The Patriots put themselves into the playoff picture on Monday night, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-13. Six of the 27 points came from an unlikely source, which was rookie running back Pierre Strong Jr. Being behind names such as Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris, in addition to competing with fellow rookie Kevin Harris, there wasn’t a good chance of Strong Jr. seeing the field in 2022. Due to Damien Harris being inactive Monday night, Stevenson going down midgame, and Kevin Harris fumbling at the end of the first half, Strong got his chance. The rookie took that chance and ran with it, literally, with him rushing 5 times for 70 yards and a touchdown. Strong also caught two passes for 20 yards, showing off his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield.
Strong came into the game at the start of the third quarter and made an impact immediately, taking a screen pass 17 yards for a first down on a second and 12. On the same drive, Strong bounced a run to the outside for 44 yards, putting the Patriots in the red zone to set up a field goal to tie the game. At the start of the fourth quarter, Strong scored his first NFL touchdown from three yards out, putting the Patriots up by two scores, which would prove to be the dagger.
Later in the fourth, Strong was an asset once again, helping New England grind some clock, by using his speed to bounce a run to the outside once again for a 19-yard gain. Against Arizona, Strong showed elusiveness, speed, quick decision making, and a love for contact, much like how he played in college at South Dakota State.
Before being drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots, Strong showed great skill at South Dakota State University, putting up 4,527 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns on the ground. Strong proved to be a threat through the air as well, catching 62 passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns. Along with his obvious speed, Strong exhibited excellent open field running and quick lateral movement with the Jackrabbits. Strong would have some runs where the blocking would break down, and he’d be able to improvise with his vision of the field and twitchy moves, again paired with blazing speed.
Strong shares a commonality with recently covered Patriots tight end Hunter Henry, in that both are from Little Rock, Arkansas. Strong went to McClellan High School in Little Rock, where he was eventually named Class five-A offensive player of the year in his senior year. Strong went on to redshirt his freshman year at South Dakota State before having a very memorable first season, rushing for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with one receiving touchdown. The end to Strong’s SDSU career was even stronger than the start, in his senior year, he rushed for 1,686 yards, leading the FCS, and scoring 18 touchdowns on the ground, making him second in the subdivision. Strong also collected the accolades of first-team FCS All-American and All-MVFC honors that year.
At the 2022 NFL Combine, Strong ran an impressive 4.37 40 time and earned a prospect grade of a "good backup with the potential to develop into starter”. The Monday night game showed promise that Strong can live up to his draft grade. Looking at Strong's skillset, he seems to have the makings to possibly fill the James White/Shane Vereen/Danny Woodhead roll of a slippery third down/receiving back. The Patriots have made scat backs a big part of their offense for years and it is no secret that they are lacking that type of player at the moment. Don't be surprised if Strong earns that role in the future.
With both Stevenson and Damien Harris being uncertainties with injuries heading into the Raiders game, Strong and Kevin Harris will likely be leaned on once again in a game that is a must win to stay in the playoff picture. If Strong can run like he did against the Cardinals in Vegas, the Patriots will have a good shot at another victory on the road.
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