Texans rookies are now officially at the first training camp of their NFL careers, which means we should be seeing something semi-resembling football in just a few short weeks when the preseason kicks off. More importantly, preseason football is when we will get our first good look at this year's rookie class for the Texans, who all figure to be prominently featured throughout the month of August as they adjust to the pros. To conclude our little miniseries of roundtables on Houston’s more "high profile" rookies, some of the BRB Masthead would like to share their expectations for arguably the biggest steal of the entire 2015 NFL Draft – wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
I feel less certain about predicting Strong than any of the rookies on the roster. Part of that is just I'm not sure how sudden he can be. Can he be an effective bad-ball catcher right off the bat? I think so. But until I see how his speed translates to the NFL I'm not projecting any touchdowns where he burns corners. I expect him to open the season as a starter outside. I don't expect him to be effective (or even close to it) on a consistent basis. The best-case scenario to me is that he starts adjusting to the game and becomes a problem for defenses in the second half of the season.
The Texans traded with the Jets in the third round to move up and snag Jaelen Strong with the 70th overall pick, giving up: a 3rd round pick (82nd overall), a 5th round pick (152nd overall), a 7th round pick (229th overall) and WR DeVier Posey. I think I heard MDC cheering louder about the Posey trade than when the news broke that Marciano had been fired. There's nothing quite like the thundering roar of a Michigan Wolverine fan sounding off from the bowels of Arkansas, but I digress. Strong fell in the draft after refusing to allow medical re-checks on his previously injured wrist. However, the Texans cleared him after their hand surgeon tested Strong's wrist.I think this guy could be the J.J. Watt of the Texans' wide receiving group in terms of effort and leadership. That's not to say he'll be pushing for NFL MVP votes, or that he'll outperform DeAndre Hopkins as a rookie, but he is a very smart and hard working athlete. He'll do everything he can to constantly try to improve his performance on the field, to prepare for each game, and to over-achieve with extreme focus and intensity. It was impressive to learn that he invested time in the defensive back meetings to learn how to counter their tactics. I think he'll make good contributions his rookie year, perhaps 500 to 700 yards, and break out his second year to push Hopkins and the other Texans receivers. With all the attention Hopkins is likely to draw from defenses now that Andre Johnson has departed, Strong may benefit and develop even faster.
I'm trying to keep my expectations tempered. I believe Strong has a chance--A CHANCE-- to be a legitimate matchup problem for opposing defenses. I also think that the transition will not be as quick as many hope it will be. While no one will confuse Cecil Shorts III or Nate Washington with Andre Johnson, I fully expect both of those veterans to play the majority of the snaps in the Texans' two and three wideout sets for the bulk of the season. By the third quarter of the year, however, I'm hoping Strong starts getting regular time opposite DeAndre Hopkins. At the end of the 2015 campaign, I'd guess Strong's final stat line hovers somewhere around 500 yards receiving with three TDs and the arrow pointed up for 2016.
Jaelen Strong might not be a huge contributor right out of the gate considering that he is coming into his rookie year as (at best) the 4th receiver on the depth chart, but I think he has the potential to be something special by his second or third year in the league. What he lacks in polish, he more than makes up for in work ethic to fulfill his potential, which was arguably one of the highest ceilings of this year’s wideout class. DeAndre Hopkins is already setting a good example as the new leader in the receiver room by showing up to training camp early to get some extra work in with the rookies, and I think that kind of leadership will only further fuel Strong’s desire to succeed. Again, that success will likely be more long term than short term, but at the very least I expect to see some very, very exciting flashes of talent sprinkled throughout Strong’s rookie year.
What do you think, BRB? Do you expect Strong to match the high statistical bar set by the 2014 receiver class in his rookie year, or will he prove to be a more long-term project behind Nate Washington, Cecil Shorts, and DeAndre Hopkins? Post your own hopes, dreams, and predictions in the comments below.