New summer series for Steelers Depot highlighting a handful of 2022 NFL Draft hopefuls and options for the Pittsburgh Steelers we could be talked a lot more about nine months from now.
Carson Strong / QB / Nevada – 6’4, 215lb
-Has impressive arm strength to uncork it 50+ yards in the air with relative ease
-Can put some zip on his short and intermediate throws, getting the ball quickly to his intended target
-Has enough throw power to lead his man deep down the field, showing impressive arc on his deep ball
-Has the arm strength and talent to deliver an accurate ball while rolling outside of the pocket down the field
-Has improved his accuracy over the middle of the field and also on his deep ball
-Does a good job dropping the ball into the bucket over the shoulder of his receiver or putting it up high for his man to go up and get it
Shows good touch on his passes, being able to put extra gas on it or drop it into a tight window to his receiver in contested coverage
-Normally shows a quick, compact release
-Relatively has the ball come out fast, making quick decisions as a passer
-Shows impressive poise in the pocket, being able to step up and maneuver inside to evade pressure with his eyes downfield
-Isn’t an exceptional athlete when it comes to speed and quickness
-Frame could stand to add more bulk to handle punishment at the next level
-Occasionally will have his ball sail on him when he has pressure in his face, short arming his pass down the field
-Has a tendency to want to throw off of his back foot
-Can stand to be more consistent with the placement of his throws over the middle to avoid underthrows
-Can stay locked onto one receiver down the field and needs to do a better job going through his reads
-Needs to be more willing as a runner when the defense gives him green grass, having not provided anything on the ground thus far
-Played in a relatively simple offensive system with a lot of screens, quick outs, and deep shots
-Level of competition can be a concern when projecting to the next level
-Redshirt Junior prospect from Vacaville, CA
-Was a two-sport athlete in football and basketball
-Did not play as a senior in HS due to injury
-Redshirted as a true freshman after appearing in just one game
– Appeared and started in ten games as a redshirt freshman, completing 237-of-374 attempts (63.1%) for 2,335 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven INTs
– Named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year as well as to the All-Mountain West First Team in 2020, starting nine games and completing 249-of-355 attempts (70.1%) for 2858 yards and 27 TDs and only four INTs
-Earned Academic All-MW honors in 2019
One name in this upcoming QB class that doesn’t garner the national spotlight like some of his peers but deserves to be recognized for his play in Nevada QB Carson Strong. Strong is entering his Redshirt Junior season with the Wolfpack, having been the starter for the past two seasons with the team. Strong really took a step forward in his development as a passer in 2020, showing the qualities of accuracy and arm talent you want to see in a traditional NFL QB. The first thing that pops out when watching Strong is his arm strength. He can sling it with ease down the field having the throw power to chuck it well over 50 yards in the air. Check out this play against the Aztecs where Strong takes the shotgun snap and steps up to launch it from his own 30-yard line to the opposing 20, dropping it right over the defender into the outstretched hands of his receiver #7 Romeo Doubs in-stride for the big gain on the play.
Strong possesses impressive loft on his deep ball and can make defenses pay if his has room to step up and throw. We see he against the Lobos Strong step up in the pocket, locating his receiver getting separation don the seam and launches to Doubs who walks in for the easy TD score.
While Nevada ran a lot of spread formations, Strong does have experience lining up under center during his time in college. Here on this throw against UNLV, we see Strong make a beautiful throw to the sideline from the I-formation on a traditional drop back, showing nice touch on his pass as he drops it into the bucket to Doubs as he runs up the sideline and out of bounds for the chunk gain.
His ball placement on some of his throws down the field are quite impressive, dropping it over the defender running in coverage to his man in a tight window setting. Her against Wyoming, we see Strong take the snap and throw it up high into the air, lofting it over the cornerback in coverage right into the outstretched hands of his man running up the sideline for the big play before the safety can come in to impact the throw.
His ability to maneuver the pocket and deliver an accurate ball over the middle is an underrated quality. Here against San Diego State, we see Strong drop back to pass, gives a pump fake, then works to his left to lead his receiver streaking across the middle of the field for the well-placed throw with the defender diving in to contest the pass to move the sticks.
While not a great athlete in terms of speed or explosiveness, Strong is more than capable of getting outside of the pocket and throwing an accurate ball on the run on play action or on a rollout pass. Watch this play as Strong works to his right and throws a beautiful ball to the corner of the end zone to his TE, putting it up high for his man to make a play in coverage. While he doesn’t come down with the ball, Strong does put it right into his hands.
Here is another good example of Strong throwing on the run against Utah State, avoiding pressure in the pocket as he rolls out to his right to the sideline, but manages to keep his eyes downfield as he finds Doubs in the end zone and lets it fly as he goes out of bounds, putting it up high for his receiver to climb the ladder and come down with the TD on the smaller defensive back.
Strong isn’t afraid of giving his receiver a shot on the 50/50 ball, trusting his man to come down with it in combative catch situations. He has this trust also in-part due to his ability to place the ball well in the red zone, putting it up high and with enough touch for his guy to have the best shot to come down with it as we see on this touchdown pass against Fresno State on the end zone fade.
Strong isn’t a great athlete, but he has consistently shown an understanding on pocket mobility to evade the pressure coming at him and find a way to step up or to the side to wheel and deal the football to his weapons. Check out this sequence where the pressure comes in fast on Strong, nearly enveloping him, but Strong remains poised in the pocket, sneaking away from the pressure and gets the ball to his check down option who manages to pick up the first down.
You want you potential-franchise QB to come up with big throws when you need it most. This past season, Strong had a couple of these moments on tape, including this play against Utah State on 4th-and-2 where he drops back to pass and scans the field, giving a shoulder fake to his right and finds a receiver running to the middle of the field with a step on the man in coverage. Strong fires it in there, making sure to lead his receive and get it there before the safety can come in to play the ball, coming up with the key conversion for a new set of downs.
All this being said, it was a wise decision for Strong to come back for his junior season to clean up some aspects of his game in order to improve his draft stock. For instance, he needs to be more consistent on his ball placement down the field as he will have misses where he overthrows his intended target like on this pass into contested coverage.
Strong, like other draft-eligible prospects in this class, can have a little too much faith in his arm at times as well, thinking he can launch it without stepping up to pass or when throwing off of his back foot. Here against the Aztecs, we see Strong almost short-arm the pass deep downfield as pressure gets into his face, inevitably underthrowing his intended target and allowing the defender to come in a defend the pass.
When you look at Strong’s frame, play style, and ability to maneuver the pocket the way he does, I do get slight Tom Brady vibes as a relatively lean pocket passer that isn’t a threat as a runner but still can move around and improvise the get the ball to his receiver. However, I would say a more accurate comparison for Strong at this juncture other than the G.O.A.T. would be Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons who boasts almost and identical frame, arm strength, and ability to maneuver the pocket and place the ball down the field in a pass-happy attack. Both guys lack high-end athleticism, but Ryan still can be considered a more-than-suitable franchise QB with all the other aspects he brings to the game.
I personally see a similar argument for Strong, as while he needs some seasoning in terms of consistency and taking what the defense gives him, I see him being more “pro-ready” as a passer than some other more athletic prospects in this draft class. While the dual-threat QB is the newest trend, we have seen the likes of Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Zach Wilson to an extent all get selected early in the first round despite not having freakish athleticism.
Should Strong show more of a propensity to scramble and get what the defense gives him and take a step forward as a passer this season, he easily could be the next lesser-known QB going into the season that experiences a huge rise when the draft rolls around come April.
Pittsburgh has had a lot of success with Ben Roethlisberger over the past two decades as more of a pocket passer, and given his height, arm talent, and ability to extend plays inside and outside of the pocket, I have to imagine Strong would be on their short list of targets should they be looking to address the QB position in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Projection: Mid-to-Late Day One
Games Watched: vs Wyoming (2020), vs San Diego State (2020), vs Fresno State (2020)