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2021 NFL Draft Comps: Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson looks like past late-round sleepers

Sep 7, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Buffalo Bulls running back Jaret Patterson (26) runs with the ball during the second quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing current NFL draft prospects to those of years past is standard procedure in draft evaluation, though most comparisons are built on the memory recall and subjective opinion of the particular evaluator.

This will be the first in a series of articles comparing the 2021 draft prospects to prior years and picking out the most similar comps with a clearly delineated and quantifiable method.

PFF data scientist Eric Eager has done tremendous work building college-to-pro projections, which are built off the robust college data we’ve collected since 2014 and have been applied to exercises like building an “Analytics” Mock. In this analysis, I will use some of our advanced stats for comparison but primarily rely on traditional stats to go back further to compare the 2021 prospects to draft classes going back to 2006.

Without the NFL Scouting Combine this season, the important measurables like weight and 40-yard dash will be reported through the various pro days that will be taking place over the next few weeks.

METHODOLOGY

The comps below were derived from a two-step process. First, I converted all the most statistically relevant stats and measurables to percentiles based on the thousands of prospects who have entered the NFL since 2006 at each position. Then, I filtered the total universe of past prospects by those who had draft positions, weight and 40 times within a 10th percentile in either direction of Jaret Patterson. For undrafted players, I assigned a numerical draft position of 300.

The rest of the matching features were transformed by principal component analysis (PCA). I found the closest statistically comparable players by the euclidean distance between the players' principle components, listed in the top 10 below.

The metrics for PCA are: rushing attempts per game, rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns per game, receptions per game and market share of team receptions. All of these data points come from the prospect’s best collegiate season. I also matched the prospect’s market share of total team yards and touchdowns to past draft prospects.

For Patterson's draft position, I’m using an estimate based on the mock data collected at GrindingTheMocks.com. For weight and 40 time, I’m using the numbers from his pro day, with a 0.03-second penalty added to the 40 time to reflect the uncertainty of pro-day timed measurements.

Most comparable players

At less than 200 pounds and running a 40-yard dash in the 4.5s, you wouldn’t think there would be a ton of positive comps for Patterson. He also struggled in other drills, posting a sub-10-foot broad jump and a 30-inch vertical. He’s able to ascend that poor athletic profile in his comps because of his outstanding production. Patterson is also a higher-BMI prospect at the height of only 5-foot-6.

Patterson was also able to break off several longer runs in college, but those could be tougher to come by in the NFL.

The matching features use the prospects’ most dominant seasons for comparison. Bryce Love shows up as the most similar prospect using his standout junior year when he rushed for over 2,100 yards. Incredibly, Patterson topped that production on a per-game basis in 2020 and accounted for nearly 60% of his team’s yards and 65% of touchdowns.

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