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  • 01/06/2022

Oliver Hodgkinson’s Weekly NFL Draft Scouting Notebook: Pierre Strong Jr. putting South Dakota State on the map in the 2022 NFL Draft

What's in this article?Click to showPierre Strong Jr. an even better 2022 NFL Draft prospect than I expected Discovering Strong’s on- and off-field qualities 5 NFL Draft prospects you need to know Isaiah Davis, RB, South Dakota State (2023 NFL Draft eligible) Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia (2023 NFL Draft eligible) Jaivon Heiligh, WR, Coastal Carolina (2022 NFL Draft eligible) Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston State (2022 NFL Draft eligible) Andre Carter II, EDGE, Army (2023 NFL Draft eligible) 5 prospects I’m watching next Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA Zamir White, RB, Georgia Faion Hicks, CB, Wisconsin Kyren Johnson, LB, Kansas Kellen Diesch, OT, Arizona State

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Pierre Strong Jr. an even better 2022 NFL Draft prospect than I expected

I love college football. Although my love for American football began — like most people in the UK — with the NFL, once I discovered college football, there was no going back. I’d watch any game that was on, from Pac-12 “After Dark” through midweek MACtion to the pick of the FCS games.

We’ve seen more and more frequently that you can find talented playmakers at the FCS level, and running back Pierre Strong Jr. had caught my eye with a particularly impressive performance against Southern Illinois. The South Dakota State RB had more standout performances as the FCS commanded football attention in the spring of 2021.

So, Strong started the year on my watchlist. This helps form early top 10s and ultimately my initial Top 300 Big Board. As we progress towards the 2022 NFL Draft, this scouting notebook will begin to populate with the names you’ll see in those early observations for the next class.

While Strong was on my radar, and as he found himself in the top 200 of my initial big board, I didn’t fully appreciate how talented he really is.

Following his exceptional NFL Combine performance, Strong’s scouting report assignment landed in my virtual in-tray. It was only then, as I dug into the small amount of tape we could find, that I fully appreciated what he can bring to this 2022 NFL Draft class. The speed is apparent. But, watching closely, you can appreciate how that combines with explosion, vision, and patience to pose a dangerous threat at the NFL level.

Oliver Hodgkinson’s Weekly NFL Draft Scouting Notebook: Pierre Strong Jr. putting South Dakota State on the map in the 2022 NFL Draft

There’s reason to believe Strong can be a three-down back at the NFL level. While not asked to contribute a significant amount of receptions in college, he appears a natural catcher of the ball. Furthermore, he’s demonstrated the ability to pick up blitzers as a blocker while acting as a lead blocker on quarterback runs. Most recently, that was for Chris Oladokun, whom I had the opportunity of asking about his teammate and fellow 2022 NFL Draft prospect.

“Everyone sees him on the field, how he makes people miss, how tough of a runner he is,” Oladokun began after I asked him what makes Strong so special. “The dude he is off the field. He was one of my roommates, one of the first people I met going there. He’s a really laid-back guy. He’s a great leader.

“He was a team captain, and for a running back, that’s rare at the college level. He’s always there for his guys. Really helped me a lot, just learning the offense, helping me get acclimated at South Dakota. Being a really good friend, being someone to talk to in times of need, especially being so far away from home.”

5 NFL Draft prospects you need to know

Let’s take a look at a few under-the-radar prospects you might want to look at, including a few from the 2023 NFL Draft.

While studying Strong, it’s hard not to notice his South Dakota State teammate. Isaiah Davis has the potential to be an even more heralded prospect. The Joplin, Missouri product is a bigger back at 6’1″ and 220 pounds. Yet, he moves with the same speed as Strong. Furthermore, he’d demonstrated excellent cut ability and a deadly stiff arm. His performance in the FCS National Championship was like watching a kid dominate at the high school level.

With 100.3 receiving yards per game in 2021, Dontayvion Wicks returns to Virginia next fall as one of the top returning college football receivers. Statistics, however, aren’t necessary to appreciate Wicks’ game. I was studying teammate Jelani Woods, and Wicks continually caught my eye. Listed at 6’1″ and 205 pounds, the Virginia WR showcases excellent ball tracking and the flair for the acrobatic. He also possesses speed and the ability to deceive opponents with route fakes and fantastic change of direction.

When Coastal Carolina WR Jaivon Heiligh was snubbed from the NFL Combine, it was a huge shock to me. I had to go back to the tape because I currently have Heiligh ranked as a top-150 prospect and a top-20 WR. Having gone back, I’m still sold. He’s a tall, long, speedy pass catcher who uses excellent footwork to win on release. Heiligh also showcases natural catching ability and can pluck the ball effortlessly out of the sky.

This might feel like an obvious one given Zyon McCollum‘s standout performance at the NFL Combine. However, I urge you to find any Sam Houston State tape you can and see that McCollum is more than just a productive FCS CB with excellent athletic ability. For a tall athlete, he lines up in a low stance and maintains a low backpedal, transitioning fluidly. As you’d expect from his production, McCollum also possesses excellent ball skills, attacking the ball at the catch point.

I was perusing through some statistics ahead of the 2022 college football season when something struck me as remarkable. The nation’s leading pass rusher, in terms of sacks per game, wasn’t Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. It was Army’s Andre Carter II. Intrigued, I went back and watched some Army football and came away extremely impressed. Carter stands at 6’7″ and 250 pounds, showcases explosive ability to catapult into the backfield, and demonstrated the capacity to use his long arms to disrupt. He’s one to keep an eye on.

5 prospects I’m watching next

Here are the draft-eligible players I’ll be taking a look at in the coming days.

Where I’m significantly lower than some on a prospect, I like to revisit and see if maybe I missed something the first time around. UCLA TE Greg Dulcich is definitely one of those guys. On first look, I didn’t think he possessed the athletic ability of an Isaiah Likely or the all-round package like Trey McBride.

Admittedly, it’s been a minute since I watched Zamir White in depth. However, in producing his summer scouting report, I didn’t see the speed on film that he produced at the NFL Combine. I’ll go back and see what I missed the first time around.

Wisconsin cornerback Faion Hicks put up some monster numbers at his pro day. In addition to a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, he logged 3.94 seconds in the short shuttle, 6.78 seconds in the three-cone, and 37.5 inches in the vertical jump. He wasn’t on my radar previously. Let’s go back and see if that athleticism shows up on film.

Kyren Johnson was impressive at the Senior Bowl. He put up some frankly insane numbers at the Kansas Pro Day that included a 4.40-second 40-yard dash and 39.5-inch vertical jump. I’m intrigued to see if these performances show up on tape, and if so, what that tells us about his ability to translate it to the next level.

I had Kellen Diesch ranked 219th overall on my last big board update. Since then, he’s impressed during the all-star game cycle and in athletic testing. He’s worth another look to see if he can move into early Day 3 consideration.