Everyone has their personal favorites during the draft season. At wide receiver my favorite player since the beginning of the 2014 season has been Arizona State's Jaelen Strong. The junior decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL draft after having a great season for the Sun Devils. Strong recorded 82 receptions, 1,165 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
The Sun Devils had two quarterbacks start multiple games last season. One named Taylor Kelly, who didn't have a strong arm that could deliver a deep ball. The other, Mike Bercovici, a gun-slinger that could lead a potent aerial attack.
Strong's statistics were great, but they could have been even better if Bercovici was the quarterback all season. I talked in an article last month about how Strong is my favorite receiver in this draft class. An Arizona State fan since 1959 named Ron Loncaric emailed me and put Strong's season in further perspective. "We have yet to see all of Strong’s talent. Taylor Kelly was a spot passer that specialized in boundary back-shoulder throws. Strong was hardly ever catching passes in stride. When Kelly was hurt for three games and pocket passer Bercovici became QB, Strong caught 30 passes for 432 yards in those 3 games. If Bercovici would have finished out the season at quarterback, Strong would have put up unimaginable numbers." I agree with Ron. Strong can burn people with his speed, but many scouts question his vertical separation capabilities.
With a good NFL quarterback, Strong will have no problem stretching defenses for years to come. He flashed NFL polish and many check-marks, with little deficiencies to note. I've read on other scouting reports that Strong is "raw". This is a term that gets thrown around justifiably most of the time, but not here. Every prospect has a level of rawness by default, they aren't pros yet! Strong can use some NFL coaching to further his development, but I like his chances to be productive against good cornerbacks in the NFL year one.
40 Yard Dash: 4.44
Broad Jump: 123 inches
Do Your Homework:
- Dynamic route runner: Strong can line up out wide, or in the slot. Excels at catching sideline passes and back-shoulder throws.
- High points the football, using his strong hands.
- Toe tapper: Good sideline awareness, instinctively knows how to stay in bounds, leading to receptions or taking off down the field for extra yards.
- Speed: You will read on other scouting reports he struggles to gain separation. I love his speed. It may be a little deceptive because he takes long strides, but Strong is one of the fastest wideouts in this draft class. He's a player a quarterback can lead to the football. Good chemistry with a QB in the NFL could make Strong a prolific vertical target.
- Catches the ball well in traffic and with defenders draped on him.
- Escapability: On screens and intermediate throws, Strong can make defenders miss with the best of 'em.
- Falling forward: In the slightest of ways I see a little Frank Gore in Strong's game. A lot of times when Strong is getting tackled, he gets low to the ground and keeps his legs churning, putting a hand on the ground, which allows him to pick up a few more yards a lot of the time.
- Chain mover: Had 47 catches resulting in a first down in 2013.
- Size: Size cannot be overlooked when combined with the other attributes Strong has. He will be able to win against small corners time and time again.
- Route Running: NFL Films Greg Cosell thinks his route running needs to be fine tuned. While I do agree, I also feel Cosell is missing an important aspect of Strong's route running, it's unorthodox. Just because it looks a little funky at times, what matters is (A.) Is he getting open? (B.) Can a quarterback develop timing with the way Strong runs his routes? The answer to both questions is yes in my opinion.
- Strength: Strong isn't weak by any means, but most rookies, especially rookie wideouts with size could add a little more muscle to their frame. He still can beat a press and be physical against strong corners.
- He isn't a little dude: From the 49ers perspective, I wonder if this is a con. Trent Baalke has been reluctant to draft receivers with a combination of height, strength, and speed, opting for smaller players such as A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, and Bruce Ellington, among others instead. Maybe Baalke will prove this assumption wrong, but his track record would show Strong's makeup isn't what Baalke covets.
What they are saying:
- Bucky Brooks calls Strong a natural pass catcher and compares him to Marques Colston.
- Gil Brandt said Strong caught everything thrown his way at his pro day.
- Daniel Jeremiah has Strong going to the Houston Texans at pick No. 16
- Check out his stats at cfbstats.com
If the 49ers are to go with a receiver in round one, Strong should be near the top of the 49ers list. The long term outlook of receiving depth for the Niners is murky at best. Drafting Strong would ensure that San Francisco has a dangerous receiving corp not only next season, but in the years ahead. Smith and Strong as No. 1 and No. 2 would be hard for defenses to stop.
For 2015, if drafted, Strong could slide into the slot as he has experience there, and if the 49ers felt the need to limit Anquan Boldin's snaps, Strong already has the ability to be a No. 2 receiver in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick has one of the strongest arms in the league and with both Smith and Strong, the west-coast style offense we have seen in the years prior to now could turn into a vertical passing offense that will punch teams in the mouth with long gains.
The areas in which Strong needs improvement are correctable and I believe he will get even better in no time. If the 49ers were to draft Strong at No. 15, it would be good news, and the best first round selection Baalke has made since Aldon Smith. Granted, there are other options worthy of drafting at the spot, but Strong should be strongly considered. See what I did there?