Among all of the position groups represented in this year's NFL Draft class, few are as deep or as heralded as the wide receivers. Amari Cooper and Kevin White are garnering much of the hype while DeVante Parker is quickly gaining in attention, but a name that shouldn't be overlooked is Arizona State's Jaelen Strong. Perhaps best known for his last-second, game-winning Hail Mary touchdown to beat USC, Strong presents a number of skills that could land him near the end of the first round and potentially as an immediate starter with the right franchise.
» Strong hands, good ball skills
» Ability to work outside or in the slot
» Excellent body control
» NFL-type size and strength
Strong fared well in plenty of his measurables at the Combine, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds. His 42-inch vertical jump was second-best among wideouts as well. But it's in watching the former Sun Devil on tape where he truly shines. Strong was a frequent downfield target in ASU's offense and was able to consistently leap over defenders to make contested catches. When he wasn't catching the long ball, he was regularly snagging back shoulder throws.
After arriving in Tempe as a junior college transfer, Strong set about adding muscle and getting ... stronger. That made him much tougher to bring down after the catch and allowed the Sun Devils to feature him on bubble screens and shorter crossing routes. While Strong might not be a complete receiver, his physical gifts mean he has a high floor and an even higher ceiling.
» Needs to improve route-running
» Struggles to get downfield separation
» Must improve as a blocker
» Still learning the position
The biggest knock on Strong is his lack of top end speed. His ability to make tough catches in traffic is nice, but it becomes necessary far too often because he lacked the ability to separate from defensive backs. That could be a problem at the NFL level if he doesn't have a quarterback who can throw him open. Strong will need to find ways to get off the line of scrimmage quickly in order to get open consistently.
There is definitely plenty of upside for Strong at the NFL level, but he will need to improve some of his fundamentals. Since many of his routes were either streaks or very short hitches, it will be imperative for Strong to improve his ability to run intermediate routes. It's a plus that he is able to line up both outside and in the slot, allowing offensive coordinators to create more favorable matchups. But if he doesn't show the growth that many scouts expect of him, his effectiveness could be severely limited in the pro game.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
Plenty of teams could use a player of Strong's talent -- especially if he's not going to be expected to immediately be the primary playmaker in the passing game. Torrey Smith's move to San Francisco means the Ravens could use a new deep threat and Joe Flacco certainly has the arm to get the ball to Strong downfield. Landing in Seattle could give Strong time to acclimate to an NFL offense. With Marshawn Lynch still an overall threat in the offense and Jimmy Graham there to occupy defenders all over the field, Strong could be the outside weapon that Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have been seeking. While Cleveland is certainly in need of playmaking wideouts, the pressure for Strong to be productive right away might not be conducive to his (and fantasy owners') prosperity.
Early fantasy draft projection
There is a lot to like about Strong's potential in the NFL and he'll be a coveted commodity among managers in dynasty leagues. As for more standard leagues, it would be best to exercise caution. If Strong can land with a team that has a couple of established playmaking pass-catchers, he's a much more intriguing late-round option. If he is going to be expected to carry the load in a team's aerial attack, it will be tougher to expect consistent fantasy production from him in 2015.