New to Steelers Depot, we will be highlighting several possible draft prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers may have interest in for the 2022 NFL Draft and their performance during the college football season.
The Nevada Wolfpack got edged out by the #22 San Diego State Aztecs this past Saturday night, but QB Carson Strong put together a good showing in the defeat. The 6’4, 215lb junior completed 34-of-48 passes (70.8%) for 350 yards and three TDs with zero INTs while getting sacked three times on the night, finishing the night with a passer rating of 152.7 and a total QBR of 73.0. His YPA came out to 7.29 which isn’t anything crazy given that Nevada ran a lot of quick game pass plays to get the ball quickly into their playmakers’ hands and get them in space.
Here is Strong’s first completion of the game showing just that, throwing the quick screen pass to the slot receiver, picking up a block and getting plenty of green grass to pick up the first down.
The Nevada offense may have taken a page from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive playbook with all of the quick game concepts they run in the passing game, running WR screens to the outside as well as quick hitters over the middle. We see the former here on this WR screen pass to #7 Romeo Doubs on the bottom of your screen where Strong quickly catches the snap, turns his shoulders, and throws the ball to Doubs who picks up a couple key blocks on the outside, springing him for a long catch-and-run inside the opponent’s five-yard line.
While Strong may not have averaged a high YPA on the night, he still showed the ability to drive the ball down the field to compliment the quick passing game similar to what Pittsburgh has run the last two seasons. Here on his first TD pass of the evening, we watch Strong take the shotgun snap and drop back to pass in the pocket, setting his feet and lofting it up to the end zone with his receiver successfully stacking the cornerback at the LOS and creates enough separation to catch the heave for the score. Strong could have put a little more on this ball so the receiver didn’t have to turn back, but overall, a pretty rainbow ball for the touchdown strike.
We see Strong uncork another long bomb down the field on this 54-yard TD strike to Doubs for his longest completed pass on the night. Strong fakes the screen to the left and then fakes the give to the back who sets up to pass protect, giving Strong time to set his feet and locate Doubs streaking down the field wide open for the walk-in TD. I like how Strong doesn’t get too anxious on this throw with Doubs so open, taking the time to set his feet and step into his throw to deliver a great pass right into the breadbasket.
Strong’s overall velocity on his passes may be average as he can throw down the field well, but the zip on the ball may not be considered elite. However, he does possess nice touch on most of his passes, throwing a catchable ball to allow his receiver to make a play. We see just that on Strong’s second TD of the night on the end zone fade to Doubs as he drops back to pass on 2nd-and-goal, throwing the ball to Doubs’s back shoulder before he turns around, giving Doubs the chance to go get the ball in the end zone for the score without putting the ball in harm’s way of the defender in coverage.
Strong’s #1 concern as a prospect is his lack of overall mobility and athleticism to create with his legs. He isn’t a superb athlete and isn’t going to run away from many defenders in pursuit or be an effective scrambler out of the pocket. However, his mobility inside of the pocket is very underrated, being able to work laterally and climb the pocket to evade pressure while keeping his eyes downfield and allow receivers to break open in coverage. We see a great example of this pocket mobility on this completion to the back who initially stays in to pass protect, but then leaks out to provide the check down. Strong evades the defender working around the RT, completing the pass for first down yardage.
Technically, this play can be seen as a failed attempt to convert on 3rd-and-long, but I like to see Strong work outside of the pocket here to keep the play alive. He takes the snap and starts to roll to his right as pressure comes off the edge, getting away from one defender while keeping his eyes downfield to give his receivers a chance to break open. However, nothing opens up, but Strong wisely runs out of bounds for a small loss rather than forcing the ball into coverage, avoiding a turnover-worthy play.
Strong proved to be a man of many talents Saturday night, likely having won a couple Punt, Pass, and Kick titles in his elementary school days with his performance as both a passer as well as a pooch kicker in this one. The offense sets up to go for it on fourth down, but Strong elects to back up and punt the ball himself, getting great hang time on the boot that gives the gunners a chance to down the ball on the one-yard line after getting a great bounce. It’s a small thing but having a QB that can execute a pooch kick like this can prove to be invaluable when deciding to keep the offense on the field to go for it.
One clear miss Strong had on the night came on the failed fourth down pass attempt at the end of the game to keep the drive alive. On this fourth-and-two pass attempt, Strong takes the snap and looks for his target over the middle of the field, failing to recognize the receiver at the bottom of the screen running open with the defender cheating inside on his coverage drop. The pass would go for first down yardage, allowing the receiver to move the chains, pick up YAC, and either break for the end zone in open space or get out of bounds for another play. Alas, Strong fires the ball into coverage over the middle of the field where the defender breaks up the pass.
Overall, it was a “strong” performance for Carson Strong who may have missed an open receiver at times that could have given the team a better chance to come out with the win, but he still displayed the ability to take what the defense gave him more often than not. He successfully stretched the field with explosive plays on two of his TD passes as well as worked the short passing game near the LOS, given his pass catchers opportunity to create as runners after-the-catch in space. Strong also showcased instances of mobility inside of the pocket as well as the ability to evade the rush just enough to give receivers time to get open down the field.
Still, Strong will be knocked for his lack of athleticism during the draft process, as he won’t be posting a crazy 40 time like other dual-threat prospects will be. This will make his draft slotting intriguing for a variety of reasons, as the league seems to be transitioning to a more mobile QB that can create off-script and doesn’t have to have everything going right around him in order to make plays. The draw of drafting the next Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, or Josh Allen may push more mobile QBs up the board while pushing Strong down the down given how the likes of Josh Rosen and Jared Goff have turned out, lacking that high-end athleticism much like Strong does.
Strong is a smart, capable pocket pass with the subsequent pocket mobility coupled with the arm talent to put up impressive numbers in a spread offense that can attack defenses vertically as well as in the short/screen game. Yinz may not like, it but Strong does compare favorably to Goff in a variety of ways, including frame (Strong stands 6’4, 215lb/ Goff at 6’4, 217lb) play style, arm talent, and offensive system that best suits their strengths as a passer. Goff may get criticized as an incompetent quarterback, but the guy was drafted #1 overall back in 2016 and has put together multiple 4,000-yard, 28+ TD performances that earned him Pro Bowl honors as well as led the Rams to the Super Bowl.
I think it’s fair to say that Strong’s ceiling is fairly limited compared to other draft prospects due to his athleticism, but he possesses a solid floor as a prospect is higher that several others in this class given where he is at as a passer. Much like Goff, Strong may need to have other areas of the team shored up to set him up for success, but the arm talent is there for him to be a capable starting QB at the NFL level. Strong should likely be considered at the end of the first round-to-Day Two range, but the state of the QB class and the need at the position may push him up boards depending how the class shakes out come spring.
What are your thoughts on Carson Strong’s performance against San Diego State? Do you think his arm talent and pocket mobility make up for his lack of athleticism and mobility outside of the pocket? Do you think that Mike Tomlin’s recent comments about having a QB with mobility will remove Strong from consideration for Pittsburgh in the first round, or that he could be on their radar given the similarities he has to what they have drafted in the past and the style of offense that he runs at Nevada as a potential fit in OC Matt Canada’s system? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!