A redshirt senior on the cusp of churning out another 1,000+ yards for the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, Pierre Strong Jr. fits his surname. The next small-school product with an eye for a rising draft stock this winter, Strong has not only become one of the FCS’ top ball-carriers but a talent comparable to many of this year’s top draft-eligible Power and Group of Five prospects.
A bruising 5-foot-11, 205-pound talent with the unique ability to run through and around defenders, helmet scouting has done a disservice to Strong, who’s one of the country’s top handful of backfield talents. With 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 prior to a shortened COVID-ridden campaign last fall, Strong has been as consistent as they come, recording 100+ yard rushing performances in six of the Jackrabbits’ first eight games—he’s failed to rush for less than 88 yards in just one of South Dakota State’s matchups. His yards aren’t just box score stat-stuffing numbers either, as he’s reaching paydirt nearly twice a game with 12 rushing touchdowns to the tune of nearly eight yards a carry. That production, coupled with an improving punch in the receiving game, has Strong’s name rising up draft boards as we near the tail end of the fall.
A position that has seen its value decrease over time, the slew of running back talent set to enter the professional ranks over the next few seasons is eye-popping. From the blueblood talent of Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker this spring to Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Auburn’s Tank Bigsby in 2023, it’s hard to disinvolve Strong when the topic of potential immediate impact backs rises among offseason circles. A prospect molded similarly to New Orleans Saints stud Alvin Kamara when he came out of Tennessee, Strong’s knack for finding open grass with elite one-cut ability is overwhelmingly apparent when you turn on the film.
His most recent performance saw Strong, the Little Rock, Arkansas native, total 163 yards on 19 carries (8.6 YPC) with two touchdowns on the ground. Lined up behind Jackrabbits quarterback Chris Oladokun in pistol, once Strong gets north-south at the 30-yard line, it’s goodnight for the Youngstown State defense. A running back with quick-twitch and excellent agility to boot, a quick inside cut to maneuver past the closing safety is impressive stuff before turning on the after-burners to reach the end zone.
It’s every week that Strong has made opposing defenders look silly. And while surely we can always play devil's advocate and assume his numbers wouldn’t be as impressive if placed against more superior front sevens, you can only face the competition in front of you, and Strong has begun to build quite the resume as the Jackrabbits’ offensive anchor.
With an improved presence on the outside in space, his developing versatility is what makes Strong that much more intriguing as a prospect. While much can change from now until next spring when rookie minicamps kick-off, Strong reminds me eerily of Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler. A downhill thumper that isn’t afraid to initiate contact, Strong’s knack for finding creases in between the tackles while showcasing his wiggle and open-field vision in the pass game is very reminiscent of the Chargers’ former UDFA. And while both dominated the lower ranks during their collegiate tenure, who’s to say Strong can’t mirror Ekeler, or Jacksonville’s James Robinson, as the next non-FBS talent to make waves on Sunday?
By no means does Strong tout an individual trait that will blow anyone out of the water, but as we’ve seen over the last few seasons, consistency remains king, and if an NFL team is in need of a back to challenge for carries with tons of juice and comfort in tight confines, Strong could represent the FCS’ belle of the ball this coming April.
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