Experts, coaches expect Strong to go in draft


Evan Patzwald

Former South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. sheds a Southern Illinois defender in a regular season game last season. That year, Strong had his best season as a Jackrabbit, leading the FCS in rushing yards (1,686) and scoring 18 rushing touchdowns.

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor

With the NFL Draft set to begin Thursday, a few Jackrabbits have been getting the attention of NFL teams.

The main Jackrabbits with draft potential are running back Pierre Strong Jr. and offensive tackle Aron Johnson, but other Jackrabbits have been getting workouts with NFL teams and could possibly be signed as free agents.

Here’s a deeper look at Jackrabbit football players as prospects and where they’re projected to go in the draft.

The Jackrabbit that’s been getting by far the most attention is Strong. The all-American running back from Little Rock, Arkansas was already projected to maybe be a late-round draft pick heading into last season. After a career season and impressive showings in scouting events, Strong has continued to move up the boards of draft analysts.

“It’s a privilege, and honor and blessing to be around a guy with really special athletic ability,” Jacks coach John Stiegelmeier said of Strong. “And those words are magnified when you take a guy that’s the type of person and the type of leader Pierre is.”

Strong continued to showcase his athleticism throughout the offseason. He ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine in March, tied for the fastest time among running backs. At SDSU’s pro day later that month, Strong continued to turn heads, showing his agility in the running drills and displaying good hands in the passing drills.

On top of those performances, Strong has also dazzled scouts throughout his college career. He finished his Jackrabbit tenure with 4,527 rushing yards, third all-time in program history. 

“He’s very fast, and he proved that at the NFL Combine,” Stiegelmeier said. “So that, coupled with his instincts, his ability to read blocks, make the right cut and run out of tackles. If you get him isolated in open field with a safety or a linebacker, it’s advantage Pierre.”

He was even brilliant as a passer, going 9-9 for 208 yards and six touchdowns in his career, which makes him an even more intriguing NFL prospect.

In an ESPN article from last week, draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. picked Strong as his favorite running back prospect. 

“He has great balance through the hole, can hold his own in pass protection and was durable for the Jackrabbits,” Kiper wrote. “Strong is really good at most everything. He has a chance to be a starter in the NFL in the right situation (and given a little time to adjust).”

Kiper projects Strong to be taken in the third or fourth round. Other experts are predicting Strong to go anywhere from round three to round six.

Listed at 5-feet-11 and 207 pounds, Strong’s drawbacks as a prospect include average build for the position and below-average contact balance, according to Bleacher Report.

Another Jackrabbit who has been getting some draft attention is Johnson, who blocked for Strong at SDSU.

Johnson has been getting less attention than Strong and isn’t projected to go as high, but he has been getting attention as a potential late-round pick.

“I think I’m a pretty flexible guy,” Johnson said “I think I do a good job getting myself into good football positions and getting my pads low, so I’m able to move defenders doing that.”

The 6-foot-6 Chisago City, Minnesota native began his Jackrabbit career at right tackle before moving to left tackle for his final two seasons.

An NFL Draft analysis article from CBS Sports rates him as an NFL role player and says he does a good job sealing blocks and doesn’t have a tendency to overset. Some weaknesses the article mentioned were below average top-end speed and that speed rushers could give him problems around the edge.

“I think getting stronger; that’s the biggest feedback I’ve gotten from various scouts,” Johnson said. “They just want to see me have more finishes and a little bit more nastiness.”

Other Jackrabbits who’ve been mentioned were quarterback Chris Oladokun and safety Michael Griffin. At pro day, Griffin’s vertical jump was a whopping 43.5 inches, which got the attention of all the NFL scouts in attendance. 

Oladokun showed accuracy in his passing drills. Along with his role as a leader last season, he could attract some NFL attention as a potential practice squad quarterback.