ASHBURN, Va. -- One year ago, Jaret Patterson was the feel-good story from Washington's training camp.
An undrafted running back out of Buffalo, Patterson impressed during training camp and became a fan favorite during the preseason. A string of strong performances last August earned him a spot on Washington's 53-man roster, where he would stay for the remainder of the year. Patterson's role grew as the season went on, too, and his rookie campaign was highlighted by a Week 17 performance vs. Philadelphia where he'd run for 57 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
Despite the progress Patterson made as a rookie, Washington added reinforcements to its running back room this offseason. The Commanders re-signed J.D. McKissic in free agency and then one month later used a third-round pick on Alabama standout Brian Robinson Jr. Lead back Antonio Gibson remains under contract for two more years, too.
With Gibson, McKissic and Robinson Jr. all locks to make the team, Patterson will need to prove himself once again. He's ready to do so.
"Even if [Robinson Jr.] wasn't here, I'd still feel I have something to prove to those doubters," Patterson told NBC Sports Washington.
This prove-it mentality is not new to Patterson. In fact, it pretty much defines his entire football career.
A Prince George's County native, Patterson starred at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Md., where he spent one year as teammates with current Commanders pass rusher Chase Young. Despite setting multiple records in high school, Patterson wasn't heavily recruited by Power Five schools, as his size (5-foot-8, 195 lbs.) led many programs to shy away from offering him.
Patterson ended up committing to the University of Buffalo, where he was offered as a package deal with his twin brother, James. After gray-shirting as a freshman, Patterson ran for over 1,000 yards in 2018, his first year as the team's starter. One year later, Patterson rushed for 1,799 yards (fifth-most in NCAA) and 19 touchdowns, both single-season Buffalo records.
Patterson's final act was cut short due to the pandemic, but the running back still managed to break another school record when he rushed for 409 yards and eight touchdowns in a victory over Kent State.
Even after three highly-productive seasons at Buffalo, Patterson went undrafted during the 2021 NFL Draft. He signed with his hometown team as an undrafted free agent and just a few months later, he was playing meaningful snaps in NFL games.
That prove-it mentality has gotten Patterson this far. He has no plans to change his approach.
"I went undrafted," Patterson said. "Each and every day, each and every year throughout my career -- whether it's here or somewhere else -- I'm going to prove why I should have been drafted and why I belong in this league."
This past offseason, Patterson said he was able to focus his training solely on football-related activities, rather than a bunch of the other drills he had to prepare for during the pre-draft process. He feels that having a true offseason will make a big difference for his second NFL campaign.
"I didn't have to worry about a 40 [yard dash], a vertical jump," he said. "I could just continue to train for football, get my body strong, get faster, make sure my body is in a good condition. That was real big for me."
After five training camp practices in just helmets, t-shirts and shorts, the Commanders put the pads on for the first time Tuesday morning. It wasn't a coincidence that Patterson had one of his best practices of the summer so far. Patterson is a physical runner who embraces contact, so putting the pads on was something he had been looking forward to for a while.
"I was really excited. The helmets and t-shirts are cool, but that's my game when the pads come on," Patterson said. "As a running back, you've got [to have] that mentality. I just get excited when we get the pads on."
Whether Patterson makes Washington's final roster will largely depend on how many running backs the team opts to keep. Last year, the Commanders kept just three rushers, with him being the final running back. This year, the top three running backs seem to be set in stone in Gibson, McKissic and Robinson Jr., leaving Patterson and a few others to try and earn a spot that is by no means a given.
Patterson has made it this far proving his doubters wrong, though. He's prepared to do it again.