Grading Patriots drafting South Dakota RB Pierre Strong in Round 4

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The New England Patriots must have drafted South Dakota running Pierre Strong with an eye for 2023, because he is joining one of the deepest running back groups in the NFL in 2022 for his rookie season.

Strong will team up with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Ty Montgomery and J.J. Taylor. And the rookie won’t have a clear path to the field, even after dominating at a lower level of competition in 2021 with 240 carries, 1,673 yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 22 catches and 150 yards.

Maybe he’ll need some time to adjust from the FCS level to the NFL competition. But his measurables are elite: a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and a 6.95-second 3-cone drill. His 40-yard time was the best among running backs at the combine and his 3-cone drill (recorded at his Pro Day) was on par with most of the Patriots’ slot receivers (Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, etc…). So he’s an athlete with an impressive profile of production — not unlike a number of the rookies New England already drafted. Their whole draft class fits that billing.

The question with Strong is whether he’ll contribute as a pass-catcher. His 22 catches aren’t hugely impressive — especially when considering he struggled with both drops and fumbles during his college career. And draft analysts don’t all agree that he fits naturally as a third-down back. Will he be the lightning to Stevenson’s thunder in 2023? Will Strong be White’s replacement? It’s not totally clear.

That’s why I’m giving this selection a B-. There’s a lot to like about this selection on paper: another speedy threat. But was he a reach? Did they need another between-the-tackles running back?

Maybe the Patriots see both Harris and White depart in 2022. In fact, that feels likely. At least that gives the Patriots a year to figure out how they want to deploy their explosive new weapon.

List

The best 22 prospects available on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL draft