Pierre Strong Jr. knew he needed to accomplish certain goals to make his NFL dream a reality. Whether it was for his senior year at South Dakota State or after the season during the draft process, Strong wrote down benchmarks he wanted to hit.
He has checked off all of those goals, becoming one of the bigger risers on NFL Draft boards.
Now a couple of weeks from the draft, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Strong going in the fifth round to the Colts in his mock draft while ESPN’s Jordan Reid has the Chiefs selecting Strong in the fourth round. PFF ranks the 5-foot-11 and 207-pounder the No. 140 overall prospect. And Draft Scout ranks Strong as the No. 100 overall prospect, the No. 6 running back, and a projected third-round pick.
Strong’s rise to his current status can be traced back to the summer of 2021.
Already a multi-time All-American with two 1,000-yard seasons as a freshman and sophomore in 2018 and 2019, Strong knew he had to elevate his game even more after the spring 2021 season where he rushed for 707 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.
“I had that urgency where my dreams and aspirations were to make the NFL, so I knew what I had to do,” Strong told HERO Sports. “I wanted to lead the FCS in rushing and be First Team in everything. Coming from a smaller school, it’s already tough. I knew I had to lead in everything. I had that in my mind … I really invested my time and sacrificed things to be where I needed to be. I invested all of my time in the summer coming out of the spring season. I was always taking football seriously, but coming into your senior season you’re going to take it to another gear. I wrote down my goals and I achieved those goals.”
Lightly recruited out of Little Rock, Arkansas, Strong had no FBS offers and a few FCS offers from SDSU, Central Arkansas, and Missouri State. By the time the 2021 summer hit, though, programs all across the country knew his name. While transferring to an FBS school was an option put in his ear, Strong never considered it.
“I’m a loyal guy,” Strong said. “If I’m locked in with someone, I’m locked in. A lot of people around me wanted me to, but I just said, ‘Nah I’m with the Jacks.’ … The bond with my brothers on the team, I never thought about leaving or anything because you have to look at it too from the other side. The grass isn’t always greener. If I go to another school, now I may not get the touches like I had before or I’m not getting into the game and then I’m getting frustrated. All those things come into play. But I wasn’t going to leave somewhere that took a chance on me coming out of high school when not a lot of people took a chance with me.”
Instead of testing the transfer portal waters to improve his draft stock, Strong went out and accomplished all of the goals he set in an SDSU uniform. He led the FCS in rushing yards (1,686) and had the most rushing touchdowns among FCS running backs (18). He was named on the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First Team and earned All-American First Team honors from HERO Sports, Stats Perform, and the Associated Press.
In the first game of the season against FBS Colorado State, Strong rushed for 138 yards and two TDs on only 13 rushes in a dominating 42-23 win. Strong said that’s when he started to feel more NFL buzz on him. It increased as his senior campaign progressed. After SDSU’s season ended in the FCS semifinals, Strong shifted his focus to training with an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl and the NFL Combine.
Once again, Strong wrote down his goals.
On the first day at the Exos training facility in Frisco, Texas, prospects wrote what they wanted their testing numbers to be. Then they did all of the combine drills to see where their numbers were at.
“I wrote down my goals and said I wanted to run this. I said I wanted to jump this. I said I wanted to do this,” Strong said. “But at the time back in January, I was like, ‘Dang, this is going to be some hard goals to reach.’ But I wrote it down, so I’m not going to erase it. But it was like God was with me the whole way. He shined his light on me. I put my head down and was grinding for three months straight and I got the combine results I wanted. God put me in the right place and around the right people.”
Strong got faster, quicker, and more explosive at Exos. He shined at the combine in early March, checking off his goals once again. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time out of the running backs, clocking a 4.37. Strong also had the sixth-best vertical (36″) and broad jump (10’4″) for a running back.
Five players at this year’s combine earned a max-99 athleticism score. Three of them came from the FCS — Strong, North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson, and Sam Houston cornerback Zyon McCollum. Strong and McCollum are training together in Frisco. And yes, the spring FCS national championship game played in that city where Sam Houston beat SDSU 23-21 gets brought up often, according to Strong.
Just like McCollum is seeing a big increase in buzz after the combine, so is Strong. He has had numerous meetings with NFL teams, whether on official visits, private workouts, or Zoom calls.
“It has picked up tremendously,” Strong said. “Now I’m not just talking to scouts, I’m talking to position coaches and running back coaches … I feel like I put myself in a really good spot. This process has been picking up after the combine. I’m just blessed and happy to be in this position.”
There’s now just one more goal for him to check off before starting a new list, and that’s to be an NFL Draft pick.