3 sleepers to keep an eye on in the 2022 NFL Draft

Pierre Strong Jr. #20 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Pierre Strong Jr. #20 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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NFL Draft
Pierre Strong Jr. #20 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits runs the ball against the Sam Houston State Bearkats in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

2. Pierre Strong Jr., RB, South Dakota State

ADP: 143.1 via Pro Football Focus

Much like other prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft, Pierre Strong Jr. has felt the effects of playing for a smaller program. Similar to Malik Willis, nobody seems to care for your accomplishments when you’re doing it against teams like Indiana State and UC Davis, respectfully. Regardless, his numbers and physical measurements alone should have him garnering more attention than he is.

Outside of the fact that he’s a 5’11” 205-pound running back that just ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, he also put up absolutely insane numbers in college. Surpassing 1,000 rushing yards in three of his four seasons as a Jackrabbit at South Dakota State. As well as over 150 yards through the air in each of his last three seasons with the program.

So, he certainly has the potential to become a threat in both facets of the game in the NFL.

Strong is also coming off a truly sensational senior year with the Jackrabbits, in which he ran for a ridiculous 1,673 yards and 18 touchdowns on 240 carries, averaging over 7 yards per touch. Which was enough to earn him a spot on the AFCA FCS Coaches’ first-team All-America and a finalist for the Stats Perform Walter Payton Award. He also lit up the East-West Shrine Game in February.

Despite him having one of the more impressive resumes, and extremely enticing game tape, it is important to note that he was doing it all against far inferior competition in the MVFC. That being said, it wouldn’t be the first time a profound ball carrier from a smaller school broke out into the NFL (i.e., Chase Edmonds, Kareem Hunt, Rashad Jennings, Brandon Jacobs, etc.).

He also holds nearly identical measurables to San Francisco 49ers’ sixth-round stud from a year ago, Elijah Mitchell. Who’s also just under 6-feet tall, over 200 pounds, and was one of the most athletic ball carriers in the 2021 NFL Draft. He finished with a 4.35 40-yard dash compared to Strong’s 4.37, and a 37.5″ vertical compared to Strong’s 36″.

The only difference is that Elijah Mitchell never once rushed for over 1,000 yards in his collegiate career with the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns, who also compete outside of the Power Five. Whereas Pierre Strong Jr. surpassed that mark three times with the Jackrabbits.

All things considered, Strong is an exceptional athlete with remarkable straight-line speed and epic body control with the ball in his hands. He’s also shown to be a reliable pass catcher and could provide immense value early in round five for a team in need of a proven ball carrier with elite athletic traits.

Pierre Strong Jr. might take a bit of time to adjust to the level of competition in the NFL, but he should prove to be a dangerous change of pace back for whichever franchise takes a shot on him. Making him a key addition to our list of 2022 NFL Draft sleepers.

Depending on where he lands in the 2022 NFL Draft, he could put up big numbers next year.

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