In one of the NFL's most shocking developments last week, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, once a projected first-round pick, went undrafted. But Strong is used to taking the hard road to success as somebody who had only one scholarship offer coming out of high school.
“My story wouldn't be the same if I had it the easy way,” Strong told Nevada Sports Net after the draft. “I've never had anything given to me. Maybe that's the way it's suppose to be.”
Strong is headed to the East Coast this week after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent, a surprising development as he entered draft day as a projected third- or fourth-draft pick. But concerns over his right knee, which has undergone three surgeries, including two major ones, triggered the slide. Nine quarterbacks were drafted in all.
Strong has never had it easy. He missed his senior season of high school after that first knee surgery, chasing away any teams that were interested in offering him a scholarship. Strong had committed to Nevada prior to the knee surgery, and the Wolf Pack honored that scholarship after the surgery, that being his lone FBS offer.
After a redshirt freshman season, Strong was a three-year starter at Nevada, leading the FBS in touchdown passes over the 2020-21 seasons while earning Mountain West offensive player of the year honors in both seasons. Last year, Strong threw for 4,175 yards with a school-record 36 touchdowns. He completed 70.1 percent of his passes for the second straight season.
Mock projections had the quarterback going as a day two (rounds 2-3) or early day three (rounds 4-7) selection, with Strong boasting one of the best arms in the 2022 quarterback class. But every team in the NFL passed multiple times.
On Friday's day two, Strong and his closest family and friends came together for what would be a life-changing weekend. The family rented a house in North Lake Tahoe, the perfect backdrop to conclude the quarterback’s past with his time spent in Reno, the city being just an hour away.
As each pick passed by, you could see angst in Strong’s face. Family and friends sat in silence, holding out hope to hear Strong's name called. Five hours came and went. The optimism remained in the room as there was another day's worth of picks.
On Saturday's final day of the draft, the picks started coming off the board at 9 a.m. Family and friends trickled back into the living room with positivity. The NFL Network started its programming with a feature on Strong, bringing tears of joy to the faces of family in attendance as they reflected on his journey.
Picks flew by. It became pin-drop silent during each commercial. When would Strong's name cross the screen? Early Saturday, teammates WR Romeo Doubs and TE Cole Turner saw their prayers answered, with Doubs a fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers and Turner a fifth-round pick by the Washington Commanders.
Strong smiled while wondering when he would join his former roommates as a drafted players. A few hours would pass and the quarterback’s phone would finally ring. Could this be it?
He took the call away from the group, thoughts racing through everyone's head. Strong’s agent, Ryan Williams, informed him if the quarterback was not selected, multiple teams were calling who had run out of picks. They wanted to signed him even if he wasn't drafted. But he would get drafted, right? He had to get drafted.
Strong held out hope an organization would take a chance on him. His name would be called. The suspense grew, Strong taking multiple calls with his agent to figure out where he'd land. The quarterback had more than a dozen teams reach out, with two making a strong push (the Eagles and Vikings). The draft concluded, a dream that was once wished upon had come and gone. But a new path arose.
After the draft, Strong was given 10-15 minutes to make a decision — which team would he sign with as an undrafted free agent?
Pacing back and forth and quickly weighing the pros and cons of each organization, Strong called former Nevada head coach Jay Norvell and asked him his advice. After speaking with Norvell, his agent and family and friends, Strong walked back into the room and said, “I’m an Eagle.”
“I'm just feeling relieved at this point,” Strong told NSN afterword. “I just can't wait to be an Eagle. I feel super grateful that they believed in me and want to give me a chance. I'm gonna go make the most of my opportunity. Obviously, I wanted to get drafted and I expected to, but things happen. My story wouldn't be the same. I've always been the kid who was doubted. I had one offer in high school. I've got the Eagles who are giving me my one chance in the NFL, and that's all I need.”
Family and friends gathered around to celebrate Strong with a mix of tears, happiness and a sigh of relief that he was an NFL player. Finally.
Carson’s father, Chris, raised a glass and acknowledged the moment for his son’s future.
“I tell this to Carson all the time: It's always the journey, not the destination and whenever you have a journey like he's been on, it's because you've had a lot of people that have been involved in that journey,” Chris said. “From youth to when he was in high school and all the trials and tribulations he's gone through. A knee issue all the way through college and his successes and road blocks. You're sort of a sum of your experiences, but you get your experiences from the input of a lot of people. And so, I think where Carson is now in his journey, it's certainly not over with. It's a combination of blood, sweat and tears. But a lot of support from the people that love and care about him. We can't wait to see what Carson does next.”
Strong reiterated what he said during the pre-draft process, that his knee feels fine. He had surgery on it in February 2021 with an expected recovery time of 9-12 months. Instead, Strong, against the wishes of his father, returned to the practice field six months later in preparation for the Wolf Pack's 2022 season. He wanted to play with his friends and teammates one more time, starting all 12 regular-season games, including 11 with a bulky knee brace, while proving his toughness. But his lack of mobility during games was evident and certainly was taken into account by NFL teams despite Strong showing more agility during the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine and Wolf Pack pro day.
Strong understands NFL teams might not have been confident drafting him given his medical history. But he isn't concerned about his knee in the short term.
“My knee feels great, and I can't wait to go out there and prove it to everyone,” Strong added. “I just gotta go out there and do what I know to do. I gotta play quarterback. I'm gonna sling it. Go in there and learn the playbook and just grind every single day. Do everything in my control to make sure I'm the best football player possible.”
Strong will get $320,000 in guaranteed money, including a $20,000 signing bonus. Strong's contract one of the largest guarantees ever for an undrafted free agent, including the biggest this season. Having hand-picked the team he will join, Strong is excited for the future. He's got a chance in the NFL, and that's all he ever wanted.