CFF Player Profile: Jaelen Strong, WR
The 2015 wide receiver class is as strong and deep as any position in this draft, and could easily wind up being one of the most impressive classes at the position for quite some time. What stands out is the wide range of talented players with a variety of skill sets, from those who look like they will cause defenses problems after the catch, to those who can go up and win the ball, like Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong.
He’s a polarizing player, with many feeling that he doesn’t impress as much as he should given his physical talents, and from what we’ve seen he definitely still has some work to do, but from what we’ve seen we think he has a bright future in the NFL.
Overview and Stats
Despite missing some time during the season due to a concussion, Strong still had one of the best years of any receiver in this draft class. His 1,168 yards were the ninth-most of any player at the position in this draft class, while his CFF receiving grade was the sixth-highest. He also finished 12th in terms of Yards Per Route Run, averaging 2.71 YPRR from his 431 routes run in 2014.
What’s interesting with Strong, especially given his size and style of play, is that you can make the case that we was at his best from the slot, averaging 4.06 YPRR against teams from the Power Five conferences, the highest average of all draft eligible receivers. He doesn’t possess the quickness that you’d expect, but does meet the criteria of a “big slot” receiver in the same way that a player like Anquan Boldin does in the NFL. Here’s how that stacked up against the rest of this class:
So we know that Strong is a productive receiver who had an impressive college career as a Sun Devil, but what does the tape show us? He’s a player that seems to have divided opinion, but one thing that is clear from the tape is that when he wants to, Strong is a very good receiver when it comes to winning the ball at the catch point. There were times when he didn’t do this consistently, but the talent to do it is definitely there.
That’s something that will make him very appealing to a lot of teams especially those with a quarterback who is at his best when he throws the ball where the receiver can go up and win it. Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens, where many mock drafts have Strong landing, would fit that bill, with the Ravens lacking that sort of player since they traded away Boldin.
There are two areas where Strong struggles, and that keeps him from being mentioned with Amari Cooper, Kevin White and Devante Parker in the discussion for the top receiver in this class. The first is getting off of the jam by a cornerback in press coverage.
He’s a physical receiver, so to watch him fail to get off against the press was a bit baffling, and when he did beat it, it was normally because of his footwork as opposed to outmuscling the defensive back. This is something that can be worked on, and given his ability to go up and win the ball when he is covered tightly, an improvement in this part of his game would increase his chances of developing as a star receiver in the NFL.
The second is his route running. Similarly to his struggles against press coverage, Strong costs himself space with some poor route running which at times just looks a little bit lazy. Where you’d like to see him plant his foot and go, he takes a step or two to break down, allowing the defensive back to close.
What’s impressive, though, and what I think gives Strong the potential to be a very successful receiver in the NFL, is that both of these things are fixable. If I’m a general manager and I’ve got the faith that my wide receivers coach can tidy up his route running and teach him to do a better job of beating press coverage, I know I’m getting a guy who’s an impressive athlete who can go up and win the ball when he needs to, but has the potential to develop into a really good all-around receiver, with the versatility to be a factor on the outside and in the slot.
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