How Ravens' Patrick Ricard morphed from UDFA to Pro Bowler 'Pancake Pat'

Patrick Ricard went undrafted as a defensive lineman but has developed into a two-time Pro Bowl fullback for the Baltimore Ravens. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Among his tweets about food and Star Wars, Baltimore Ravens fullback Patrick Ricard delivered this advice on the first day of this year’s draft:

"Remember, it’s not where/when/if you’re drafted, it’s all about what you do when you get there #undrafted”

Ricard’s story serves as much as a lesson as an inspiration to the hundreds of undrafted rookies who take the field this month for their first NFL practices.

He went from being an undrafted defensive lineman to the muscle of the most dominant running game in NFL history because he was going to say "yes" to every coach in order to get noticed. He went from having two scouts at his pro day in Maine to reaching two Pro Bowls because he was going to do whatever it took to make the team, even if it meant a what-are-you-thinking position change.

His aspirations of becoming the next J.J. Watt had to get reluctantly brushed aside. These days, the 6-foot-3, 311-pound Ricard, 26, is something this league has never seen before; pro football’s most ferocious unicorn ever.

Lamar Jackson watched Ricard knock so many defenders on their backs that he nicknamed him “Pancake Pat.” Tyreek Hill, one of the fastest players in the league, sent out a tweet that complimented Ricard on his agility after watching him catch passes in Baltimore’s playoff win at Tennessee.

“Throughout his life, he has shown that if you give him a chance, he’s going to thrive,” said Christian Ricard, Patrick’s older brother.

Patrick Ricard’s career pivoted on one snap at a spring workout four years ago. Ricard was a rookie who was headed to get ready for practice when he was stopped in the hallway by Greg Roman, who was the tight ends coach at the time and is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator.

“We want to give you a rep at fullback” were among the first words Roman ever spoke to Ricard.

Roman noticed Ricard’s low center of gravity when he played defense and how he was built like a tank. It was also five years earlier that Roman used defensive lineman Will Tukuafu as a fullback with the 49ers with some success.

So, Roman put his latest outside-the-box plan in motion by explaining the play to Ricard -- it’s called "90 Lead" -- a basic but nuanced run. Lining up on offense for the first time since high school, Ricard first put a block on a defensive tackle before climbing through traffic to seal off the middle linebacker. He displayed the right instincts, footwork and physicality.

Ricard ran over to coach John Harbaugh and intentionally stood right beside him to watch the next play, eagerly waiting to hear some approval. Harbaugh paused and turned to Ricard, saying, “Looked a natural out there.”

After practice, an awestruck Ricard saw his block make the highlights that were shown to the whole team and coaching staff.

“I’ll be honest -- I wasn’t good enough that year to make the team just as a defensive lineman,” Ricard said. “I’m just thankful that Baltimore needed a fullback. They had no reason to give me an opportunity at all. I mean, I’m an undrafted guy. I’m just so grateful for it because you never know what could’ve happened to me.”

Unbeknownst to Ricard, he was about to put a new spin on old-school football. He is a hitting machine who opens up the edges for Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins, serving as the key cog to the only rushing attack to produce 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He has also proved adept at catching passes in the flat, recording the most receptions (21) and receiving yards (104) ever by a 300-pounder, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“How often does a guy come in as a free agent on defense and then becomes a Pro Bowler on offense?,” Roman said. "I mean, come on. Tell me when that’s happened before. I’ll tell you -- it never happens.”

'The adrenalin button'

Ricard grew up in Spencer, Massachusetts, a blue-collar town that’s an hour's drive outside of Boston. Like Ricard, many marry their high school sweetheart there and generation after generation never leave. It’s so tight-knit that people knew Ricard and his wife were looking at a house in town before they even stepped foot in it.

What no one realized, at least no one outside the Ricard family, was an NFL player stood right in front of them about 20 years ago. When he was younger, Ricard was much different than the OCD-type player that Ravens coaches describe. He decided to quit Pop Warner football after his first season before going back to it a year later. In high school, Ricard would stay up all night playing video games and then fall asleep in the backseat on the drive to summer weight-lifting sessions.

The love for contact, though, has always been ingrained in Ricard. Some believe it’s in his blood. His brother Christian, who played college football at Stony Brook, broke three helmets during his junior year of high school.

“They were hit junkies,” said Andrew Tuccio, the former head coach at David Prouty High School. “It was like they had an adrenalin button in their forehead.”

Tuccio still texts Ricard that the origin of his nickname goes back to his pancake drill. With one player holding a blocking shield, a teammate gets a three-step running start toward him. The purpose is to teach drive blocks, and the drill is supposed to end with one player laying on top of the other one.

“It used to be hilarious because especially when [Ricard would] get into his junior or senior year, he’d try to get one of the younger kids,” Tuccio said, “That way, he could just pop them and see how far he could get them up in the air.”

In what became a recurring theme, Ricard found himself disrespected by a lack of outside interest. His only scholarship offer came in December of his senior year after a meeting at McDonald’s with the University of Maine defensive coordinator.

Ricard really wanted to play linebacker as he did in high school, but he was told he wasn’t fast enough. To continue his football career at the next level, he was forced to change positions and ended up as a defensive lineman.

“When I first got there, my first day of practice, I didn’t even know how to get into a defensive line stance,” Ricard said. "I had no idea. I’ve never done it, so that’s how much I had to learn and develop.”

Staying healthy was the biggest challenge of his college career. There were three straight offseasons of surgeries. It got so bad that after his redshirt freshman year, Ricard was in a wheelchair for a month in the ice and snow of Maine because he tore the lateral meniscus in both his knees.

By his final season, Ricard was a force in the Colonial Athletic Association and was named third-team All-America. On his pro day, Ricard looked around and noticed only scouts from the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

He didn’t know it yet, but the Ravens were waiting in the wings.

Lured by the Ravens

Few teams can rival Baltimore’s success with undrafted free agents, from kicker Justin Tucker to running back Priest Holmes to linebacker Bart Scott. The Ravens typically don’t offer more signing bonuses than other teams, but they make up for it in their effort.

Ravens northeast scout Mark Azevedo first identified Ricard as a priority free agent, and Baltimore started the recruiting process. Ricard got calls from the Ravens' defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at the time. For more than a month, he heard from assistant defensive line coach Drew Wilkins at least a couple of times a week.

Wilkins once sent a video to Ricard that showed him performing a swim move to get a sack and then spliced in defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who had just left Baltimore in free agency, doing the same exact move on the same exact play. Wilkins’ voice-over narration included the message: “You’re such a fit with us. We see you in this role.”

“It’s one thing to say it, but the tape did a better job than I ever could of showing those similarities,” said Wilkins, who is now the team’s outside linebackers coach. “It’s just something being conscious of let’s make sure this guy knows we’re going to go over the top for him because we think he’s a special player.”

On the final day of the draft, Wilkins stepped out to his downtown balcony and snapped a picture of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. He texted it to Ricard, saying, “This is going to be your city.”

As the draft wound down, Ricard had come to terms that he would not be among the 253 players drafted in 2017. He got only one phone call from a head coach -- Harbaugh.

“Just the amount of interest they showed me, that was really the biggest factor to why I ended up signing with them,” Ricard said.

Ricard received a $6,500 signing bonus, and he earned a spot on the team as a rare two-way player. But the NFL's modern-day Bronko Nagurski didn’t have any role by the end of his second season. Caught in a roster numbers crunch -- four tight ends were suiting up -- Ricard was a healthy inactive for the final six games of the 2018 season, including the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in which Ravens running backs combined for 36 rushing yards.

"After that game, I was like, that was a mistake,” Roman said. "We could have used [Ricard] in that game. He could have bludgeoned some of those linebacker types they had out there.”

Ricard has played in all but one game since (his only absence was related to COVID-19) and transitioned into a full-time fullback, where he has beaten the odds to become among the league's best. He is one of five undrafted position players to reach a Pro Bowl over the past five years.

Helping all over the field

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews knows better than anyone how Ricard goes above and beyond.

A Type 1 diabetic, Andrews started cramping badly at a practice last year because his blood sugar was low. Only Ricard noticed.

Without hesitation, Ricard ran into the facility, grabbing some Gatorades from the refrigerator and some fruit snacks from the nutritionist’s office.

“That’s the type of person that he is,” Andrews said. “He’s an incredible teammate, incredible friend.”

Ricard is full throttle, all the time. His knock-them-off-their-feet blocks are a major reason why Baltimore can "get medieval" -- as Roman likes to put it -- and lead the league in rushing the past two seasons.

The Ravens don't keep track of Ricard's pancake blocks, which is just as disappointing as knowing Ricard prefers to make waffles at home. But Jackson has taken notice of Ricard's body blows.

"'Pancake Pat' -- he's always getting him a pancake in," Jackson said in December, giving Ricard his most popular moniker. "I feel like he's got one in every game this season. If not one, then two."

Ricard doesn’t let up in practice. Teammates have experienced anxiety when he is headed their way.

"I actually thought he was coming to block me and my body just froze. Man, this is it,” Ravens middle linebacker Patrick Queen told The Pat McAfee Show. “[But] we whiffed.”

Ricard attacked expanded responsibilities in the passing game with the same intensity. He asked Roman to throw balls to him in between periods. It’s been estimated that Ricard caught 100 passes every practice.

In the Ravens’ playoff win at Tennessee last season, Ricard showed his versatility with the game tied at 10 at halftime. In the opening drive of the second half, Ricard pulled in three passes from Jackson, including a shoestring grab and an outstretched catch, before providing the lead block on Dobbins’ 4-yard touchdown run.

“Ricard should not be able to move and catch like this. He’s so good,” Hill tweeted during the game.

Ricard's popularity has grown so much that draft picks have drawn comparisons to him. Michigan tight end/fullback Ben Mason, who just happened to get drafted in the fifth round by Baltimore, was described to be "in the Patrick Ricard mold" because he's a standout blocker who has also played defensive line.

Four years ago, Ricard came to Baltimore as a fringe defensive lineman worried about whether he would make the team. Now, he’s “Pancake Pat,” a bulldozing fullback who provides hope for undrafted rookies elsewhere while striking fear in others.

"There’s nothing better [than a pancake block] because there’s nothing they can say,” Ricard said. "I have some guys say, ‘Oh, I tripped.’ Yeah, OK. That’s why you’re on your back. It’s the best. You’re physically dominating somebody that’s trying to physically dominate you, and then you put them on their back. You know, everybody saw it, and everybody is going to see it on film. It’s just so degrading as a defensive player. Yeah, it’s a great feeling for sure."