Look up the term “college pocket passer” in the dictionary, and you will see a picture of Carson Strong. In a world where the dual-threat QB is highly touted, for NFL and for fantasy, the existence of the pocket passer is slowly fading. Fading, but not disappearing completely. In all the chatter about this year’s somewhat underwhelming QB class, Strong’s name is frequently mentioned just outside of the top-5, landing there primarily due to his lack of mobility and injury history. But is he worth a gamble? Let’s look at Strong’s measurables, college production, and game tape to forecast his 2022 fantasy outlook from him.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2022 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2022.
Carson Strong grew up in Vacaville, California, committing to play at Nevada the summer before his senior year in high school. Strong played very little as a true freshman at Nevada – he was still recovering from his first knee surgery, but he came in like a wrecking ball in his second year. He redshirted and played in ten games in 2019, throwing for over 2000 yards with 11 TDs, ultimately losing a hard-fought bowl game to Ohio. The upward trajectory continued in Strong’s sophomore year, where he improved his completion percentage and yards and TDs thrown. Strong finished his career at Nevada as a back-to-back winner of the Mountain West Player of the Year.
|dropbacks||Attempts||completion||Completion %||yards||YPA||TD||INT||ADJ %||Sacks|
|Height||Weight||Arm Length||hands||wingspan||24-7 Sports|
|6’3″||226||31 5/8″||9 1/4″||76 5/8″||3-star recruit|
What’s On Tape
Games Viewed – Fresno State (2021), Cal (2021), Idaho State (2021), Kansas State (2021), Boise State (2021)
lack of mobility
The first, second, and third thing you see when watching Strong play is his lack of mobility. Due to the long history of injuries in his right knee, which I will elaborate on later, Strong has become a quintessential pocket passer, possessing zero desire to run or scramble. Playing with the brace on his right knee, he is limited with his options once a play breaks down. If he must scramble, it is clear he is uncomfortable – the man dislikes running almost as much as I do. His PFF grade for rushing during his last year at Nevada season was 46.1. Spoiler alert, that’s not good. Of QBs with at least 150 dropbacks during the 2021 season, only 11 had a PFF rusher rating of less than 50. Strong rushed for negative yards during his last year at Nevada. Over 200 negative rushing yards.
On a positive note, Strong understands what he can and cannot do with his limitations. Strong knows he is not Lamar Jackson when it comes to scrambling. Heck, he knows he isn’t even a Jimmy Garoppolo, and for better or worse, he plays, demonstrating that fact. He tries his hardest to stay out of harm’s way and knows when to throw the football away.
Solid Accuracy and Overall Arm Strength
Carson Strong passed for almost 4200 yards his last season at Nevada, good for the 8th most among QBs that year. The most impressive stat is the jump in passing yard volume from his junior to senior year, up from 2855 in the 2020 season. His passing TDs from him also increased with every year. Strong also had a great adjusted completion percentage, with 77.8% and a 36 to 8 TD to INT ratio in 2021. Strong was an accurate passer at all levels of the field in college. According to PFF, with only his outside right deep ball passing garnering an NFL QB rating of less than 100, Strong was equally comfortable with the field’s short, intermediate, and deep levels. When protected and allowed a clean pocket, Strong was incredibly efficient, completing almost 76% of his passes and throwing for 32 of his 36 TDs of the season. The big issue appears when he is under pressure. His lack of mobility from him simply takes many options off the table to extend the play. His completion percentage from him drops to 49% when under pressure.
One of the strongest arms in the draft, Strong’s brute strength has compensated for any residual inability to fully and aggressively plant and rotate on his back knee while throwing. Strong still manages to throw with quite the velocity and has the ability to put the ball on his receivers. PFF puts him at 31 big-time throws during his 2021 season, the 7th most among QBs with at least 150 dropbacks. At times, Strong seems to enjoy being the gunslinger, which could get him in trouble at the NFL level, where a defender will be waiting deep downfield to make the interception.
Strong stands confident and, dare I say it, strong while running his Nevada offense. He is patient pre-snap, noticing and calling out coverage and changing the play when necessary. He successfully throws into tight windows as well, showing very little fear to do so. PFF deemed only 2% of his plays from him “turnover worthy.” Playing for a school touting their “air raid” offensive attack, Strong’s set of skills translated nicely. Would he have had this much success on paper if he had gone to a school with a more balanced offensive playbook? Doubt it.
— NLP Podcast (@9livespanthers) April 5, 2022
What’s Not on Tape
There is a clear elephant in the room when discussing Carson Strong – his right knee. It started back in high school when he felt a pain in his knee after a basketball tournament. After an MRI, doctors told Strong that he had a joint condition called osteochondritis dessecans (OCD), where part of the cartilage in the knee detaches from the bone. The summer before his senior year in high school, he had surgery where doctors reattached his cartilage using eight biodegradable nails. Consequently, Strong missed his final year playing in high school, opting instead to take classes at a community college. He committed early to Nevada and continued to recover as a redshirt freshman. If that had been it, I do not think we would be as concerned about Strong as we are. However, after the faded pain returned for Strong, he had another surgery with complete cartilage replacement in spring 2021. Our injury expert Matthew Betz says procedures like this one usually have good long-term success, so that is good news for Strong. In August 2021, he had yet another surgery to “clean up the knee,” which was followed by multiple draining on the knee during training camp due to recurring swelling.
As even a casual observer can see, Strong’s knee impacts him. The question is how much and what can we expect from it moving forward. The combine was important for Strong, not just to showcase his arm but to communicate his belief in himself and his knee. Even though his knee from him was cleared by an LA Rams staff doctor months ago, Strong made a concerted effort to emphasize how ready he is to go. “I’m almost there; I’m almost at 100 percent,” Strong said at the combine. “The rehab process that I’m going through right now is great; it’s people that are just focused on me; they’re catered to me. Going through the year, I was strengthening it, but it kind of turned into just getting myself ready to play in every game, but now every single day, I’m attacking this thing, and it’s getting stronger, and I’m becoming more confident in it.” Once again, our injury expert Matthew Betz emphasizes that Strong’s knee should do reasonably well in the short term. Still, there is a big chance that these repeated injuries will lead to arthritis and an abundance of pain and swelling. It might come down to pain management here.
Leadership and Brains
Strong clearly has the mental capacity to be an NFL QB. Watching him play, Strong clearly and efficiently goes through his progressions, and if he is mentally scrambling, you never see it realized in his physicality. The two-year team captain is decisive in his play calling him. I also think something must be said about Strong’s ability to deal with a chronic injury and the rehab that comes with it. Coming back from a debilitating injury is one of the hardest things an athlete can do and requires a mature and driven mindset. Strong looks to check the boxes there.
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong’s FANTASTIC final drive @ Fresno St!
Wolfpack were down 34-26 with 50 seconds left, no timeouts, ball on their own 10. @CarsonStrong_ calmly led them down the field 90 yards for the score. NFL throws. Currently ranks as my top NFL QB prospect👀 pic.twitter.com/iwwwIZHEEe
— Jack Vita (@JackVitaShow) October 27, 2021
2022 Fantasy Outlook
Carson Strong might function best in the NFL as a high-level backup, highly competent in his football knowledge, and therefore able to jump right in and run an offense with the starting QB out. But Strong is a very specific cup of tea. He needs a team that values the traditional pocket passer and is willing to invest time and effort into developing him. He needs to be on a team with a multi-faceted attack – a strong RB core will take some of the pressure off his need to scramble offensive when a play collapses. Wherever Strong lands, he will need a seasoned offensive line to protect him and give him time in the pocket. A struggling O-line will only hinder his development, emphasizing his lack of mobility.
As to where Strong will go in the draft, it comes down to what team is willing to take the gamble on a QB that might not be able to offer them long-term durability. He is a precarious option come draft day, and therefore no doubt his draft stock will take a tumble. Teams that pass on QBs early on and are ok developing a rookie prospect and have a solid offensive line are the teams that will look Strong’s direction on draft day. I still lean towards handling his guy with kid gloves and realistic expectations heading into the NFL. However, I hope he finds success; he has worked so hard to battle back. Grindingthemocks.com has him as the sixth QB coming off the board in the late third round, with nflmockdraftdatabase.com theorizing Tampa and Detroit as possible teams that might take Strong.