Kyle Patterson played 14 games for Air Force from 2020-22, catching 18 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Despite minimal production – caused largely from playing in a run-heavy offense and a boatload of injuries – Patterson earned an invite to the 2023 NFL Combine.
So why is the Air Force tight end heading to the NFL Combine? Potential.
While “potential” is an overused word in sports, especially as it comes to the NFL Draft, it’s arguably the top reason teams are interested in Patterson. Patterson is listed at 6-feet-6-inches tall and 245 lbs, and he runs well. When you play for Air Force, you need to know how to block. Good speed and hands coupled with experienced blocking make Patterson an intriguing prospect, even though he has an injury history and minimal receiving production.
Highly touted recruit
Patterson chose Air Force over Alabama, Arizona, Oregon State, and Washington, according to 24/7 Sports. Patterson played high school football in Arizona, and he clearly generated interest from Pac-12 programs, while also gaining an offer from Nick Saban and Alabama.
Patterson is a physically gifted player, and his father played in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers.
While Patterson didn’t put up eye-popping numbers at Air Force, that’s true for just about any receiver or tight end in the program. Air Force runs the football most of the time, leaning on time of possession and lengthy drives to outlast opponents. The Falcons’ style of play isn’t designed to showcase receivers, which means there’s a lot about Patterson’s receiving ability that we don’t know.
We may learn more at the combine, where Patterson will have a chance to showcase his athletic skills when compared to his peers. If Patterson shows well, he could become a late-round draft pick as a team might roll the dice on him becoming a standout performer in an offense that utilizes tight ends.
Additionally, Patterson deciding to bypass Power Five offers for Air Force will likely garner interest from some NFL teams. Deciding to join a service academy that rarely passes the ball speaks to Patterson’s willingness to serve others and be a selfless member of a team. His leadership abilities combined with his size and talent make him one of the most interesting prospects at this year’s NFL Combine.
He might not be on many draft boards currently, but Patterson is a possible sleeper at the tight end position.
Plans to delay military service
A common question when looking at Patterson’s NFL future relates to his mandatory military service. Will Patterson be allowed to play immediately if drafted? Patterson helped answer the question in a recent Twitter post.
“I plan to seek the DoD’s permission to delay my commission,” Patterson wrote. “When my football career is finally over I look forward to serving in the United States Air Force.”
Should the Department of Defense approve Patterson’s request to delay his service, Patterson can immediately join an NFL roster before eventually serving in the Air Force. Being able to play immediately figures to be a key selling point for Patterson as he markets himself to NFL teams.
Bennett Conlin is a college football contributor for HERO Sports, and he works full-time covering sports betting industry news and legislation for Sports Handle and US Bets.