During his pre-draft conference call, director of player personnel Matt Groh said the Patriots would be looking to get faster at every position this weekend.
He wasn’t kidding.
One day after trading up in Round 2 to select arguably the fastest wide receiver in this year’s draft class (Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton at No. 50 overall), the Patriots used a fourth-round pick on the fastest running back: South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong.
Like Thornton, Strong posted the best 40-yard dash time for his position group at the NFL Scouting Combine, finishing in 4.37 seconds at 5-foot-11, 207 pounds.
Strong also tested in the 84th percentile in the broad jump (124 inches) and the 71st percentile in the vertical jump (36 inches) at the combine and ran a 6.95-second three-cone drill at his pro day. He’ll add pace and athleticism to a Patriots backfield that is well-stocked in the short term but entered the draft with some future-focused questions.
Lead back Damien Harris is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and 30-year-old third-down back James White is coming off season-ending hip surgery. Impressive 2021 fourth-rounder Rhamondre Stevenson, third-year UDFA J.J. Taylor and future signee Devine Ozigbo round out the Patriots’ running back room.
It’s unclear how New England plans to utilize Strong, but he was productive as a rusher and pass-catcher at SDSU. Last season, he rushed for 1,686 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. For his career, he averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored 40 times, dominating at the FCS level.
Strong also caught 62 passes for 581 yards and three scores over his four collegiate seasons and even was a weapon as a trick-play passer, going 9-for-9 for 208 yards and six touchdowns.
Scouting reports praise Strong’s vision, footwork, sure hands and, of course, speed while knocking him for his lack of size and power.
“Overall, Strong doesn?t have ideal build or contact balance, which might limit his pro ceiling,” The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote in his 2022 draft guide, “but he runs with speed, tempo and controlled feet to follow his blocks to daylight, especially on outside zone. He has potential as a third-down or committee back in the right situation.”
The Patriots also used fourth-round picks on cornerback Jack Jones (No. 121 overall) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (No. 137).