Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong opted to declare for the NFL Draft after two productive seasons, including a spectacular performance this past season that ended what was at that point an undefeated USC season. Strong had a knack for making impressive looking plays on a weekly basis, even against a difficult PAC-12 schedule.
In the Sun Devils offense, Strong played both on the outside as well as in the slot. For the most part, they used his threat of deep speed to open up opportunities for him underneath, both near the sideline as well as working to the middle of the field. Strong was the focal point of the passing game and they would find as many ways to get him the football as possible. He had the opportunity to run a lot of routes and make a lot of blocks that were translatable to the NFL.
Vitals & Build
- Born January 25th, 1994 (Will be 21 at the time of the NFL Draft)
- 6’3″ 215lbs (Listed)
Strong looks the part with a rocked up build. Has shown a good amount of functional strength and power with broad shoulders. He appears to be stronger from the waist up than in his legs. His frame suggests there is still a good amount of physical potential and he can continue to add strength, especially in his legs.
His straight line speed is excellent and he is a long strider when he has the space. His acceleration is pretty good, but his quickness and agility are relatively ordinary. There is some stiffness in his hips that needs to improved and he needs to get better overall fluidity.
The biggest issue that needs to be answered with Strong is his effort level. The question that has to be answered are whether or not this is a physical issue and he is just lacking overall stamina, which does not appear all that likely. Nevertheless, determining what makes Strong tick will be key in teams deciding how much interest they have in him as a player.
Route Running & Technique
Strong has a perfectly functional stance that allows him to get off of the ball effectively and smoothly. There are some occasional bounces and odd releases that need to be eliminated but his stance in general is not an issue.
When it comes to route running, Strong ran a substantial number of comebacks with a healthy dose of back shoulder plays, drags, slants, screens and then various deep attacking routes such as posts and go routes. His threat with his deep speed kept teams concerned enough that he consistently would make plays underneath to keep drives moving.
Strong will occasionally showcase some functional route running where he can manipulate opponents and create separation to get him open with his footwork. When he does it, he can create a good amount of separation and give himself opportunities to get yards after the catch.
- Strong gets the defender to react outside before cutting underneath to catch the slant route.
Strong is far more consistent when it comes to utilizing route running techniques from the waist up, using his hands, arms and his body to create space and get himself windows to get the football.
- Strong attacks up the field, sinks his hips effectively and turns to snag the football.
- Strong gets inside quickly, gets behind the defender and does a nice job stacking him to shield him out and make the catch.
The problem is there are too many situations where his route running is not up to par and he is forced to make plays in tight quarters. He has been able to do it, using his impressive hands and ability to shield opponents from the football, but it is problematic against collegiate competition.
Worse, there are situations that are not just lacking in technique, it is just plain lazy. He runs the route, sometimes slowly, without a hint of any kind of move or anything that would give the opponent something to react to, making it easy for them to read what he is doing and potentially beat him to the spot.
- Third down and short here; Short comes out and runs a slow, lazy route that the defender easily cues on and breaks up the play.
- Strong runs what appears to be a slant but does not give the defender a move that makes him turn his shoulders, so he can come down and make a play on the football.
Whether a matter of not respecting the opponent across from and not being ‘up’ for them or just lack of effort on Strong’s part, he has a tendency to make inferior opponents look far better than they should because he does not put enough effort in his route running. If he does it better, he can not only make it easier on himself to get open, he can create more opportunities for yardage after the catch.
He does a pretty good job with his upper body, but needs to get substantially better with his footwork. He shows good body control when it comes to getting up field and then stopping for the back shoulder throw and he can work back to comeback routes. Unfortunately, as is so often the question with Strong, it is difficult to guess what type of effort he is going to give on a given play, even when he is getting the football.
Strong has had problems creating separation against collegiate corners, often relying on the rest of his game to get away with it, but bigger and more physically gifted corners will be able to blanket him and not be afraid of his deep speed. Instead, they will sit on the back shoulder throw and jump the route, intercepting the pass and taking it back to the end zone for a touchdown. This is an area of Strong’s game that has to improve significantly in order for him to have much success at the next level.
Easily the most impressive part of Strong’s game is his hands. They work like vice grips and he is able to some difficult plays look relatively routine. He does an excellent job of plucking the ball out of the air and securing it away from his body. There are some occasional drops but most of them are a result of contact or having a difficult time separating as opposed to a hands issue.
- Strong fights through contact to secure the ball with his hands, then protects it as he takes the shot out of bounds.
In addition to his hands, Strong does a great job of tracking the football both down the field as well as through contact. He has demonstrated an excellent catch radius and he is comfortable catching passes away from his body with his arms fully extended. As a result, Strong can look the part of a receiver who is 6’5″.
- Strong does a great job tracking this bomb to win the game against USC; a terrific catch that he makes look about as easy as he could.
He also does an excellent job of using his body to box out opponents from the play as much as he can. Strong makes a lot of difficult catches in part because he can squeeze the football so well but opponents are often trying to climb over him to get to the football.
- Strong makes a terrific catch on the back shoulder throw through contact and an obstructed view, using his body effectively to shield away from the defender.
The combination of Strong’s skills make him a natural option when it comes to high pointing the football. He times his jumps well and uses every bit of his size and length to make plays on the ball in the air. His wide build and strength make it relatively easy for him to create space and give himself the space to go up and time his leap when he wants to as opposed to when the opponent lets him.
- Strong not only times his jump well here, but is also able to reach out over the defender to secure this pass.
Strong has arguably the most impressive hands in the entire class at wide receiver. Part of the reason for this and perhaps the only negative aspect to his ability to catch the football is the fact that he consistently has such high level of difficulty when he catches the ball. It is great that Strong can make these type of plays and makes them multiple times in the same game, but his issues with separation make it so he has no other option. In the NFL, that could only become more difficult as he has to do the same types of things but against bigger, stronger, and faster defensive backs. Nevertheless, his hands are outstanding.
Run After Catch
Strong has shown ability as a run after the catch threat between his size and strength as well as his speed. The issue for Strong is that the vast majority of opportunities are manufactured for him. The Sun Devils used him on screen passes but one of the most consistently effective ways they have gotten the ball for him in space is to use short drag routes like this one:
- Strong gets the ball on the drag route and is able to really get his speed going with the open field in front of him.
- Another drag route, though this one from the slot to get Strong the ball in space.
The Sun Devils were hoping to be able to get the ball in his hands and it would lead to plays along these lines:
- Uncovered in the slot, Strong is in a foot race where he can get his full stride going and showcase his long speed with his ball in his hands.
Occasionally, there are some situations where Strong is able to make his own play after the catch and his strength and speed can make him dangerous.
- Strong makes a nice catch through traffic before making a cut across the field to pick up extra yards.
The biggest issue for Strong is that because he is unable to create much separation in how he runs his routs and is often catching passes with opponents on him or in position to make the tackle immediately, he has a difficult time getting such opportunities, which is why the Sun Devils worked to manufacture them.
If he can improve his short area quickness and get better at separating from opponents, Strong can increase the number of opportunities to maximize his yards after the catch and potentially be a home run threat. NFL teams may run drag routes for him to get him opportunities with the ball in his hands, but nowhere near the amount that Arizona State did.
One other small issue that Strong needs to improve is how he deals with taking contact low as he tends to get tripped up quite a bit. His upper body strength is excellent and he can shrug off some tacklers who want to take him on high and while his quickness is not flashy, he can side step an opponent to make them miss.
Strong is perfectly capable of being an outstanding blocker, but like so much of his game, is wildly inconsistent. When interested and engaged, Strong can not only be a good positional blocker but he can be a powerful player that can overwhelm defensive backs and linebackers in the middle of the field. Strong can do a terrific job with where he targets the opponent, using his hands well, getting a wide base, sliding, timing and sustaining his blocks both on the outside and in the slot. At times, he is a huge asset in the running game and can be an unselfish player helping out teammates with down field blocking in the passing game.
- Strong gets off of the ball quickly, gets to his man and shields him from the play. When the opponent wants to work up the field, Strong just rides the play side shoulder to maintain control of him while he uses his own momentum to take himself out of the play.
- Strong takes a great angle on this crack block, attacks the proper shoulder and easily controls the opponent giving the ball carrier a nice lane.
The problem is that while Strong can be tremendous at times, there are other situations where he simply does not put in the effort to win. Whether he is catching his breath or simply not engaged, he just looks he has checked out at times and it proves costly to his team.
- Strong does not come off the line with much effort, takes a bad angle, and basically pats the defender on the back as he goes by him. It’s the first quarter.
- A little hesitant off the line, Strong takes a bad angle and the opposing safety is easily able to get right to the ball carrier.
Strong can do everything a team could want in terms of helping them when it comes to blocking, but the question that comes up over and over with him as a player, will he suddenly decide to be an every down player or will he continue to give this inconsistent effort where he is completely unpredictable; great one play and then disappears the next.
The best case scenario for Strong may be as a slot receiver that basically acts like a space tight end. Because of his size, strength and ability to catch passes in traffic, this could be the best way for Strong to flourish. It could enable him to get the volume of passes he needs to function and keep him engaged, so the team gets the most out of him as a blocker.
On the outside, Strong can be a possession type receiver because he uses his body well and catches contested passes. He can also do a nice job of going up and high pointing the football, so he has added utility in the red zone.
Jaelen Strong has a good amount of physical talent and there is still upside there, but even taking all the positives and assuming the best, Strong projects as a mid round pick. The inconsistencies and effort questions despite the overwhelming amount that offense went through make him more in the day three conversation with the possibility that teams take him off their board entirely, making it painfully clear he should have gone back to school another year.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com