ASU Football's 13 Most Important Players in 2013: #12 WR Jaelen StrongPosted: Updated:
Fire up your DVR and re-watch any of Arizona State's regular season games from the 2012 season, and pay close attention to the wide receivers.
Chances are that your reaction will range from "Eh, not bad" to "Sweet fancy Moses".
Given the inconsistency that the Sun Devil wide receivers showed on the field, it's something of a minor miracle that the ASU offense performed as well as they did, finishing 14th in the FBS in scoring. So it's with that in mind that the following could be considered either a positive, a negative, or likely some combination of the two.
With the graduation of the position's top two statistical performers in Rashad Ross (37 catches, 610 yards, six touchdowns) and Jamal Miles (37-373-0), the returning wide receivers combined for just 17% of last season's passing game production. Of those 586 returning receiving yards, 324 come from senior Kevin Ozier.
Clearly, depth is an issue. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the program signed five wide receivers in the 2013 recruiting class.
While Cameron Smith, Ronald Lewis, Joe Morris and Ellis Jefferson all bring varied and intriguing tools to Tempe, one player's the pedigree, talent, and hype has him above the rest.
Jaelen Strong prepped at West Philadelphia Catholic High School before going the juco route by enrolling at Pierce College in Los Angeles. In his lone season there, he hauled in 67 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Strong was then rated by ESPN's recruiting service as a 4-star prospect and the 15th highest rated junior college player in the nation before signing with ASU. He also had offers from Miami, Nebraska, Illinois, Arizona and Oregon State, among others before deciding on being a Sun Devil.
Strong brings an very intriguing blend of skills to the Sun Devils' most uncertain position. He has a great frame at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, while adding electric 4.46 speed. Strong has proven to be a dangerous downfield threat, and adjusts well to the ball before snaring it with sure hands. Like many making the move to the FBS level, Strong has much to iron out, including his route-running.
In the end, Strong has some serious skills. As ESPN's scouting report simply stated:
"Strong is a playmaker and on skill alone should be able to be a factor quickly at the next level."
In order for ASU's offense to make the necessary leap in Year Two of Mike Norvell's offense, they will need Strong to cash in on that promising talent.
Ozier provides a steady, sure-handed, if unspectacular, option for quarterback Taylor Kelly, while the speedy sophomore Rick Smith looks to parlay a fantastic spring session into a starting role. Kelly's top targets will likely continue to be record-setting tight end Chris Coyle and running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster.
While that trio represents a lethal group of playmakers, Kelly admits that in order for the offense to reach its full potential and to prevent defenses from keying on Coyle and the running game, the wide receivers will need to step up.
"We have some good guys coming in, some freshman and junior college kids coming in this summer," said Kelly. "We have to get the young guys going, because they are going to have a big role in our offense.”
None of those new guys stands taller, runs faster, or has had the production of Strong. Should he step in and provide the deep threat he is capable of becoming, the running lanes for Grice and Foster get wider, the seams for Coyle get larger, and Kelly has more options.
Most importantly, more points get put on the board.
Check out Strong's juco highlights here: