As we head into the most boring time of the year on the football calendar, it is time to begin looking ahead. Over the next couple months, we are going to take a closer look into some of the prospects in the 2022 draft class that would make sense for the Steelers.
Headed into next year, the most likely needs for the Steelers are quarterback, cornerback(s), safety, defensive line, guard, and wide receiver. Simply because it is going to be the primary headline for the Steelers next offseason, we are going to begin with a few quarterbacks, but we may touch on a few other positions as well. If you are visiting the BTSC website but a fan of another team, I will let you know that although these breakdowns are going to be partly based on their fit specifically with the Steelers, they will also contain analysis that you can use to determine how well each prospect will fit with your own team.
Today, we are going to begin with Nevada quarterback Carson Strong.
Strong suffered a knee injury his senior year in high school, which kept him from getting offers from any major schools. After redshirting in 2018, he got an opportunity to start for the Wolf Pack but did not raise many eyebrows based on his stats. He threw for 2,335 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, and he struggled to consistently complete passes against quality opponents. With the help of a solid supporting cast, Strong showed amazing progress in 2020, accounting for 2,858 passing yards, a 70.1% completion percentage, 27 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions in 9 games.
These numbers put him on the NFL Draft radar, but Strong did not really consider declaring early. This is what he had to say in an interview with Pro Football Network:
“It’s kind of crazy because I didn’t know I even had any type of NFL attention or anything like that coming into the season,” he said. “Just having the season that I did, I kind of got some people’s radar. But I’m still planning on coming back to school next year, getting my degree, chasing this Mountain West conference championship.”
As a prospect, the first thing that stands out about Strong is his arm strength. He puts good zip on short and intermediate throws and can sling it 60 yards down the field with ease. He has a very quick release as well, which is partly why I believe he cut back on the turnovers in 2020. He made quicker decisions with the football and improved his delivery compared to his 2019 tape. Strong also improved his accuracy last season. Although his poise in the pocket contributed to his success as a passer, his improved footwork helped him become consistently accurate. He was clearly more in sync and felt more confident as a passer. At 6’4”, 215 pounds, Strong is primarily a pocket passer, but he has enough mobility to move around in the pocket and make an occasional play on the ground. People close to him have also raved about his high IQ.
In terms of areas to improve in, I would like to see Strong show more situational awareness. On tape, there are times when there is only a three or four man rush and Strong forces the ball to his primary receiver. That was a bigger problem in 2019 than it was in 2020, but he still needs to improve in that area. It is also worth noting that the performance of his offensive line has been inconsistent. There are times when Strong holds on to the ball too long and does not sense the pressure as well as you would like. It results in a sack at an inopportune time. I would also like to see him get out of the pocket and run with it when he has 10 free yards in front of him. Strong is probably not going to break 4.8 when he runs the 40 at the combine next year, but he has enough athleticism to pick up yards on the ground when they are there for the taking. There are a few instances on tape where he forces a ball into tight coverage downfield rather than getting a free 7-10 yards on the ground. He will take off and run with it once or twice a game, but that is about it. Becoming a more willing runner will only make it more difficult for defenses to prepare for him on a weekly basis.
Below is a video of Strong playing against San Diego State, who had a well-respected secondary that boasted multiple draft prospects, including 2021 4th round pick Darren Hall. Many of Nevada’s play designs, especially early in games, were based on underneath routes to keep the quarterback upright (sound familiar?). However, Nevada would usually mix it up as the games went on, allowing Strong to display his big arm and sling it down the field on occasion. By mid season, Strong seemed to have full control of the offense and was consistently pushing the ball downfield.
In the video below, the overall game is an solid one for Strong, as he completes 31 of 46 passes for 288 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. At 4:01, I love Strong’s patience in the pocket. He did a great job reading the defense at the line of scrimmage, taking the time he was given to sit in the pocket, and delivering a beautiful pass over the middle of the field.
Just two throws later, however, an Aztec linebacker goes unblocked and gets to Strong in a hurry. It led to Strong tossing a dangerous ball over the middle of the field that could have easily become an interception.
Back to the positive side. At 6:35, Strong liked the matchup that his receiver had on the outside. It is a simple 9 route, but Romeo Doubs, who could be a day two pick by the time we get to next April, is one of the best deep threats in the country, and Strong loves throwing deep passes down the sideline. Doubs separates late and makes the catch for a big gain.
Strong’s ball placement on passes near the sideline is excellent as well. One of his touchdowns comes at 7:54, when he sees his tight end Cole Turner gain separation on the smaller defender in the end zone. He throws the pass up high where only his guy can get it, and Turner hauls it in for the score. At 9:46, Strong shows off his impressive arm, throwing it nearly 60 yards in the air as he steps into the pocket and hits Doubs for the score.
We have seen a couple passes the could have been interceptions, but the only actual interception he threw was not really his fault. This play occurred at 13:56. While Romeo Doubs has a lot of potential, this is not the first occasion where he just slightly misreads where the ball is and where his hands need to be. He is unable to handle the pass, and Darren Hall comes up with the interception.
If highlights are more your thing, here are some of his best plays from the 2020 season.
NFL Comparison: Matthew Stafford
Stafford is a couple pounds thicker, but he and Strong play similar styles and have similar strengths. Carson Wentz is even bigger than Stafford, but he is another player that Strong’s game resembles. Each of the aforementioned quarterbacks have big arms, solid accuracy on underneath passes, enough mobility to move around in the pocket, and the smarts to read defenses at the line of scrimmage.
How does he fit with the Steelers?
Ben Roethlisberger is another pocket passer with a big arm. It is unclear how much the system will change with Matt Canada calling the plays and Roethlisberger still playing quarterback, but the fact that Strong has some similarities to Big Ben would allow the Steelers to keep some of the philosophies that they have had over the past 17 years. The playbook would not have to change a whole lot to fit what Strong does best. I am not saying that Strong is going to be the next Ben Roethlisberger, but if the Steelers want another traditional pocket passer as their next franchise quarterback, Carson Strong may be their guy.
But what do you think? Is Carson Strong worthy of a first round selection? Do you think he could be a potential fit for the Steelers? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers!