Draft Daily: Arizona St. WR Jaelen Strong
Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. If you have a player you want covered, let us know on the Birds 24/7 Facebook page.
THE BACK STORY
As names fly off the board in the first round of the draft, there will be plenty of people in Philadelphia glued to their TVs to see where Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong ends up.
The West Catholic product has roots in the city. His Dad, John Rankin, was a standout basketball player at Drexel, scoring 2,111 points, second in school history. He went on to serve as a detective in the Philadelphia Police Department before leukemia took his life when Strong was 9-years-old (good story here on Strong and Rankin from the Inquirer).
Strong was a standout high school athlete himself, but he didn’t have the grades to play Division I and ended up attending Pierce College (JUCO) in Southern California before eventually landing at Arizona State.
Considered a high character kid, Strong turned in a pair of productive seasons. He was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection last season, totaling 82 catches for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2013, Strong caught 75 balls for 1,122 yards and seven scores.
He successfully made the leap from junior college to D-1. Now, Strong will look to do the same going from Arizona State to the NFL. He’s expected to be a first- or second-round pick.
This is where Strong sets himself apart. He’s 6-2, 217 and ran a 4.44 at the combine. Strong can jump out of the stadium. His 42-inch vertical ranks second-best among all wide receivers in the past three years.
Here is Strong’s spider chart:
From a measurables standpoint, there really are no limitations with Strong. He has above average height, good speed and great hops. He’s leaving school early and will only be 21 going into next season.
THE NO-22 TAPE
On tape, there is a rawness to Strong’s game. He’s far from polished, but has unique traits that will attract a lot of teams. He’s also a tough evaluation because Arizona State had some terrible QB play last year.
Let’s start with the good. Strong’s best route in the games I watched was the back-shoulder fade. He did a terrific job of turning around at the right time, adjusting to the ball and coming down with the catch. Here’s an example against Arizona:
* The embedded video is not working properly for some. Click to the 1:45 mark to see the play.
He also provides some versatility. Strong spent time both outside and in the slot. Here, he’s inside and uses a double move before adjusting to the ball in traffic.
* Click to the 1:24 mark.
His hands were inconsistent. Strong had his share of drops, but he also made some pretty impressive catches, like this one in the red zone.
* Click to the 3:29 mark.
As you can see, there’s plenty of potential there, but there are also concerns. Strong was a volume receiver and didn’t seem like an explosive pass-catcher who can stretch the field. He averaged under 15 yards per catch in each of the past two seasons.
I also didn’t see him make a lot of plays after the catch unless there was just wide open space where he could accelerate. Strong is not elusive, and he has not yet learned how to use his strength to overpower defensive backs when the ball is in his hands.
The biggest question teams will probably have with Strong is: Can he consistently beat man coverage in the NFL? He lined up against Washington’s Marcus Peters quite a bit in one game last season and only had three catches for 55 yards.
On this play, he has trouble beating press:
* Click to the 12-second mark.
Given his size, this is obviously something Strong could improve on in the NFL, but it’s an unproven aspect of his game right now.
Strong is a bit more of a projection than some of his counterparts. He has the raw measurables and should improve at the next level if he lands in the right spot. But I’m not sure he has that one standout skill. He doesn’t have great hands. He’s not a burner. He doesn’t make a lot of plays after the catch. And while he made his share of contested catches, there were also times when Strong did a poor job of adjusting to the ball or failed to fight off defensive backs.
In some ways, he’s similar to Jordan Matthews last year: productive, good measurables, high character, can play the “big slot” role, etc. For those reasons, the guess here is that Kelly will have interest.
Some mocks, including Peter King’s over at The MMQB, have the Eagles taking Strong at No. 20. That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I’d feel much more comfortable taking him on Day 2, especially if the WR class is as deep as many seem to believe. Of course, Kelly could feel differently, and if he sees upside in Strong, he could pull the trigger.