still managed to put up solid numbers. Nunn could potentially sneak in as a late-round pick.
“I think some might look at it and say that there’s probably some untapped potential there. Because if he was running more routes and was in a pass happier offense he would have put up bigger numbers,” Tucker said. “He can do more, there’s more there.”
In terms of Nunn’s draft stock, Tucker says he has concerns that teams will pass on the UB receiver in favor of more polished products who are accustomed to catching more passes and running more routes.
“And then there’s others that will just look at him more as a project and they’d rather take a kid that’s been running 45 routes a game and putting up bigger numbers,” Tucker said.
Nunn has been projected to be an undrafted free agent but could possibly sneak into the sixth or seventh rounds at the end of Day Three.
Position: Offensive Tackle
A three-year starter for the Bulls, Awosika is everything a coach could want out of a collegiate offensive lineman.
The Maple Grove, MN native has played both tackle spots over his four years at UB and has been a consistent staple on assistant coach Scott Fuch’s unit.
In 2020, Awosika was named first-team All-MAC and second-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
The 6’3, 307 lb. offensive tackle led the way for a rushing attack that averaged 287.4 yards per game, good for second in the nation.
Awosika and the rest of the offensive line only gave up one sack all season and were semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, given annually to the best offensive line in the country.
Scouts say they like Awosika’s physical ability and drive, but many see Awosika moving inside to play guard at the next level.
Tucker agrees with this assessment and says, like Patterson, Awosika’s ability to contribute right away (he played in five games as a freshman, including games against Minnesota and Army) makes him intriguing for general managers.
“I think he'll move into guard would be my guess. He's another one that was pretty good early on in his career and moves well,” Tucker said.
Tucker praised the collective effort of the Bulls’ coaching staff to get the most out of their players with the scheme they devised. While Patterson’s records are listed as individual accomplishments in the record books, they are a product of the offensive line working at an elite level as a collective unit.
“I've got a tremendous amount of respect for the UB coaching staff, and in particular their offensive scheme and technique work,” Tucker said. “Their offensive line was like a machine this year.”
Awosika is a projected day three pick in the upcoming draft, but he could fall anywhere between the third and seventh rounds.
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Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.