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Tracking Carson Strong's skyrocketing draft stock entering the 2021 season

Carson Strong
Carson Strong has seen his draft stock skyrocket over the last year. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

On the heels of the 2021 NFL draft, we've analyzed the Wolf Pack's top 2022 draft prospects and the top-15 prospects in the Mountain West. Today, we'll focus on one player in particular, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, who is getting first-round buzz despite entering the 2021 season with three years of eligibility remaining. The reigning MW offensive player of the year was eligible to enter the 2021 draft but smartly returned to Nevada for another season, which could be his final one in Reno if he repeats last year's success (2,858 yards, 27 touchdowns, four interceptions).

With most of the major 2022 mock draft being released this week, I tracked them down to see where Strong's stock is entering the 2021 season. Of the 12 mock drafts I found, Strong was on three of them (with the same team picking him in each). 247Sports is the high mock draft on Strong, placing him 10th overall to the Washington Football Team, which should be in the market for a quarterback after signing stop-gap Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason who will enter the year at 38 years old. 247Sports writes of Strong:

Reno will be a popular stop for NFL scouts whenever they are let back out on the road because of Strong. The 6-foot-4 passer has thrown for over 2,300 yards in back-to-back seasons. It would be nice if Strong was a little more mobile, but it’s hard to overlook his arm talent as he has shown that he can make a number of high-level throws. The Wolfpack (sic) travel to both California and Kansas State in September.

Fox Sports is split on whether Strong will go in the first round with college football analyst RJ Young not having him in his mock draft and gambling analyst Jason McIntyre slotting Strong to Washington with the 19th overall pick (a reminder draft positions haven't been set yet since the NFL hasn't played its 2021 season). Fox Sports writes of Strong:

Yes, I believe Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke will fall short of the playoffs. Strong was the Mountain West POY in 2020; he's a sneaky candidate to make a quantum leap as a pro prospect in 2021.

CBS Sports does not have Strong in its 2022 first-round mock, nor does The Athletic, Walter Football, Bleacher Report, Yardbarker, USA Today or NBC Sports.

ESPN's Todd McShay released his first-round 2022 mock draft Thursday, and while it included five quarterbacks among the first 16 picks, Strong wasn't on the list. His colleague, Bill Connelly, looked at the top quarterbacks who could potentially enter the 2022 draft. Strong was on that list of 14 quarterbacks, ranking 13th among those players in total QBR (and 50th in the nation) last season at 66.1. Connelly's capsule on Strong says:

Strong certainly looks the part. He's not dangerous with his legs, but he's a safe decision-maker in a pass-happy offense. Nevada lulls you to sleep with loads of sideline-to-sideline passing, then hits you deep when you're flat-footed. It's a simple but effective approach, albeit one that doesn't necessarily allow Strong to display a large range of potential throws. With all of last year's skill corps returning and only one projected top-40 defense on the schedule, Strong should again post big numbers. Might offensive coordinator Matt Mumme Hal's son alter his approach to give Strong a chance to make 2021 more of an NFL showcase? (Probably not, but maybe?)

Most sites have Strong somewhere in the six to 10 range of 2022 quarterback prospects. College Football News places Strong sixth among those players. Pro Football Network also has him sixth, writing:

Strong only sits behind (Liberty's Malik) Willis in these rankings due to his limited ability outside of the pocket. As the modern game transforms, teams value the ability to extend plays with athleticism. Willis has the distinct advantage in that regard while also having the arm to make plays. Standing at 6’4 and 215 pounds, Strong has the look of a prototypical pocket passer in the NFL. He could be a damn good one as well. Last season, he demonstrated his ability to make plays downfield while being accurate with it. The Nevada quarterback threw for 2,858 yards while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt and completing 70.1 percent of his passes. He also compiled an impressive 27:4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Strong has a genuine chance to improve his 2022 NFL Draft stock in the coming season. Strong demonstrated awareness in the pocket and arm strength last season. If he improves his accuracy — there were multiple examples of overthrows in the small sample of film studied — he can skyrocket his stock. Additionally, Nevada returns Strong’s favorite receiving target in Romeo Doubs. Their relationship will be pivotal to his success.

Pro Football Network places Strong 11th overall to Washington in its initial 2022 mock draft, so Football Team is a popular forecasted destination for Strong. The site writes of the pick:

Strong flashed big-time traits with the Nevada Wolfpack (sic) last year. Across nine games, he completed 70.1% of his passes for 2,858 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions. He’s predominantly a pocket passer, but he’s a good athlete nonetheless for his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. Additionally, his arm is incredibly explosive, and he has an easy, crisp throwing motion. The talent is all there, and on Washington’s roster, he could find success early.

The 2022 draft will be very different than the 2021 draft in that there's no clear-cut No. 1 pick entering the season. Everybody knew, barring a major injury, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was going No. 1 overall. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was a lock to be an early selection. That's not the case this season. Any one of Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), Sam Howell (North Carolina), J.T. Daniels (Georgia), Kedon Slovis (USC), Malik Willis (Liberty), Matt Corral (Mississippi) and Strong could rise to the top quarterback on the board, which typically comes with being first overall given the desperation NFL teams have to land good young quarterbacks.

There appears to be two major knocks against Strong, the first being the fact he's not an elite athlete, although he did play last season with a knee injury and had offseason surgery to clean that up, so we could see a more athletic Strong in 2022. He's not a poor athlete, but he also has minus-97 rushing yards in 88 college carries. You're not drafting Strong with the expectation of him having dual-threat ability. The second knock is the kind of throws he's asked to make. It's a lot of short passes with four or five deep bombs a game, which isn't the NFL formula. As ESPN's Connelly writes, Strong hasn't been asked to make a "large range of potential throws" at Nevada. That doesn't mean he can't make those throws. He certainly can, and he'll be able to show that in the Senior Bowl and on his pro day. He's more than capable, but there's a difference between doing it in practice versus games.

Overall, Strong made a huge leap last season to put himself in the spot he's at entering 2021, which is legitimately getting first-round buzz. Nevada hasn't had a first-round pick in the modern draft era (since 1970). The Wolf Pack has had three quarterbacks selected in the modern draft, including John Dutton (sixth round in 1998), Jeff Rowe (fifth round in 2007) and Colin Kaepernick (second round in 2011). Kaepernick, as dynamic as he was, had minimal draft buzz entering his senior season but rose to the No. 36 pick. Strong is starting in a much more advantageous position and can always return to school for another season if he wants to. But there's a legit chance he becomes Nevada's first first-round draft pick 12 months from now, impressive for a former three-star recruit with one college scholarship offer who was ranked the No. 76 pro-style quarterback recruit in the 2018 class a couple of years ago.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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