ASU WR Jaelen Strong drafted by Houston Texans in 3rd round of NFL Draft

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(Ralph Freso Getty Images Sport) (Ralph Freso Getty Images Sport)
(Doug Pensinger / Getty Images Sport) (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images Sport)

Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong has been selected by the Houston Texans in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The Texans engineered a trade with the New York Jets to move up to the 70th overall pick to take Strong, ending an unexpected draft slide for the prospect.

"You can't be much more thankful than I am right now," Strong said on a conference all after his selection. "I'm just happy that they trusted in me.”

Houston was one of the teams that Strong had visited in the weeks leading up to the draft. When Strong remained on the board in the third round, Houston general manager Rick Smith took action.

"There's a guy sitting there that has obvious value, Smith said. "So once again, just trying to be aggressive and adding talent to the football team. I got on the phone again and actually executed the first trade of the Mike Maccagnan era with the Jets."

Strong bypassed his senior season to enter the draft, ending one of the most prolific careers of any ASU wide receiver in school history. In just two seasons at ASU, Strong ended his Sun Devil career with 157 catches (6th in school history) for 2,287 yards (7th) and 17 touchdowns. His per-game averages of 6.04 receptions and 87.96 yards are the best in ASU history. He was named a second team All-Pac-12 selection in 2013 and a first-team pick last fall.

The Philadelphia native was a transfer from Pierce College and wasted no time in making his mark on the Sun Devil offense. He topped 100 yards receiving in five of his first six games, becoming known for his leaping catches above defenders, and never looked back. Strong was on the receiving end of arguably the most famous play in ASU history, the "Jael Mary", in which he hauled in a Hail Mary from Mike Bercovici to beat USC on the road.

The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Strong was widely regarded to have sure hands and the ability to out-jump and out-muscle defenders for contested passes. Along with his size, teams loved his ability to adjust to the ball, giving his quarterback a large catch radius. However, questions lingered about his speed and ability to separate from elite defenders. Those were answered to a degree when Strong ran a 4.44 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. While he will never be a burner at the next level, Strong projects to be a productive player with tremendous upside, especially in the redzone.

"Jaelen Strong is a big, outside receiver," said Smith. "A really good catch radius. He's able to go up and do a great job on 50/50 balls, contested catches. We feel like he can run. We feel like he's best days of football are ahead of him."

Strong was widely viewed as a potential first round pick, but did not get selected on Thursday. His fall from the second round came amid rumors of "undisclosed character concerns" reported Friday morning by The Baltimore Sun.

“You know, I'm not really worried about that," Strong said of his draft position. "I told the Houston Texans when I was down there, no matter which round I went in, I'm here to work, I'm here to be a competitor, and I can't wait to get there.”

Also complicated the picture were reports emerging pre-draft of a previously undisclosed wrist injury. Strong acknowledged the injury soon after, saying that he had played the last several weeks of the season with it. The Texans medical staff felt that the wrist was not an issue.

"We have an excellent hand surgeon here that works with us and he cleared him and we had no issues with his wrist,” Smith said.

With the Texans, Strong will look to contribute immediately. Houston let the franchise's all-time leading receiver in Andre Johnson leave, and they traded DeVier Posey to the Jets as part of the draft day trade.

"I don't know that anybody here is expecting him to replace Andre Johnson," Smith said. "We want him to come in and we don't want him to be anything other than himself. If he does that and he works hard and he understands that, I think he's got a chance to be a good football player.”

"They just told me to come in ready to work and be ready to do what the coaches ask, which I'm always ready to do,” Strong said.

Strong will look to pair with emerging star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to provide firepower for the Texans' passing game that is still looking to find a long-term answer at quarterback

"I'm very excited," Strong said of playing with Hopkins. "I watched some games last year and saw what Andre Johnson did in that offense and in the passing game last year. I'm just very excited. I can't wait.”

Strong is the second Sun Devil to be taken so far in the 2015 draft. His teammate, defensive back Damarious Randall, was picked 30th overall by the Green Bay Packers. Randall became the first Sun Devil to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Terrell Suggs in 2003.