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South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. poised to be first Jackrabbit drafted since 2019

Strong is projected by most experts and services to be a mid-to-late round selection.

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South Dakota State's Pierre Strong Jr. breaks free for a touchdown run during the FCS semifinals Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
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BROOKINGS, S.D. — With the NFL Draft set to take place April 28-30 in Las Vegas, South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. has hopes of becoming the first Jackrabbit to hear their name called since 2019 and just the third since 2010.

Across his four seasons in Brookings, the Little Rock, Arkansas, native developed into the latest gem in a proud lineage of SDSU rushers. Along the way, he established himself not only as one of the top ball carriers in the Football Championship Subdivision, but the entire college football landscape.

In the fall 2021 season, the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Strong turned 240 carries into an FCS-best 1,686 yards, finding the endzone 18 times. For his career, the two-time AP All-American rolled to 4,527 rushing yards and accounted for 49 touchdowns (40 rushing, six passing and three receiving).

All that production is expected to culminate in Las Vegas, with Strong, who ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in early March, garnering interest from draft experts and teams alike.

In an appearance on NFL cornerback Richard Sherman’s podcast, USA Today NFL editor Doug Farrar gave Strong a compliment with a comparison to LeSean McCoy. McCoy was a six-time Pro Bowler who amassed 15,000 career yards from scrimmage between 2009 and 2020, most notably for the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills.

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So maybe a more apt comparison at this stage is one offered by Bleacher Report, which offers 2021 rookie Elijah Mitchell — nearly a 1,000-yard rusher for the San Francisco 49ers last season in just 11 games — as a peer to Strong, who the outlet projects as a fourth-round pick. Pro Football Focus also rates Strong as a fourth-rounder, placing him 135th on the service’s draft board.

Even still, perhaps Strong’s most glowing review among the top draft gurus comes from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. In an April 18 column, Kiper identified his “favorite prospects” at every position, which identified players the longtime analyst “likes more than most.”

Kiper picked out Strong among the running backs, lauding him for an early-season performance against Colorado State (13 carries, 138 yards and two touchdowns) that helped start Strong’s rise through the ranks as an “under-the-radar” prospect.

Wrote Kiper: “Strong is really good at most everything. He has great balance through the hole, can hold his own in pass protection and was durable for the Jackrabbits.”

As for Kiper’s projection, it falls in line with other experts and services.

“Strong is going to be drafted late on Day 2 (rounds 2-3) or early on Day 3 (rounds 4-7), and I really think he could be a steal,” Kiper wrote. “He has a chance to be a starter in the NFL in the right situation and given a little time to adjust.”

Cornerback Jordan Brown was the last SDSU player to be drafted, making stops with the Las Vegas Raiders, Washington Football Team and Jacksonville Jaguars after being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round, 223rd overall. He is currently a free agent.

But the year before Brown, tight end and Britton, South Dakota, native Dallas Goedert was picked in the second round, 49th overall, by the then-defending champion Philadephia Eagles.

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Goedert has since established himself as one of the NFL’s best tight ends putting up a career-high 830 yards receiving and four scores on 56 catches in 2021. The 27-year-old’s efforts earned a four-year, $57 million contract extension in November 2021, which makes Goedert the third-highest paid at his position in terms of annual value ($14.25 million), only behind perennial all-pro talents George Kittle and Travis Kelce.

The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft gets underway at 7 p.m. Thursday, with the second and third rounds starting at 6 p.m. Friday and the fourth through seventh rounds beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday. Live television coverage of the entire draft can be found on ESPN.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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