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Murray's Mailbag: Could Nevada's Carson Strong really be No. 1 overall NFL draft pick?

Carson Strong
Carson Strong is getting major draft buzz heading into his redshirt junior season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

We'll start this week's Monday Mailbag with a programming note. There will not be a Mailbag next week because my family and I are headed to Maui for seven days starting Sunday. If I opt to return from Hawaii, I will have a new Mailbag on July 26. I'm still undecided on whether I'm coming back after our seven days there. In the 100 days in advance of our vacation to Hawaii, I subscribed to the keto diet and went from 194 pounds to 171 pounds. My plan is to return to Reno — again, if I come back — at 194 pounds, with almost all of that weight gain being the result of piña coladas. I am currently looking into whether I can get a piña colada IV drip upon touching down in Maui. So, assuming I do come back to Nevada and do not overdose on piña colada, I'll see everybody in two weeks. But for now, we'll tackle this week's questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

This is tied to a story I wrote last week on Sports Illustrated's latest mock draft having Nevada quarterback Carson Strong going No. 1 overall. As I noted in the story, it was not penned by one of SI's top football analysts. I thought it was noteworthy anyway. In May, I tracked down 12 mock drafts and only three of them had Strong going in the first round. ESPN, CBS Sports, The Athletic, USA Today and NBC Sports, among others, didn't list Strong as a first-round pick, which I point out to illustrate this specific SI article is the outlier in being this high on Strong.

I feel like I drove the "Carson Strong is a first-round pick" bandwagon last season, mentioning that potential early in the season. With that said, I don't see him going No. 1 overall. This is a relatively weak quarterback draft class — or, at minimum, it doesn't have any slam-dunk top-10 picks at this stage — so a quarterback or two is going to skyrocket up boards simply because some teams are going to need quarterbacks and will draft them in the top 10. It happens every year, and Strong has almost all of the measurables you want in an NFL quarterback.

He has excellent size (6-foot-4); great arm strength (he completed twice as many 50-yard air passes as any other FBS QB last season, per Pro Football Focus); he has the intellect and work ethic (lots of great stories about how much he puts into the game); the leadership skills; and the production (he set the single-season quarterback rating record for Nevada last season). The big questions are about the level of competition, which he'll get to answer to a degree with road games at Cal, Kansas State and Boise State, and his athleticism.

It's that second item that I believe will keep him from being the first overall pick. Look at the top-drafted quarterback picks in recent seasons: Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Mitchell Trubisky (over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes; HaHa!), Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, etc. Not all of those guys worked out, but almost all of them were well above-average athletes, including Lawrence, Murray, Watson and Mahomes. The worst athlete of that bunch was probably Goff. Strong is not a bad athlete (he was a good basketball player), but he's a pocket passer at the NFL level (he has minus-97 rushing yards in 88 college carries). That lack of explosive athleticism probably keeps him from being the No. 1 overall pick and first quarterback off the board. Strong is not a Josh Allen/Jordan Love level athlete, to name the most recent first-round quarterback picks out of the Mountain West.

But as I've said for several months, I think he's worthy of being a first-round pick and believe he'll be a successful NFL quarterback.

Expectations should be big. Nevada returns the most All-Mountain West players from last season. They have future NFL players at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end. They have almost everybody back on both sides of the ball, most notably on the offensive and defensive line. They have 17 projected senior starters. They have coaching continuity. They have a reasonable schedule. Anything less than nine or 10 wins will be a disappointment. Is that a high bar to clear? Yes. But you have to start clearing high bars if you want to build a championship program, and that's the next step for Nevada under Jay Norvell, who has assembled the roster for a special season. Now it's time to go have a special season. Nevada has a more talented roster than Boise State, and you can rarely say a MW team has more talent entering a year than the Broncos. The Wolf Pack can't fritter that talent away with another seven- or eight-win campaign.

If he replicated last year but over a 14-game season, including a Mountain West title game and bowl game, that'd put him at 70 percent completions, 4,445 yards, 42 touchdowns and six interceptions. That'd put him in the conversation. But Nevada winning big and getting into a New Year's Six bowl, or at least the MW championship game, also is important. Winning would raise his profile immensely.

Here is the defensive efficiency rating of each of Nevada's 2021 opponents, per ESPN's 2020 Football Power Index.

16. San Diego State

21. Cal

43. San Jose State

55. Boise State

63. Air Force

74. Kansas State

78. Colorado State

88. Hawaii

102. Fresno State

123. UNLV

Given who's returning, I'd say Cal's defense is slightly better than San Diego State's, but it's close. Nevada will face more difficult defenses this season than it did last year.

It's a possibility but far from a lock. If Carson Strong throws for the 4,500 yards and 42 touchdowns listed above, a lot of those passes will go to Romeo Doubs, who is a strong prospect in his own right. I don't think TE Cole Turner or WR Elijah Cooks will be first-round picks, although both have NFL talent (and I see Turner being drafted). Doubs would be the guy to bump into the first round if he can channel his level of play from the first half of 2020 rather than the second half. He's also going to have to split targets will Cooks, who missed almost all of last season after being Nevada's top receiver in 2019. That could suppress Doubs' per-game numbers to a degree. I see Doubs as more of a day two pick (rounds two and three), and there's nothing wrong with that.

Mackay Stadium has had nine sellouts in its history, all coming against Boise State (four times), UNLV (four times) and Oregon (one time). Only one of those schools is visiting Mackay Stadium this year, that being UNLV on Oct. 29, which is a Friday night game. So that would be the game to sell out, although I don't think it will (the Nevada-UNLV game has had some serious attendance issues in recent years). The rest of the home schedule — Idaho State, New Mexico State, Hawaii, Air Force, San Jose State — is pretty unappealing, although the SJSU game could have big stakes. Since Mackay Stadium's capacity was cut to 27,000 prior to the 2016 season, the Wolf Pack hasn't even come close to selling out, maxing out with 22,411 fans in a 2016 game against Fresno State.

Per schedule guru Rocky Miller, Nevada basketball's 2021-22 non-conference schedule includes:

Home games: San Diego, Pepperdine, Minnesota-Duluth, Grand Canyon

Road games: Santa Clara, San Francisco, North Texas, UT Arlington

Neutral games: Washington, South Dakota State, George Mason

That would leave two more games to schedule, and that's not an impressive schedule for a team with NCAA Tournament at-large aspirations. We can't make a final judgment until the non-conference schedule is officially released, but that current group of 11 opponents includes zero teams that had a top-70 KenPom ratings last season. It includes three that were between 76-100 in North Texas (72), Pepperdine (90) and San Francisco (93).

Compare Nevada's non-conference schedule to Colorado State, also a MW team with NCAA Tournament at-large aspirations. The Rams' schedule includes, again per Rocky Miller:

Home games: Tulsa, Saint Mary's

Neutral games: Alabama, Mississippi State, Bradley, Creighton/Brown, Colorado/SIU/Duquesne/Northeastern

That's a top-10 KenPom team (Alabama), another solid SEC team in Mississippi State (No. 67 in KenPom last year), an always-good Saint Mary's squad (75 in KenPom) and potential games with Colorado (No. 8 in KenPom) and Creighton (No. 22). Colorado State still has six slots open and could end up with five better non-conference games than the Wolf Pack's best non-league opponent. Again, let's wait until the schedule is released to pass full judgment, but Colorado State is giving itself much more margin for error in the chase for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and challenging itself to a higher degree than Nevada, given what we know about the non-league schedules today. I believe Coach Alford will ramp up the Wolf Pack's schedule at some point in future season, but I understand why Wolf Pack fans would be disappointed if Nevada's 2021-22 slate consists of a dozen mid-level mid-major opponents.

Not officially, but it's been delayed two seasons now, so there's a good chance it never happens as the Mountain West shifts to a 20-game conference schedule starting in 2022-23. That's a shame for Nevada, which was scheduled to host Dayton, an above-average mid-major, as part of the series.

The Mountain West is averaging less than two NCAA Tournament berths per season over the last seven tournaments, so it's a little better than a one-bid league. As a result, I think everybody is appropriately talked about given the quality of the league. The conference has one great program (SDSU), a handful of good programs (Nevada, Utah State, Boise State), some average programs (Colorado State, Fresno State, UNLV), some programs that have obvious shortcomings (New Mexico, Wyoming) and some anchors (Air Force, San Jose State). Colorado State should be in line for a breakthrough year, but that's been talked about fairly regularly this offseason. I'm most interested in UNLV this season. The Rebels could get a first-round MW Tournament bye or be a complete dumpster fire. UNLV's season could go in a number of directions.

Reno didn't have the resources and capability to maintain a G League franchise, so that's a "no."

NSN's Shannon Kelly had a full report and several interviews from the Martin twins' inaugural basketball camp, which you can read here. Caleb Martin tweeted today: "First Martin Twins Basketball Camp was a HUGE success!! Thank you to all the parents and kids who participated and made it such an awesome camp! And a special S/O to our camp staff and sponsors! This wouldn’t even be possible without them! Next Year will be even better!!" So it went well enough for there to be a "second annual" camp next year, which is great for the community.

For sure in diving. I'd say "yes" in men's basketball, but SDSU's Brian Dutcher could make an argument. For softball, Nevada's Linda Garza has the best résumé by a good margin. The MW added four new softball coaches this offseason, so there's been a lot of turnover (I liked Boise State's hiring of Oregon assistant Justin Shults). So, yes, I think your assertion of Nevada having the MW's best coaches in men's basketball, diving and softball (at least the most accomplished) is correct.

No idea. A handful of them have posted on social media repping companies, including Cole Turner, Devonte Lee and Alem Huseinovic, while Carson Strong has signed with an agency. Turner and Lee's agreements were with Mothers of Macro Meal Prep, but I don't know if that's a monetary thing or a swag thing.

College athletes can hire representation for name, image and likeness, like Carson Strong has with Fritz Martin Management where he's represented by former Nevada defensive back Uche Anyanwu. Using a pro service provider for NIL is permissible if that representative is registered with the Athletics Compliance Office and only provides services related to marketing and branding. College basketball players also can use agents when going through the "testing the waters" draft process, which is outlined by the NCAA here. So you can use agents for branding and marketing and for help with potentially turning pro and still retain your eligibility. And, yes, that can be the same person and/or agency.

Hercy Miller, the son of Master P, signed a $2 million deal with Web Apps America, per his father. The younger Miller will play basketball for Tennessee State this season. That's the biggest deal so far. Miami quarterback D’Eriq King has done a good job of taking advantage of NIL and co-founded Dreamfield, an NIL-based platform focused on booking live events for student-athletes, including autograph signings, meet-and-greets and speaking engagements. King also signed deals with College Hunks and Murphy Auto Group worth $20,000. Fresno State's Cavinder sisters landed deals with Boost Mobile and Six Star, a supplement company, for an unspecified amount. So you're talking about athletes from Tennessee State, Fresno State and Miami. Not exactly world-beaters. A lot of it comes down to how much influence you have on social media, and you can develop that following from a non-Power 5 school.

I don't see any Nevada players making huge bucks, but if you can get a $1,000 here and a $1,000 there it will feel like big money for college athletes. Think back to how different money was to you when you were in college compared to when you're an adult. I'd save up for months to get $250 to buy a guitar. Today, that's what I spent each week on groceries. Given his profile, Carson Strong could get a nice chunk of money, but outside of that, it's going to be some free goodies and a little extra spending cash for Wolf Pack athletes.

I don't think the A's are moving to Las Vegas. That city just gave the NFL $750 million. Are they really going to give MLB another $750 million a couple of years later? An NBA team makes much more sense, both from a facility standpoint (there are already facilities that could house an NBA team in Vegas) and a support standpoint. Vegas would sell out 41 NBA games a year. I don't see the city going in droves to 81 baseball games a year even if it's in a domed stadium, and it'd have to be domed, which increases the cost of construction even more. I'd put it at 50-50 the A's move, but if they're going it's probably to Nashville, Portland, Austin or Montreal. I hope the A's stay put in Oakland, which is a great baseball town. I also hope no city gives the A's owners, who are reportedly worth $3.4 billion in hand-me-down money from the Gap Inc. founders, a huge tax handout for a new stadium.

They run underneath them, which is one of the reasons the Wolf Pack can't hold an outdoor track and field meet. You need full sightlines on the athletes to host an outdoor track meet. But when the Wolf Pack practices, it runs under the bleachers in the north and south end zones. It would have been nice if Nevada turned the old Bishop Manogue facility into a grass soccer field/outdoor track and field area capable of holding home meets, but I guess that's never happening.

I'll give you six.

* The first Olympic Games took place in 8th century B.C. in Olympia, Greece.

* Athletes competed naked in those original Olympic Games, which lasted up to 6 months.

* From 1912-1948, the Olympics awarded metals in five artistic categories, including architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. Those competitions were abandoned in 1954 because artists were considered to pros rather than amateurs.

* The Olympic flag colors (blue, yellow, black, green, red, white) were picked because every nation's flag includes at least one of those colors.

* Tug of war was an Olympic event from 1900-20. The Summer Games also included competitions in hot air ballooning, dueling pistol and rope climbing at one point.

* 136 athletes have qualified for both the Summer and Winter Olympics, including Wolf Pack alum Katerina Nash. Only five of those athletes have won medals in the Summer and Winter Olympics. Only two (Eddie Eagan and Gillis Grafström) won gold medals in the Summer and Winter Games, and both were born in the 1890s.

I walked a couple of holes inside the ropes with Steve Young during a practice round a couple of years ago when I was doing a story on Colin Kaepernick, and he seemed very nice and candid with his comments (he called the 49ers' current quarterback situation "a mess"). But I could see a Jerry Rice autograph being valuable, so I'd take that since I'm not a 49ers fan. A selfie with a famous athlete is cooler than an autograph if it's an athlete you grew up rooting for.

I like square roots better than root canals, but I don't understand the purpose of learning them. I've never used a square root in my professional life, and I use math quite a bit for my stories.

Michael Jordan's The Grove XXIII, which is so exclusive it reportedly has fewer than 100 members. Imagine having so much money you can build a private golf course just for you and your buddies. If I had a membership to The Grove XXIII, I'd sell my spot to some rich person and make money off the deal.

In my heart, Roger Federer. In my head, Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is 27-23 all-time against Federer, including 13-6 in finals and 11-6 in majors. Rafael Nadal is 24-16 all-time against Federer, including 14-10 in finals and 10-4 in majors. I love Federer, but he can't be the best tennis player ever if he has a losing record to his two main rivals. Fun Fact: Djokovic is the only player to beat Federer in all four majors and Federer is the only player to beat Djokovic in all four majors. I don't really like Novak Djokovic, but he's the best tennis player in history.

* Jesus Christ

* Adolf Hitler

* Muhammad ibn Abdullah

* Isaac Newton

* Harriet Tubman

* Jackie Robinson

* Steve Jobs

* Aristotle

* Johann Gutenberg

* Sam Porcello (The inventor of the Oreo and a goddamn legend in my book.)

If I made a list of famous pro athletes I care least about, Conor McGregor would sit atop the list.

My phone uses Sprint, which is now T-Mobile. My Internet is AT&T. I'm not overly thrilled with the service from either, but I shouldn't complain considering the iPhone wasn't even a thing when I graduated college and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last 15 years. I mean, look at the tweet above. Using only my phone, I got a video of some famous folks and was able to share it with thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Can't complain about that even if it took the phone two minutes to upload and tweet out due to shoddy service.

Anthony Rizzo is hitting .247 this season after hitting .222 last year. I don't know why he inducing smiles. But somebody once told me I'm the Ron Coomer of Reno sports media, and who wouldn't blush with a compliment like that.

I don't think we can afford your services, Coach Mumme. I know your time is valuable.

I haven't done either, although I do like snorkeling, which we will do in Hawaii next week. We're also ziplining and going on a sunset cruise. It's out first full vacation since the pandemic began, so we're looking forward to it, and my wife especially deserves it as a nurse who has cared for people in our community during the COVID era the last 16 months. Between your two options, I'm taking scuba diving over skydiving. The ocean is the most interesting unexplored aspect to our world. We know more about the moon than the sea floor, which is crazy to think about. Maybe I'll get my scuba certificate in the coming days so I can discover some things about the sea floor and also discover why the Dodgers didn't draft anything but pitchers in the first 10 rounds of this year's draft (it makes no sense!). See y'all in two weeks!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to write. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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