Carson Strong was an intriguing name ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft but decided against entering it. Since he chose to stay with the Nevada Wolfpack for another year, he’s quickly made his way into the first-round conversation for the 2022 NFL Draft and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him come off the board early on day one.
There were a few factors that went into that, with one of them being the amount of talent Nevada has on both sides of the ball. With the pieces the Wolfpack have in place, there’s a high possibility they could go all the way and win a Mountain West Championship.
“This, since I’ve been here, is the best overall group we’ve had,” Strong said. “This could be a really good team. To me, this is a championship or bust year for us.”
Outside of the high level of confidence he has in the team he has around him, the decision to return to school came down to Strong striving to be a cut above the rest in a historical way.
“It sounds crazy, but I want to be the first quarterback to reach an 85% completion percentage,” Strong said. “Like, Joe Burrow type of stuff. I really think that we could do that with the receivers that we’ve got here. When we do 7-on-7 three times a week, I don’t have too many balls hitting the ground. I’m still working on getting the ball out of my hands fast and just taking what they give me in every single game.”
For reference, Burrow’s highest completion percentage in a single season was 76.3% in 2019, the third-highest of all-time. The record for the highest completion percentage in college football history for a single season is 77.4%, owned by former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (2020).
So, it’s a lofty goal for sure, but it’s one that those around Strong certainly haven’t ruled out as a possibility.
“If a quarterback is above a 65% in completion percentage, I’m happy,” Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme said. “If we’re throwing for 70%, we’re probably pretty successful. He’s a kid that backs up a lot of what he says.”
Strong has been impressive throughout his college career in several aspects, but particularly in that area, recording a 70.1% completion percentage in 2020—a nearly 7% jump from the season before. Mumme describes him as one of the most “savvy” quarterbacks he’s ever had.
“He’s a smart guy academically, but he’s also extremely smart on the football field,” Mumme said. “He’s probably the most savvy quarterback knowledge-wise against defenses I’ve ever had. He’s a guy who is very energetic, very interactive with all of his teammates. I’ve had other quarterbacks who are still interactive with their teammates, but not quite in the same way.”
Despite how well Strong has performed, going on to the next level, there seems to be a trend in which Air Raid quarterbacks in particular are labeled as system players who perform well on the college stage only to fail in the NFL. But the times seem to be changing a bit.
“Everybody has a system,” Mumme said. “The option guys are a system—they’re very specific to what they do. I don’t know why the NFL kind of snubbed us for a while, but now I think it’s coming around with guys like Patrick Mahomes having a lot of success and some of these other Air Raid guys that are coming out and going on to the NFL now.
One thing to consider with this is the amount of freedom quarterbacks have in the Air Raid, and the level of intelligence it takes to have a lot of success with that freedom.
“I think it’s perceived as an ‘oh they won’t be able to handle the verbiage in the NFL, because everything was so simple in the Air Raid,’” Mumme said. “We pick smart quarterbacks. So sure, it will be another learning curve for them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a good player.”
Strong also spoke to this misperception of quarterbacks within this particular offense.
“I think quarterbacks have a good chance of being successful being in this offense because the Air Raid coaches allow their guys to audible plays and sling the rock around just get really comfortable doing that,” Strong said.
At the end of the day, players should be looked at as just that, individuals, without emphasis on the system itself. Just because a player does very well in one offense doesn’t mean that he can’t do equally well in another system.
Bear in mind that the Air Raid did revolutionize the game of football, and just about every offense runs some of its concepts even if they don’t run the system in its purest form. Strong has a lot of reps in concepts from the Air Raid like “92” (mesh), “6” (four verticals), and Y-cross, just to name a few, that we see in offenses across the country at all levels of football.
“That doesn’t take away the talent from the players,” Strong said. “Patrick Mahomes was Air Raid, Baker Mayfield was Air Raid and those are some really talented players. Lots of other guys too. I don’t think it’s exactly the system you’re running, you can be successful running any system… you can be successful running pro-style, Wing-T if you’ve got enough reps in it and you’re good at it.”