Pierre Strong Jr. is officially the fastest running back in the 2022 NFL Draft. Allow me to rephrase that. The South Dakota State star was the fastest RB at the 2022 NFL Combine. As his pre-draft process sends scouts scurrying back to South Dakota State tape, he has the potential to join former Jackrabbit Dallas Goedert in the NFL. Strong’s scouting report reveals an NFL Draft prospect with an NFL-ready skill set.
Pierre Strong Jr. NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: South Dakota State
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 5’11 3/8″
- Weight: 207 pounds
- Wingspan: 75 7/8″
- Arm: 31 7/8″
- Hand: 9 1/4″
Pierre Strong Jr. Scouting Report
Within recent years, multiple FCS running backs have not only made their way to the NFL but have been a success there. Illinois State’s James Robinson made a name for himself instantaneously for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Austin Ekeler has become one of the top running backs in the league for the Los Angeles Chargers despite heralding from Western Colorado.
However, neither of those two were actually drafted to the NFL. This is where South Dakota State RB Strong is different as a prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. Not only is he highly likely to be selected in April — I’m being careful not to speak in absolutes — but he could easily find himself selected a lot higher than many would have thought possible.
Strong’s scouting report showcases why he’s been a top-150 player on my personal NFL Draft big board even ahead of his excellent pre-draft process. The speed that he demonstrated at the NFL Combine is apparent on tape. He’s a speedy running back prospect who has the ability to rip off chunk plays with impressive regularity.
Possessing excellent speed alone won’t get the job done at the next level, however. Thankfully, Strong owns further athletic excellence. The South Dakota State RB is a shifty mover, with the lateral agility to make cuts without any discernible decline in speed. He showcases quick footwork and the ability to make split-second changes of direction.
Speed, explosion, physicality
He’s explosive enough to hit the hole and leave his opponent grasping at thin air. This explosion, speed, and agility work in unison with Strong’s vision to make the most of every available opportunity. While he displays good patience behind the line of scrimmage, he’s capable of establishing the right time to head north, and he does so with devastating consequences.
While he isn’t the biggest back in the class, Strong showcases physicality as a prospect in multiple ways. Firstly, he was used as a lead blocker for South Dakota State on designed quarterback runs. Secondly, he’s showcased the ability to pick up free blitzers regardless of size. Furthermore, as a runner, he’s demonstrated a decent stiff arm to help extend runs. He’s also shown the ability to grind out yardage. This will help elevate his stock as someone who has three-down potential.
Part of that three-down evaluation is pass catching. When tasked with being a receiving option out of the backfield, Strong has displayed the ability to pluck the ball out of the air with good technique. The attributes that make him such an effective rusher ensure that he adds after the catch value, too. This was demonstrated at the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Although not strictly part of running back evaluation, Strong has another trick up his sleeve. During his time at South Dakota State, he’s been an accomplished passer of the ball. Creative NFL offensive coordinators should look to incorporate Strong into some gadget plays to maximize their offense.
Areas for improvement
While his speed, explosion, and agility will make Strong an alluring prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, some limitations and areas for improvement could cause concerns for NFL teams. As a result, an ascension into early-round conversation is probably unlikely at this point.
Although he’s showcased some natural technique as a pass catcher, there are question marks here. South Dakota State didn’t frequently utilize Strong as a pass-catching back. Therefore, he’s a projection rather than a proven commodity in this respect. Indeed, there were some drops in the games watched while compiling this scouting report.
At 5’11” and 207 pounds, there is the possibility that Strong will be considered undersized by the NFL. Additionally, we’ve seen in previous years that the NFL has undervalued FCS running back prospects.
With a notoriously short NFL shelf life, we’ve also seen that teams pay attention to how much tread is on the tires for running back prospects. Strong has over 600 carries in his college career — on a frame that isn’t necessarily built to withstand a significant amount of contact.
Strong’s Player Profile
After a sensational NFL Combine performance, Strong is beginning to gather momentum as a genuine NFL talent ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. Rewind just six years, however, and the South Dakota State talent wasn’t garnering anywhere near the same level of attention. Unranked and under-recruited, Strong held just one offer and interest from his home state Arkansas Razorbacks as a high school recruit out of McClellan Magnet.
That’s not to say the Little Rock native was lacking in talent. During his time at McClellan, he was a three-time All-State honoree. During his final two high school seasons, he tallied 4,265 rushing yards. Furthermore, he found the end zone 57 times across his junior and senior campaigns.
As a senior, he was named the Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year. Additionally, Strong was a finalist for the Landers Award, honoring the top high school player in Arkansas. The future South Dakota State RB was also named to the All-USA Arkansas Football Team.
Yet, the former track and field star remained unranked. As a result, he’d take his skill set to South Dakota State and become a feared RB at the FCS level and dangerous NFL Draft prospect at the position.
Strong’s career at South Dakota State
Strong’s South Dakota State career got off to a slow start. He redshirted his freshman season in 2017. Even then, he earned praise within the program, earning Scout Special Teams Player of the Week recognition ahead of the Jackrabbits’ game against Illinois State.
The South Dakota State RB exploded onto the national scene as a redshirt freshman in 2018. In his first full season of playing time, Strong rushed for 1,116 rushing yards and found the end zone 11 times. Through the final six games of the season, he tallied five 100+ yard games with a touchdown in all six. Subsequently, he set the 10th-highest single-game mark for rushing yards with a 253-yard outing against South Dakota.
Strong received a glut of awards for his performances, including the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year. Proving that it wasn’t just beginners luck, Strong broke 1,000 yards again in 2019, adding another 8 touchdowns to his résumé. He surpassed 200 yards in a single game once more, with 229 yards against Southern Illinois. Showcasing his ability against Power Five opposition, the South Dakota State RB registered 159 all-purpose yards in the clash with Minnesota.
In both the 2019 and disrupted 2021 spring season, Strong earned FCS All-American recognition. Despite splitting time with Isaiah Davis in the South Dakota State backfield, he still tallied 707 rushing yards in nine games. While he set a rushing high of 124 yards against Youngstown State, he showcased his versatility with 145 all-purpose yards that included a touchdown pass in the FCS Playoffs against Delaware.
Strong’s NFL Draft ascension
For all his early career production at South Dakota State, Strong has emerged as an NFL Draft RB prospect with his performances over the past year. He had a sensational season for South Dakota State, rushing for 1,686 yards and 18 touchdowns. Meanwhile, he completed all 4 passing attempts for 62 yards and 4 scores.
In a remarkable season, he produced NINE 100+ yard games. Strong rushed for multiple touchdowns in six games. Once again showing his skill against FBS opposition, he tallied 138 yards and 2 touchdowns against Colorado State. Although he came up short of a 200+ yard game, he generated a season-high 185 yards against UC Davis.
The South Dakota State RB wasn’t overlooked at this transition point of his career. Strong earned an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl, where he scored a 65-yard receiving touchdown in the game. During the week of practice, he impressed Pro Football Network’s team on the ground, with Tony Pauline commenting: “He runs hard on the inside, is tough to bring down, and shows a lot of foot quickness and the ability to change direction.”
That quickness was evident at the 2022 NFL Combine. Strong blew away the competition in Indianapolis, logging a 4.37-second 40-yard dash time. He also impressed with a 10’4″ broad jump and 36″ vertical jump. The latter is an almost perfect metaphor for the jump Strong’s NFL Draft stock has taken over the past year.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Pierre Strong Jr.
Positives: Underrated running back with a complete game. Smart, instinctive, and displays outstanding vision. Patiently waits for blocks to develop, finds the running lanes, and consistently turns it upfield. Runs hard on the inside and keeps his feet moving. Picks up yardage off initial contact, drags defenders, and falls forward when tackled. Hits the hole with a burst and runs with authority.
Possesses sneaky straight-line speed and displays the ability to beat defenders into the open field. Picks his way through the trash on the inside, runs with good lean, and uses blocks everywhere on the field. Possesses short-area quickness with the ability to bounce around defenders and piles. Effective receiver out of the backfield who catches the ball like a wideout. Gives effort blocking and gets results.
Negatives: Not a quick or smooth cutback runner and loses momentum immediately after altering the angle of runs. Not a creative ball carrier who makes something out of nothing. Lacks true corner or perimeter speed.
Analysis: Strong was highly rated by scouts coming into the season and looked good in 2021 before turning in three outstanding Shrine Bowl practices. He possesses a complete game and enough skill to be a third running back at the next level.
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