With the NFL Draft just over two months away, many of UB’s impact players are hoping to hear their names called in April.
Receivers Justin Marshall and Quian Williams declared for the draft, and on the other side of the ball, UB’s defensive enforcer will also pursue a shot with the NFL. Fifth-year inside linebacker James Patterson — who’s played an integral role in the Bulls' defense since his freshman season in 2018 — announced his decision to enter the NFL Draft last month on Instagram.
Patterson is twin brothers with former UB star running back Jaret Patterson, who now plays for the Washington Commanders after signing in 2021 as an undrafted free agent.
While James will also likely be an undrafted player, his versatility and skill set provides him with the ability to land on an NFL roster just as his brother did.
Here’s what Patterson, who hopes to become the first UB player drafted in two years (since Malcolm Koonce, 79th overall in 2021), brings to the table as a draft prospect:
Listed as 6’0” and 232 lbs., Patterson is slightly undersized compared to the prototypical modern-day NFL inside linebacker.
While he’s far from the smallest linebacker to enter the draft, his height puts him in the 18th percentile of linebackers to participate in the NFL combine historically, according to nfldraftbuzz.com.
But with an above-average wingspan of 72 inches, Patterson sits at the 64th percentile of all-time NFL draft prospects. NFL scouts are likely to notice, as Patterson’s long reach allows him to knock passes down in coverage and wrap up ball carriers.
With hands measuring just under 9 inches, Patterson is on the lower end of the NFL Draft percentile at 17%. While hand measurement isn’t as detrimental to a linebacker’s draft stock as it would be for a quarterback, it’ll be an interesting storyline to follow throughout his draft process. (It’s worth noting that Patterson intercepted four passes in his five seasons with the Bulls.)
Patterson is a solidly built linebacker who offers some things to be desired physically, but certain measurements such as his wingspan will likely draw the attention of NFL scouts.
2022 season performance
As a fifth-year senior this past season, Patterson had another solid season as a Bull. Finishing second on the team with 120 tackles, Patterson and fellow linebacker Shaun Dolac combined for 267 tackles, making them one of the best linebacker duos at the Group of Five level.
Starting almost every game since his freshman year in 2018, Patterson compiled 417 tackles (211 solo) in his five-year career at UB.
He also had 12 tackles for loss in 2022, finishing with 41.5 in his college career.
In arguably his best game of the season on Nov. 1 at Ohio, Patterson racked up 16 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Patterson’s play helped him earn an All-MAC Second Team nod in 2022. Perhaps a step back from his 2020 and 2021 All-MAC First Team selections, he still had another dominant season.
Some other stats from his 2022 season include 1.5 sacks (8.5 career), one interception (four career), three passes defended (10 career), two forced fumbles (nine career) and two fumble recoveries (three career).
Instincts: Patterson has a keen ability to diagnose plays from the second level of the defense. He’s quick off the ball and has solid closing speed when it comes time to make a tackle.
This was evident in UB’s Oct. 8 game at Bowling Green this past season, when in the third quarter of UB’s Oct. 8 game at Bowling Green, Patterson wrapped up BG running back Jamal Johnson at the goal line, stripping the ball from him and returning it 97 yards for a UB touchdown.
Tackling: One of Patterson’s greatest strengths as a linebacker is his ability to wrap up and finish tackles. Having double-digit tackles in six games during the 2022 campaign, Patterson finished the season with his second 100-plus tackle season in a row.
His ability to bring ball carriers to the ground, coupled with his high instincts, make Patterson an effective 4-3 Mike linebacker.
In the run game, Patterson is able to close quickly and bring down the runner when he can keep running backs between the tackles.
Pass Rush Ability: Because of his straight-line speed and instincts, Patterson can provide a strong pass rush when called upon.
He lined up as an outside linebacker during the 2018 and 2019 seasons before coming inside in 2020. Because of his position experience and versatility, Patterson has the capability of blitzing the quarterback through the A gap as a middle linebacker.
Patterson finished his college career with 8.5 sacks, 4.5 coming in 2021 during the second of his two First-Team All-MAC seasons.
Size: The obvious weakness in Patterson’s game is his height. Patterson is shorter than the average NFL linebacker height of 6’2”.
` Point-of-attack physicality: Because he’s slightly undersized for the position, Patterson can sometimes be swallowed up by blocks and taken out of the play.
When the line of scrimmage is clear and opposing offensive linemen are already engaged with other blocks, Patterson has no trouble with pursuit, but he needs to develop more physicality when this is not the case.
With their similar frame and tackling ability, Patterson resembles Bobby Wagner of the Los Angeles Rams.
Both linebackers flourish at the second level of the defense and are sure tacklers.
Listed at 6’0” and 242 lbs., Wagner is almost identical size-wise to Patterson’s 6’0” 232-lb. frame.
But Wagner was a second-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft because of his polished athleticism and play at Utah State. Patterson has some things to clean up in his game before he can make waves on an NFL roster as Wagner did.
As of now, Patterson is projected to be a late Day 3 (rounds 4-7) pick or sign with a team as an undrafted free agent come April’s draft.
Brandon Cochi is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org