Editor's note: Predict the top
ten picks of the NFL Draft for a chance to win FFToday prizes. Our
annual NFL Draft Contest is free to join. The top 20 finishers will
reap the rewards. Enter Now.
As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30,
I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths
and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects
available in this draft.
Jaelen Strong has the skills to contribute
immediately as a No.2 receiver with low-end No.1 potential.
Vitals College: Arizona State
The son of the late John Rankin – a standout basketball player
at Drexel – Strong played one year at Pierce College in Los
Angeles in 2012 after sitting out the 2011 season for academic reasons
and proved to be too much to handle at that level, posting a 67-1,263-15
line in just 10 games. The Philadelphia native also proved to be
a quick study in his first year in Tempe, leading the team in catches
(75), receiving yards (1,122) and receiving touchdowns (seven) –
posting five consecutive 100-yard games before a nagging ankle injury
contributed to a slow second half of the season. Despite missing
the Washington State game near the end of the 2014 season with a
concussion, Strong bettered his sophomore totals (82-1,165-10),
allowing him to net first-team All-Pac 12 honors.
Best Scheme Fit: Should have no
issue becoming a chain-moving possession and red-zone receiver
initially. Much like Jeffery, his repertoire should expand as
his route tree grows, allowing him to become a viable deep threat
when he begins to repeatedly beat defenders with digs, curls and
other intermediate routes.
Has seemingly mastered the back-shoulder fade; excellent
body control and consistently high-points the ball.
Sneaky build-up speed; started to show more of a flair
for the deep ball as his career came to a close.
Attacks the ball in the air and will win most contested-ball
situations in part because he has strong hands and does a great
job of keeping defenders on his hip.
Confident and aggressive as a receiver (“the
Jael Mary” among his many examples), willing to go
over the middle and will fight for extra yards after the catch.
Blocks in the running game like it matters to him; while
he could sustain a bit longer at times, he often puts the defender
on skates through the whistle.
Willing to play through injury (missed one game due
to concussion in 2014; played in 26 of 27 games at Arizona State
despite the ankle injury that limited him for part of the 2013
Lacks suddenness to create initial separation; outmuscles
and outleaps most defenders on many quick throws and relies
on body position to win on deeper throws.
Timed speed faster than play speed; doesn’t yet
create as many yards after catch as his size and level of physicality
Needs much more polish as a route-runner (ran mostly
back-shoulder fades/slants/screens), although he showed much
improvement from sophomore to junior year in this area.
Will occasionally allow the ball into his body and misjudge
the deep ball at times.
Tends to “tip off” his path to defenders,
but does a good job of not raising his hands too early when
the ball is about to arrive on deeper throws.
Rarely can one series of a player’s college career summarize
just about everything there is to like about him, but that is
exactly what Strong did during the second scoring drive of the
Sun Devils’ regular-season finale against Arizona: he maintained
a solid run block at the end of the first quarter, made a diving
grab on a 50-yard bomb (a play on which he hurt his right shoulder)
early in the second quarter and capped it off with a one-handed
left-handed grab on a high throw in the back of the end zone about
two minutes later after returning to the game. Strong is the rare
prospect that isn’t overly flashy, but was productive for
more than one year in Division I and still has significant upside
when projecting him to the next level. When one considers he is
far from a finished product as a route-runner and suffered from
average-at-best quarterbacking, it should make the fact that he
topped 1,100 yards in both of his seasons at Arizona State (not
to mention accounted for 157 catches and 17 touchdowns over his
two-year Sun Devil career) all the more impressive. The Arizona
State coaching staff called Strong the “hardest worker on
the team” and that work ethic definitely manifests itself
on the playing field with him. There’s little question in
my mind that Strong is, at worst, a No. 2 receiver that can contribute
right away, with the upside of becoming a low-end No. 1 receiver
in fairly short order once his new position coach helps smooth
out some of his rough edges. There’s a long list of players
in NFL history that carved out long and productive careers for
themselves because they simply wanted it a bit more and I believe
Strong is one of those players.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff
fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears
as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
E-mail Doug or follow
him on Twitter.