Carson Strong was a surprise in his own right, as he was also a full-time student at the University of Texas while he was playing for the Longhorns, becoming the first college player to win the Heisman Trophy without being enrolled at a school since John David Booty in 1986.

The NFL draft is coming soon, and that means fans everywhere are eagerly anticipating this fall’s crop of rookies. The 2016 draft yielded an impressive amount of rookie success, with several first round picks moving into the Pro Bowl, and many more developing into solid NFL players. Among those success stories is Carson Strong, a quarterback selected in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. Strong had no illusions of becoming a first round pick, but his determination and work ethic helped him overcome draft analysts’ misgivings. Despite his late arrival to the draft, Strong is hoping to show the NFL that he is the real deal.

With the 2016 NFL Draft under way, scouts are starting to get a better idea of who will be taken in the first round. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the players who could be surprise selections, like Carson Strong (Penn State).

Nevada football coach Jay Norvell has worked with a number of high-profile NFL draft quarterback prospects from prestigious universities.

Norvell was an assistant offensive coordinator at Oklahoma when Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy in 2008 and was selected first overall in the 2010 draft. Norvell received passes from Peyton Manning during the Tennessee quarterback’s pre-draft workout as a first-year Indianapolis Colts assistant in the spring of 1998. (the Colts went on to draft Manning at No. 1 overall).

Norvell, on the other hand, has seen quarterbacks from lesser-known schools be selected early in previous years. Six quarterbacks from non-Power 5 schools have been chosen in the first round since the 2016 draft, including two from FCS power North Dakota State (Carson Wentz, Trey Lance). Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Utah State’s Jordan Love, and BYU’s Zach Wilson are among the first-round selections from the Western half of the nation.

It’s possible that the next in line will play for Norvell at Nevada. The NFL is keeping a close watch on Carson Strong heading into the 2021 season. In two years as Nevada’s starter, Strong has 5,193 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions while completing precisely two-thirds of his passes. After ranking second nationally in completions (27.7 per game) and eighth in both throwing yards (317.6 per game) and completion percentage (70.1) in 2020, he is the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year.

Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Strong fourth among the top 2022 quarterback draft prospects, behind another Group of 5 quarterback, Liberty’s Malik Willis, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, and North Carolina’s Sam Howell.

“When you think about where the Zach Wilsons, Trey Lances, Josh Allens, Jordan Loves came from, those guys all came from a similar background as Carson,” Norvell told ESPN. “Is it conceivable for Carson to be that kind of guy? Absolutely. However, he clearly has the last say.”

Here’s a deeper look at Strong and his draft chances, as well as other quarterback prospects from the Group of 5 and lower divisions who the NFL will be keeping an eye on this season.


Carson Strong, a quarterback from a non-Power 5 school, may be the second non-Power 5 quarterback to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Getty Images/Ethan Miller

Strong wasn’t thinking about the NFL when he came to Nevada in 2018. He just wanted to play, and he knew he could. Because his senior year of high school had been cut short due to knee surgery, Strong enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Strong redshirted and only played in one game in the autumn of 2018, prolonging the wait.

He’d email Norvell every Friday night, saying, “If you need me, I’m ready to go.”

Strong, who was named to Nevada’s offensive scout team, said the experience helped him improve his release and make better choices with the ball. Nevada’s scout-team quarterbacks could be hit back then, and a pressing Cover 1 defensive was always putting up a fight.

“It was like full-scrimmaging every day for me,” Strong added.

All-conference tight end for Nevada Cole Turner, who has known Strong and outstanding wide receiver Romeo Doubs since they were freshmen, recalls Strong’s self-assurance from the start.

“Even though we had a player [Ty Gangi] who had started for many years,” Turner recalled, “he constantly spoke about how he wanted to be a starter here.” “‘I’m going to do everything in my power to be the man,’ he said. I knew he could accomplish anything after seeing him follow through.”

In his first career start in 2019, Strong led a comeback victory against Purdue, showing the efficiency (295 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) that would become his hallmark. He surpassed 250 passing yards in eight of nine games last season, threw multiple touchdown passes in all but one (five with three or more TDs), and only had one multi-interception game.

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Until a Week 4 pick against New Mexico, Strong had attempted 299 throws without an interception, seven short of the Mountain West record established by Fresno State’s Derek Carr, an NFL second-round choice and current Las Vegas Raiders starter. He had a rate of 1.13 interceptions. Only Wilson and Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall threw fewer interceptions than Strong among FBS quarterbacks with at least 25 touchdown passes in 2020. (four).

“His touchdown-to-interception ratio drew a lot of attention,” Norvell remarked. “It was right there with all of the first-round picks last year.”

Strong keeps interceptions to a bare minimum without being too cautious. When Turner and Doubs are paired in single coverage, they never have to inform their buddy (“He’s going to take that risk,” Turner remarked). Nevada also trains downfield passes more than other teams, owing to its defense’s reliance on man coverage.

Strong said, “You want to take as many shots as you can.” “If they’re putting us in one-on-one situations, we should take a shot every time. It doesn’t make sense to push the deep ball if they’re playing light coverage and bailing out. Playing quarterback is similar to boxing. Give them a couple left punches, and when the defense drops their hands, you hit them with a long ball to knock them out.”

Norvell compares Strong’s deep-ball passes to Bradford’s, who averaged 9.8 yards per attempt and 74 completions of 20 yards or longer in 2008. In the intermediate game, though, Strong demonstrates precision and arm power, as well as excellent anticipation of where to pitch.

Strong, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds, projects as a genuine pro-style pocket passer.

“The hashes in college are bigger than in professional football, so he can be on the left hash and throw comebacks to the wide field.” Most collegiate quarterbacks aren’t capable of doing so, according to Norvell. “He can throw deep outs, deep comebacks, low balls, and posts, among other things.” The fact that he can reach out and touch every area of the field with his arm intrigues [the NFL].

“The things we accomplish and his abilities are related to that degree.”

Norvell and Strong talk about the NFL a lot, watching Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and other quarterbacks on tape. Strong is an avid NFL fan who enjoys watching the draft.

When Turner asked whether Strong had seen Kiper’s quarterback prospect rankings, Strong simply said, “No.” “Yes, that is correct. Let’s go back to business.”

Strong stated, “There are a lot of things I need to work on if I want to be an NFL quarterback one day, which I believe I can and will accomplish.” “However, I’m still a work in progress.”

Strong is characterized as a “Group of 5 draftable quarterback” by an NFL scout, who believes that his performance this fall will determine when he hears his name called. Nevada only faced Mountain West opponents in 2020, with the exception of a bowl game against Tulane. The Wolf Pack begin the season against Cal, which has one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, and they also go to Kansas State and Boise State early in the season.

“If he goes out there and blows it up,” the scout predicted, “he might climb very far.” “Or he might be mediocre and end up as one of those Day 3 quarterbacks.” Definitely a player on everyone’s radar, and one to whom every club will send scouts to gather different perspectives.

“You’d think he’d have a nice year ahead of him. He’s been in the same system for four years, so there’s a lot of evidence that things will fall into place.”

Strong isn’t a believer in taking anything for granted. After the season, he underwent clean-up surgery on his right knee, which restricted his repetitions in spring practice.

But he refused to give up snaps, prompting Norvell to dismiss him from practice for the second time.

“I’m not going to hold myself back for fall camp,” Strong said.

Strong has studied previous selections and understands that where candidates play has little bearing on their value, particularly quarterbacks. But, as he sees it, the spotlight shines brighter on those who lead winning teams, and that is his strategy for 2021.

“I anticipate a conference title and a New Year’s Six bowl, and I expect to win every game,” Strong stated of his goals. “If I were a gambler, I’d put everything on the line.”

Here are four more quarterback draft possibilities from the Group of 5 for 2022.


Getty Images/David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

Malik Liberty, Willis: After beginning his career at Auburn, Willis has flourished at Liberty under coach Hugh Freeze, and is ranked No. 3 on Kiper’s list of top 2022 quarterback draft prospects. Willis, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 215 pounds, topped FBS quarterbacks in running last season with 944 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 2,260 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. Willis rushed for more over 80 yards seven times in 2020, and his total offense (320.4 yards per game) and points accounted for were both in the top ten nationally (20.4 per game). Willis, like Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, scores a lot of touchdowns, but he has to get rid of his poor performances from his resume. Willis, as excellent as he was last season, threw five of his six interceptions in two games and completed fewer than 41% of his passes in two others. This season’s showcase chances include road trips against UAB and Ole Miss, as well as a home game versus Louisiana.

USATNSYNDICATION/Sam Greene

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati: After guiding Cincinnati to consecutive 11-win seasons, an AAC title, and a Peach Bowl participation in 2020, Ridder is hardly a household name in college football. Ridder, a three-year starter at Cincinnati with a 30-5 record, was awarded the AAC Rookie of the Year in 2018 and the league’s Offensive Player of the Year last year. Ridder’s career statistics stand out in both throwing and running (6,905 yards, 57 touchdowns, 20 interceptions) (1,825 yards, 22 touchdowns). He improved his accuracy considerably from last season to this year, and he reached the end zone more frequently with his legs. Ridder, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds, has good size, moves effectively, and sees the whole field when he plays. He’ll be in charge of a preseason top-10 squad that will be in the limelight against Indiana on Sept. 18, Notre Dame on Oct. 2, and throughout AAC play.

Tim Heitman is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.

Dustin Crum, Kent State: Strong isn’t the only quarterback whose ability to limit mistakes should impress NFL talent evaluators. Crum has started only 16 games for Kent State the past two seasons, but he has attempted 425 passes, completing 299 of them and throwing only four interceptions. After firing 20 touchdown passes in 2019, Crum had 12 in only four games last season. If he can maintain his 2020 pace, which included 73% completions, for an entire season this fall, he certainly will improve his draft position. Coach Sean Lewis’ offense is a quarterback’s dream, and the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Crum will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his arm. Crum faces two of the nation’s better defenses in the first three weeks with trips to Texas A&M and Iowa, and also visits Maryland before the end of September.

Chuck Burton/AP Photo

Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall is just a redshirt sophomore, but he’s draft eligible and may be persuaded to leave the teal grass of Conway, South Carolina, with another strong season. In 2020, he was named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year after throwing for 2,488 yards and 26 touchdowns with just three interceptions and a 68.9% completion rate. McCall, a Manning Award candidate, has excellent stature (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and plays in Jamey Chadwell’s creative spread-option system. He was sixth in pass efficiency (184.3 rating) and tenth in passing touchdowns nationwide. McCall may need another college season after 2021 before making the leap, but for now, he’ll be in charge of another strong Coastal Carolina squad defending its Sun Belt title.

The 2018 NFL Draft could have a Number One overall pick who should be a top five pick in previous years, but this year has a completely different feel. Quarterback prospect Carson Strong playing at Tulane is the first QB of the draft that is most comparable to Deshaun Watson as a player. With his big arm, good speed and accuracy, Strong could have what it takes to be drafted in the middle of the first round.. Read more about when is the nfl draft and let us know what you think.

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