As the fourth round of the 2022 NFL draft headed back to the New England Patriots, so did a running back.
New England selected South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. at No. 127 overall Saturday afternoon.
Here’s an initial look into why.
A three-time 1,000-yard rusher in the FCS
Strong earned consensus All-American honors after leading the FCS with 1,668 rushing yards in 2021. En route to the national title game, the team captain added 22 receptions for 150 yards and picked up first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference recognition for the third consecutive season.
A redshirt senior, Strong closed out his South Dakota State career ranked third on the school’s all-time list with 4,527 rushing yards and fourth with 40 career rushing touchdowns. The century mark was reached in 18 of his 48 appearances with the Jackrabbits.
Along the way, the 23-year-old Strong went 9-of-9 passing for 208 yards and six scores.
Tying for the fastest 40 among backs in Indianapolis
Strong ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine, which tied Rutgers’ Isiah Pacheco for the fastest among the running backs. It’s a time that only six wide receivers eclipsed.
It’s also a time that Strong played to at South Dakota State, where he broke away for nine career touchdown runs of 50-plus yards, including career-long 85-yarder against Southern Illinois last fall.
At 5-foot-11, 207 pounds, his broad jump of 124 inches and vertical jump of 36 inches also checked in among the top marks at the position in Indianapolis.
Building a depth chart for beyond 2022
One spring after filling out running back Rhamondre Stevenson’s draft card in the fourth round, the Patriots did the same for the Jackrabbits product. And with an eye beyond 2022.
Damien Harris enters the final year of his rookie contract after rushing 202 times for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns in his second campaign as a starter. He will turn 26 before hitting free agency while New England captain James White re-signed as one in March after suffering a hip subluxation last fall. Also under contract are J.J. Taylor, Devine Ozigbo and hybrid receiver Ty Montgomery.
Now arrives Strong as the fourth back the war room has invested a pick in over the past five drafts. Georgia’s Sony Michel at No. 31 in 2018, Alabama’s Harris at No. 87 in 2019 and Oklahoma’s Stevenson at No. 121 in 2021 marked the previous slots at a position that has become a market inefficiency.
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