The New England Patriots are searching for a No. 2 ball-carrier to emerge in their new-look offense. The leading choice appears to be sophomore running back Pierre Strong Jr., who was recently identified as a breakout candidate by the team’s official website. Strong Jr. will receive every opportunity imaginable to establish himself as the rotational back behind Rhamondre Stevenson.
The No. 127 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Strong Jr. essentially redshirted his rookie season. The former South Dakota standout was limited to 17 total offensive touches and 51 offensive snaps, but the Patriots moved on from Damien Harris this summer and Strong Jr. projects as his likeliest replacement.
Strong Jr. was arguably drafted in preparation for Harris’ inevitable departure. Strong Jr. maximized his opportunities as a rookie. Three of his 10 rushing attempts went for 10-plus yards, with two of them surpassing 15-yard gains, including a 44-yard highlight-worthy attempt up the left sideline against the Arizona Cardinals in a Monday night victory.
Pierre Strong Jr. breaks free for 44 yards!
— NFL (@NFL) December 13, 2022
Strong Jr. averaged 10 yards per carry to total 100 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. He forced three missed tackles while creating 2.7 yards after contact per attempt, via Pro Football Focus. His sophomore outputs should be considerably more impressive thanks to a big-time increase in volume.
Bill Belichick has always held a special appreciation for a change-of-pace scat back that can impact the passing game. From James White to Shane Vereen, Belichick has routinely found a way to involve these types in his weekly game plans. Strong Jr., who hauled in 100% of his receiving targets in 2022, is on a similar path.
“I’m extremely comfortable as a pass-catcher,” Pierre Strong Jr. told The Draft Network during the pre-draft process. “I’d rate my hands a 10/10 personally (laughs). It’s so important to be able to catch the ball coming out of the backfield in today’s NFL. Being able to catch the ball like I can adds value to my overall game.”
New offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is being tasked with improving an offense that finished dead last in red-zone scoring last season (31 touchdowns in 17 games). Identifying mismatch opportunities while placing his playmakers in isolated situations will be key to O’Brien’s efforts to capture improvement. Strong Jr. figures to play a big role.
Short-area agility, explosiveness, and long speed are at the forefront of Strong Jr.’s skill set. It’s worth remembering Strong Jr. ran a blazing-fast 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Standout breakaway ability will allow Strong Jr. to make more game-changing plays in 2023.
Strong Jr. also played 143 special teams snaps, which accounted for roughly 32% of all Patriots special teams plays. Strong Jr. returned five kicks for an average of 23 yards per return. He should continue making an impact on special teams as a sophomore.
The Patriots are turning a new leaf with Stevenson as the starter and Strong Jr. as his complement. Strong Jr. possesses every trait necessary to play his way into a critical role. Strong Jr. will factor into Belichick’s plans this season.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023