By Ryan Roberts | @RiseNDraft
The Mountain West conference has had a hand in producing next level quarterback talent very quietly over the last few seasons. Starting in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills took a gamble on Wyoming signal caller Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick of the first round. A player with a high level of rawness to fight through, Allen took some positive steps during the 2019 season in his second year for the Bills.
Just two years later, Utah State’s Jordan Love also crashed the first round party. With one draft cycle separating the two, the Mountain West again boasts a talented quarterback process who could again represent the conference in the first round conversation.
The question is just what draft that trend will continue. For University of Nevada quarterback Carson Strong it could happen a lot sooner than you might realize.
A Diamond in the Rough
Holding just one scholarship offer as a high school recruit, the Carson Strong story once could have gone in a much different direction. A two-sport star during his time at Will C. Wood High School in Yacaville, California, Carson had a junior year for the ages. On the football field, he posted an absurd stat line, including 2,732 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 69.2% completion rate and only four interceptions.
Equally as impressive, Strong was also a standout on the basketball court, averaging a double/double with 18.1 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. As you might expect, there were high expectations entering his senior season.
That campaign would be halted before it ever began. Shortly after receiving his one and only college offer from Nevada, Strong began feeling some discomfort in his right knee.
An MRI would reveal the discomfort that plagued the talented signal-caller was an ailment that had been present since he was 12 years old. The results showed the presence of an osteochondritis dissecans lesion. This condition usually takes place in joints, where segments of bones begin to separate from the surrounding area due to loss of blood flow and can often require surgery.
While it is usually no big deal in children and adolescents, it becomes a lot trickier the older you get. If it is gone untreated, in many cases, long term effects can ensue.
In Strong’s case, his lateral femoral condyle bone was about 70 percent detached. If that bone had been pushed to the point of breaking, that could have very well spelled the end of Strong’s athletic career.
Luckily treatment was still an option and just in time. Eight biodegradable screws later and the Nevada quarterback was back and better than ever. With no senior season to impress, the recruiting trail would never heat up for Strong. “Nevada was my only offer. Nobody wanted to pull the trigger.”
While most players would be discouraged for limited opportunity, the University of Nevada represented everything that Carson could have asked for.
“I loved the coaches and the situation. I knew I would have an opportunity to play early.”
Baptism by Fire
In effort to make an early impact, Strong would decide to join the running trend of early enrollees across the college football landscape. While he wasn’t able to break into the starting lineup, his experiences as a part of the scout team that year paid huge dividends for him long term.
“Being on the scout team taught me how to get the ball out quick,” Strong recalled. “You’re going against the ones. Those guys get on you quick.”
Baptism by fire did Strong a lot of good during his true freshman year. As did his first action on the field in 2019, starting ten games overall for the Wolfpack. As is true of almost every first year starter, the experience can be a bit of a roller coaster at times.
Strong is well aware of that and has come out on the otherside a better player because of it. “There were some ups and downs for sure. When I came back, things really started slowing down by the end of the season.”
Even with the two missed contests, Strong would still put together a productive campaign, passing for 2,335 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and a 63.4% completion rate against seven interceptions. That two game absence occurred following the team’s 19-13 victory over at home against Weber State on September 14.
Kept pretty well under wraps outside of the Nevada program, Strong was forced out of duty until he was able to return in limited duty during the team’s 54-3 blowout loss against Hawaii two weeks later. “I had a hairline fracture in my collarbone that made me miss those two games. I did my best to work through the pain to get back to the team as quickly as possible.”
The Turning Point
After playing his way back into the groove after his return and getting healthier, Strong began to play some great football down the stretch, particularly in the final five games of the season.
During those games, Strong would throw for 1,359 yards (271.8 yards per game), eight touchdowns, a 65.5% completion rate and only one interception. That late season stretch has provided increased expectations for Strong, especially with his first full offseason as the starter under his belt.
Those expectations were momentarily put on halt when the Mountain West conference decided to cancel fall sports in the second week of August, instead opting to resume football season during the spring. A decision that obviously came with a high level of disappointment, the mission has remained the same for the redshirt sophomore quarterback.
“The goal is to win the conference. We have a great team coming back.”
From a Scout’s Eye
While window shopping for their potential franchise quarterback, NFL teams have an urge to be wowed at first glance. Size, arm strength, athletic ability; the god given traits that are difficult to enhance and often detrimental when in short supply.
This is where the proverbial “checking of the boxes” begins for evaluators. Somewhat overblown to a point when you consider the successes of players like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
Still, looking for part never hurts a player. It is pretty easy to sell yourself about Carson Strong watching him on the field. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Strong boasts a prototypical frame that could hold a substantial amount more weight as he continues to develop physically.
From an arm strength perspective, there aren’t many more impressive signal-callers in all of college football. With a quick and decisive release, he is able to drive the football to the intermediate and deep levels of the field with ease. Whether working to the perimeter or middle of the field, Strong is able to generate enough velocity to keep defensive backs in inopportune positions.
With little wasted motion to his delivery, Strong is able to stay on schedule well while going through his progressions. Crisp and clean, both in and outside breaking routes are Strong’s for the taking.
Combining a big frame with an effortless release, Strong is able to drive the ball with ease, especially to the middle of the field. No matter how tight the window, he is able to drive the football with such little effort.
For a player so young, he is well versed working back shoulder opportunities and driving a hole shot against Cover Two. Usually a skill that comes with time and experience, Strong already has shown the ability to manipulate the coverage, especially along the perimeter.
With the ability to drive the football outside of the numbers, Strong is able to put a ton of stress on defenses that employ a ton of man coverage also. Wide receivers on the perimeter are truly never covered with Strong at quarterback. He works the back shoulder like a ten year vet.
Adding to the arm talent Strong boasts, he has some absurd touch working the sideline. Strong shows a knack for changing arm speeds, fitting the football in some very tight end windows from varying angles.
That touch carries over to the middle of the field, fitting impossibly placed passes in blind spots of opposing defenders. He has evidence of some of the most special throws you will find at any level.
Far from a statue in the pocket, Strong is able to work out of trouble while always keeping his eyes down the field. He possesses a lightning quick release with the talent to throw from various arm slots.
An underrated athlete at the position, Strong will never be confused as a dynamic runner. What he can do is some phenomenal work as an extender. He is able to step up and find enough space while maintaining excellent eye discipline down the field. Strong’s quick release allows him to load and reload with very little effort.
The Next Step
More than likely we will have to wait until at least the 2022 NFL Draft cycle before we get very familiar with Carson Strong. The fact that the Nevada football team and the rest of the Mountain West got off to a late start, could delay his decision.
Whenever Strong does make that decide to declare for the draft, their is no doubt that the talent is there for him to be highly coveted by the NFL. With his combination of size, arm strength, accuracy and ability to affect multiple levels of the field, Strong has a great opportunity to hear his name called early on the first day of his representative draft.
A Raiders fan growing up, word is Coach Gruden, who is right down the road in Las Vegas, just might be in the market for a new starting quarterback in the near future. There are clearly NFL traits to work with here. If nothing else, the Wolfpack signal caller should make Mountain West football pretty entertaining this fall.