The New England Patriots appeared to be more than set with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White as their running back rotation in 2022. However, that didn’t stop Bill Belichick from using a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr.
Strong didn’t exactly come from a football powerhouse after his sterling FCS career, nor does he have the best game with regard to churning between the tackles. Despite those concerns, the open-field quickness on display whenever you flipped his tape on made it a fairly easy selection in Belichick’s mind.
Strong will likely have to start at the bottom of the depth chart and gradually work his way up, but some of the early returns from Belichick and company have been very encouraging. He might even end up being the long-term successor to a Patriots icon if he plays his cards right.
Strong has reportedly made a very strong impression as a kick returner. Some scouts believe that he will end up eventually taking over White’s role as the pass-catching running back. With Harris and Stevenson more north-south than Strong, the comparisons between White and the neophyte Patriot make sense.
Pierre Strong Jr. could be a star for the New England Patriots
Strong rushed for 1,317 yards on nearly seven yards per carry while scoring 15 touchdowns. Those numbers came in the context of winning games, as he was the primary offensive force for a Jackrabbits team that made a deep run in the FCS postseason.
Strong possesses great short-area quickness and long speed, the latter of which was proven indisputably by his blazing sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the combine. With White getting long in the tooth and fresh off some serious injuries that have limited him, finding a replacement needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Strong had just 50 receptions in his college career, as his offense at SDSU never really utilized him in the passing game. His ability to both run routes and make catches is suspect due to a lack of experience, but Strong will likely be able to show competency in that area.
Belichick wouldn’t use a fourth-round pick on a running back when he already had Harris and Stevenson unless he thought that Strong was going to be a first-rate backup. The speed that made him a combine darling should help him overcome the odds and stick around in New England.