Wednesday, 12 February 2014

ASU's Jaelen Strong Vs Derek Hagan: Putting the Sun Devil Receivers Side-By-Side

On August 9, 2013, JC transfer wide receiver Jaelen Strong became academically eligible to play football in the upcoming season at ASU. Game #1 would kick off in less than 30 days and Strong, who had high marks from recruiting services, was expected to come in and immediately contribute.
Strong was admittedly not in the best shape since he had yet to work with ASU's Strength & Conditioning Coach, Shawn Griswold. Camp Tontozona would be Strong's first real taste of the speed and toughness that Head Coach Todd Graham demanded of his players. At the same time, he was challenged with learning the new playbook and his role in ASU's offense.
As it turned out, Strong was a quick study. Since his first few weeks in Tempe, he has established himself as a true Division I threat. Strong has everything and he knows how to use it: size, strength, athleticism, good large hands and above average speed for a 6' 4" athlete. With Strong, OC Mike Norvell has added a potent weapon in the passing game, something his offense desperately needed.
Jaelen Strong's first year production
Jaelen Strong's first year production
Due to Strong's accomplishments in his short time at ASU, some fans have made comparisons between him and the great Derek Hagan who wore the Maroon & Gold from 2002-2005.
Derek Hagan played in every one of ASU's 50 games in his four seasons. In that time, he eclipsed the numbers of legendary Sun Devil receiver, John Jefferson.
Hagan became ASU's all-time leader in receptions (258), receiving yards (3,939), 100-yard games (18), receiving touchdowns (27) along with average receiving yards per game. How's this for a feat -- he averaged over 100 yards per game throughout his junior and senior seasons. All of Hagan's records are still in tact.
For fun, let's project the future stats of Jaelen Strong and compare his figures with those of Derek Hagan. We'll assume that Strong forgoes the NFL Draft in 2015 (a very real possibility) and plays all 3 years of eligibility in Tempe. In doing so, we'll multiply Srong's 2013 performance by three.
Jaelen Strong vs Derek Hagan. This is how the two players would compare under these circumstances...
Jaelen Strong over his sophomore, junior & senior seasons:
225 Receptions - 3,366 Yards - 15 Yard Avg - 21 TD's
Derek Hagan over his sophomore, junior & senior seasons:
226 Receptions - 3,534 Yards - 16 Yard Avg - 27 TD's
Now lets balance Hagan's individual season performances with Strong's impressive first season. Hagan twice caught more than 75 passes (Jaelen's 2013 total), twice caught more than 1,122 yards (Jaelen's 2013 total), twice averaged over 15 yards per catch (Jaelen's 2013 average) and in three of his four seasons, Hagen caught more than 7 touchdown passes (Jaelen's 2013 total).
Additionally, the Sun Devils played only 12 games during Derek Hagan's sophomore, junior and senior seasons. ASU played 14 games in Strong's first year.
Is it possible that Jaelan Strong will be more productive this year than he was in 2013? Absolutely. Do you think he's determined to blow out his first campaign as a Sun Devil this year? I could be wrong, but I think I can safely say on Mr. Strong's behalf, "Hell Yes."
In one season that included just 13 pre-season practices between the two, Jaelen Strong and Taylor Kelly developed great chemistry. Couple that with how fast Strong has transitioned from the JC level to Division I, and it's reasonable to assume that his ceiling is much higher.
The "challenge" for Strong individually this year is that ASU's receiving corp is loaded with incoming 4-star talent. The Devils also have young receivers already on the roster like speedster Cameron Smith and the tough & physical Ellis Jefferson. A team-first player, Strong should firmly remain the leader of the group, but it's possible that his receptions drop off some.
On the flip side, if you look at Derek Hagan's record setting receptions and remember that he shared the load with the likes of Terry Richardson, Rudy Burgess and Zach Miller, perhaps Strong will catch even more passes in 2014. These are the type of quandaries that any die hard Sun Devil fan should enjoy mulling over.
Jaelen Strong is an exciting, elite college football receiver who should garner more national attention this fall. But ten years ago, ASU's Derek Hagan set the bar extremely high, even for someone with the talent of Jaelen Strong, to challenge his spot at the top.

By Mike D Howell

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