Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 NFL Draft #68 - Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
Find all the profiles here.
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State - 6'2, 217 - Senior - 4.44 40
NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Arizona State vs Duke
If this hasn't been said already several dozen times, let me say it again for emphasis.  Due to trends in today's game and the cyclical nature of how drafts work, 2015 is the ideal year to pick in the 1st round if your team lacks a #1 wide receiver.  There are between 5-8 wide outs who can and should be selected in the first 32 picks and that trend is one that was also true in 2014.  Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Kelvin Benjamin were all selected in Round 1, with Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Paul Richardson, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Allen Robinson, and Jarvis Landry in Round 2.  That is 12 Wide Receivers in the first 2 rounds!
This tells us a few things:  1) - that there is no position scarcity when it comes to this spot on the field.  One argument is that you should not draft a WR too high, because even the 10th best wide receiver in the draft can be someone like Davante Adams.  And 2) - that means that hypothetically, the crop will all be collectively pushed down, right?  Well, not really.  If you look at the best receivers in the NFL these days - Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, and even Andre Johnson - they all went in the 1st round.  If you want a top #1 WR, you better pick them quickly.  There is a real difference between a #1 option that demands safety help, and just a nice wide receiver.
This brings us to yet another consensus 1st round receiver who seems to have potential WR1 status.  He is Jaelen Strong from Arizona State who is both blessed with size, speed - 4.44, and a ridiculous 42" vertical leap (Dominique Wilkins best measured vertical).  For a closer look, we studied Utah, Washington, and Oregon State to see what he had.
Jaelen wears #21 for the Sun Devils:
What I liked:  Strong is a very impressive player with great size and much faster speed than you might imagine for how he appears.  He made one of the most amazing plays of the season (shown above), but for any observer, we spend more time wondering why the safeties of USC were standing by rather than making an actual attempt at knocking down the ball.  But, he can really win on a ball and has versatility in route running that shows off nearly the entire route tree and has explosiveness in the air that allows him to dominate for a ball with that "catch radius" that we look for in a #1 WR.  He is very good against zone coverages and underneath out of the slot.  He also blocks with a vengeance and below you can see him look for a knockout block in the middle of the field that would impress Hines Ward.
What I did not like:  One thing that is difficult to evaluate at the college level is that there is very little press coverage compared to what we see in the NFL.  Trouble is, when Strong did see press coverage against Washington's Marcus Peters and then a few weeks later against the diminutive Steve Nelson from Oregon State, we see that he had a very difficult time doing his thing.  He also may not have that over-the-top long speed to win consistently on the long routes.  That said, he is a competitive guy who looks like he is interested in battles.  There are a few red flags where people have mentioned attitude issues along the way and even some effort items, but I will confess that I did not perceive that in 2014.
Summary:  Yet another high quality wide receiver who seems to have a ceiling that can make him a WR1 or a very talented and productive WR2.  The thing that makes the range so difficult to ascertain is clearly the issue that he played on a team that did not have what you would consider to be top notch QB play.  Strong is a very impressive player who can develop into a high caliber receiver at the next level.  It does make you nervous that he did not excel when he faced press-coverage, because at the NFL level, if there is one thing that they will do to a player consistently, it is to face the thing he doesn't excel at.  I imagine job #1 for Strong will be to show that press coverage is not going to limit him.  If he can, there is no reason he won't be exceptional.

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