Earlier this week I compiled notes on all of the ‘big name’ quarterbacks eligible for the 2022 draft. It was an exercise to highlight the dearth of alternatives as a means of push back to the growing number of fans entertaining the idea of trading Russell Wilson.
In many cases these fans are attracted to the idea of a cheap quarterback on a rookie contract. Often, however, they haven’t spent any time looking at who or what is available in college football.
If you trade Wilson for three first round picks — those picks have to become good players to justify the move. The pressure is increased by the fact Seattle doesn’t even possess its own 2022 first rounder (which could be a top-10 selection).
Using one of the Wilson picks on a quarterback who isn’t good enough would be the ultimate ‘insult to injury’ scenario. Especially when the aim of drafting a quarterback is to acquire someone of Wilson’s talent, avoiding the treadmill that so many teams end up on — constantly looking for someone remotely qualified to lead a team.
I went back over the last 48 hours to further study Nevada’s Carson Strong. People I have a lot of time for, such as Tony Pauline and Lance Zierlein, rate him highly. I’ve been sceptical.
Of all the 2022 QB’s he was the one I wanted to extend my study on.
I’ve now watched seven games, instead of three, to fill out my thoughts on Strong.
I was right about some things, wrong on some others.
Let’s start with the pro’s.
Strong is a superb anticipation thrower to the sideline. His speed-outs are nearly always thrown with timing and velocity.
Throws from the left hash to the right sideline are like extended handoffs. It’s that automatic.
On any short-range route to the outside, he’ll often throw before the receiver turns to the ball. There’s no wasted time or movement with his technique. If the play-call requires a quick-out, he will snap, turn and throw on the money. His arm strength and ball placement are excellent and it’s a way to get easy yards.
This shouldn’t be underestimated. These throws are not as easy as they look. Wilson himself hasn’t been great at these over his career and a lot of younger quarterbacks take too long to get the ball out, they hesitate to tip-off defensive backs or they don’t have the arm power to just let it rip to the sideline.
This will be a useful tool at the next level to try and contain pressure and push back the blitz. That’s significant for Strong, as we’ll come onto later.
Watching him closely — and seeing one game with all-22 looks — has shown his ability to go through progressions and fit passes into tight windows at an elite college level.
I was stunned, frankly, in some instances to see what he was able to do. There were a couple of games where he went to his first, second, then third read and just uncorked a pass right in the heart of three defenders to a receiver. Yet the strange thing is — despite the impossibly small window — the receiver was the only person capable of completing the catch.
If this makes sense — it was pretty much the safest collection of insanely risky, accurate, driven passes I’ve seen from a college quarterback.
I underestimated his arm strength and these first two positives highlighted that. Furthermore, he isn’t just a reckless ‘big arm for hire’. He is accurate enough to be very intriguing on some of these pinpoint throws.
Technique is important. Being able to square your shoulders to the target, having the right footwork. Your feet and shoulders need to work together and you need that quick, direct release. One of the reasons players like Justin Fields have so many turnovers is purely down to his technical issues. He’s often the best athlete on the field but until he puts the technical aspects together, the sack/fumbles and interceptions will continue.
Strong’s shoulder is often aligned to the target. Once he makes his decision to throw there’s no wasted movement. He has a superb, compact delivery. His whip-like release generates velocity. The ball pops out of his hand and he has a very smooth throwing motion.
He actually does a three step drop well. So many young QB’s in shotgun take 5-7 steps and waste time and get too deep. Strong gets on with the play, knows where he wants to go and his technical qualities (footwork and release) are the best in this class.
Further to this, he can side-step in the pocket to buy a bit of time. It’s subtle but vital. There are instances on tape where he just shuffles to the left or right to buy that extra second — then bang. He makes a completion.
Strong plants his feet and drives on his throws. He doesn’t lift his leg in the air and throw off one foot javelin-style like Malik Willis.
When you give him time in the pocket he makes the prettiest 30-50 yard throws in college football. He had one against Wyoming which was a frozen rope into the tiniest window in good coverage for a 40 yard gain along the left sideline. He shifted to the left of the pocket, set his feet and uncorked. Beautiful throw.
When teams eventually come to evaluate his potential, I think they’ll go to that play a lot as an example of what he’s capable of.
I also like Strong’s interviews and think teams will enjoy meeting with him and will believe in his personality and leadership traits.
Now, let’s get into the con’s.
His mobility and athleticism is a serious issue.
There is zero improv potential and no ability whatsoever to escape pressure to extend plays. He is the definition of a classic, statue-like pocket passer.
Nevada is giving up 2.8 sacks per game in 2021. They’ve given up 28 in 10 games. They’re ranked 100th in college football, level with lowly Arizona and UConn.
(EDIT — he was sacked seven times on Friday night against Air Force, making it 35 sacks in 11 games)
He was also sacked 20 times in nine games in 2020.
This is an incredibly high amount given how well he often gets the ball out quickly — indicating that if you can freeze him in the pocket he will have issues.
As soon as he faces pressure it’s almost always a sack. Any time he’s moved out of the pocket the best case scenario is a throwaway. He cannot throw on the run.
I’m concerned about his ability to even execute boot-legs well. His footwork on the move is plodding and he warrants an F grade for mobility.
Strong’s longest run of the 2021 season is for five yards. Five yards. In the modern NFL you need some modicum of being able to scramble, extend plays and be creative. You don’t have to be Kyler Murray but even Joe Burrow has an ability to extend or break off a few yards for a first down.
Even Matt Ryan looks like a more capable athlete than Strong.
My fear is that as the game quickens up at the next level, will he be able to process quickly in order to operate solely from the pocket?
I think he will need to work with an offensive coordinator who is adept at scheming up targets and he just needs to execute as told. Kyle Shanahan, Josh McDaniels. Those types of schemes. He needs to live in a world where he’s told what his keys are and he just needs to read and throw quickly. He needs to play in a scheme that values pass-catching running backs who can be used as a safety valve. He will need to work a strong screen-game to take the heat out of some of the blitzing.
This is where I want to come back to the speed-outs. If he’s working in a creative system that can put together a lot of quick tempo-passes to keep a defense sitting in coverage, that’s great. You don’t want him clutching the ball. Even his deep shots may need to be decisive, calculated and well schemed with max-protect.
I fear if you try to insert him into any kind of long-developing passing game or allow opponents to play up at the line, you’ll be encouraging trouble. I think teams will blitz the crap out of him and you’re not going to be able to run your way out of this unless you have a dominating O-line from side-to-side.
He’ll need to be paired with a good offensive schemer. As mentioned, I think Shanahan and McDaniels are the types of play-caller that could mask his lack of athleticism.
I can well imagine teams just coming for him with the blitz at the next level and if he doesn’t learn to exploit it quickly, he’ll be a sitting duck. At Nevada — as soon as anyone breaks into the backfield, it’s goodnight Vienna.
Again — his ability to extend plays and get out of the pocket on the move is non-existent.
So while we can (and should) admire his technical ability and arm strength, the thing that will keep him back on many boards is the type of offense you’re going to have to run with him. It’ll need to be one designed for a totally static pocket-passer — at a time when everyone’s looking for mobile quarterbacks who deal with pressure and can get the ball out from all sorts of angles on the move.
Often he had a clean pocket on his best throws for Nevada. There’s little evidence of what he would be like under immense pressure other than the sacks he takes in college. Given his willingness to trust his arm, I would be fearful of what he would try early in his career if he was blitzed a lot. He might develop quickly and get to his hots but so often with young quarterbacks they panic.
Elsewhere, Strong tends to reject open throws to go through his reads — then opts to trust his arm to make a harder throw.
I’ve seen him turn down his first two targets despite both being what you would describe as ‘wide open’ at the NFL level — only to then force things on his third read. To be fair, he completes a lot of those passes. I did get the sense though that he can be put off too easily when the defense is giving you reasonable offers and he only goes for the pass when he knows he’s running out of time.
I’d like to see him be more decisive on his first read. If it’s there, take it. Don’t wait for something to be wide, wide open. I enjoy watching those down-the-seam lasers threaded into the tiniest window but I’d also quite like to see him take what’s there too.
His QBR of 63.6 is only 56th best in CFB this year and he’s thrown seven picks — the most in his three year starting career.
One I thing I noticed is Nevada benefits a lot from unusually poor busted coverages. So while his stats are good — he benefits from things he won’t enjoy as much in the NFL.
The final thing to mention is Strong suffered a serious knee injury in High School and he still wears a chunky brace. I think this is why he generated little in the way of recruiting buzz and was a non-rated prospect. It’s something teams will need to look at during medical checks.
I came away wondering whether Strong was the best quarterback eligible for the 2022 draft after all. Kenny Pickett has far fewer ‘wow’ throws, lacks Strong’s arm strength and hasn’t had the three-year consistency in terms of production. Yet Pickett is much more athletic and capable of being creative.
There are things to like about both players but also big issues that will have teams debating a lot about their pro-potential.
The quarterbacks destined for greatness often standout clearly in college. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know how much I/we loved Kyler Murray — long before anyone considered him a pro-prospect. He just had special qualities. It was very easy to highlight example plays that translated and you couldn’t pick holes in his game.
That type of projection is easy to make. With the likes of Pickett and Strong, it’s far more challenging. I think there’s a lot more ‘Drew Lock’ than ‘Kyler Murray’. Lock had a live arm and good mobility and you could make a case for his pro-prospects. Many did — with plenty of mocks placing him in the first fame (as we’re seeing with Pickett and Strong now).
There were also issues with Lock that we’ve seen repeated in Denver. And I sense when the evaluations come in for these two quarterbacks — teams will be suitably mixed that the majority will think day two rather than day one.
It only takes one team to change that and fall in love with a player. But right now I feel comfortable saying Pickett and Strong are the two to watch in this class yet both probably don’t warrant a grade higher than day two.
Please consider supporting the blog via Patreon (click the tab below)…