In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans selected wide receiver Jaelen Strong in the third round. Strong had a very strong NFL combine posting a 4.44 second 40 yard dash and a 42 inch vertical. His vertical being the fourth best among wide receivers since 2005. Even with his strong combine performance and college statistics, it seemed like Strong could be a steal for the Texans.
Strong attended Arizona State University, where he managed two very impressive seasons for the Sun Devils. His sophomore year he caught 75 passes for 1122 yards and seven touchdowns. His junior year he caught 82 passes for 1165 yards and 10 touchdowns. The numbers Strong put up are very impressive. It is very apparent why the Texans selected him when they did.
While Strong was not projected to be an instant starter or difference maker, it was thought he would be a long term replacement for older players on the roster. Expendable players like Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington, stop gap solutions who did not have a long term future.
The high upside displayed from Strong in college and the combine has not translated to the NFL yet. Only appearing in 10 games his rookie season and starting one, he was not afforded many opportunities to showcase his abilities. Strong was only targeted 24 times, this is only 2.4 times per game. Strong managed 14 receptions for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
In Strong’s second season, he was on pace to have more production than his rookie season. However a serious ankle sprain ended his season in week eight. Targeted 24 times in eight games he managed to accumulate very similar statistics to his rookie season. Managing 14 receptions for 131 yards but unfortunately zero touchdowns. Strong was being targeted at a higher rate this season, 3 compared to 2.4. While not a huge difference, it still afforded him an extra full reception opportunity per game.
What does this season hold for Strong? Being able to spend an extended time rehabbing his ankle will afford Strong the chance to be a legitimate receiver for Houston. A more stable quarterback situation will help as well. Whether the starter is Weeden, Watson or Savage, it will be better than Osweiler. With the Texans drafting Will Fuller last season, the pressure to the be number two receiver for Houston is no longer there. Strong has to focus on being the third receiver working over the middle.
Developing into a quality slot receiver is the best chance for Strong to make an impact for the Texans. He is a big bodied receiver who can use his size to gain position on opposing defensive backs. Strong can use his speed to create separation from linebackers dropping into pass coverage.
This season is a make or break year for Strong. With long term project wide receiver Braxton Miller showing promise last season, it is up to Strong to show he belongs on this team. Not to mention the other seven receivers currently on the roster fighting for a job in the NFL. Strong has to show that he wants to be in he NFL and that he can put all of his abilities together to become a productive receiver in the NFL.