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Patriots Sign Rookie RB Pierre Strong

New England has seven of its 10 rookies under contract.

Just because Bill Belichick canceled last week's minicamp and this week's OTAs doesn't mean it's Summer vacation for the New England Patriots. The team signed fourth-round draft pick Pierre Strong Jr. to a contract Thursday morning.

Strong, the 127th overall pick in Apirl's NFL Draft, agreed to a four-year, $4.37 million contract. The running back from North Dakota State will enter next month's training camp behind Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and James White on the running back depth chart. At minicamp last week he was even spotted returning kickoffs.

The Patriots now have seven of their 10 rookies under contract, including defensive lineman Sam Roberts, running back Kevin Harris, cornerbacks Marcus and Jack Jones and offensive linemen Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber. They only had approximatey $2 million of salary-cap before signing Strong, so some money will have to be moved around before they sign first-round pick Cole Strange, second-rounder Tyquan Thornton, and fellow fourth-rounder Bailey Zappe in the coming weeks.

It is not uncommon, of course, for high draft picks to wait to get their deals done in the days just before the start of training camp in late July.

Perhaps undersized but long on athleticism and gumption, Strong seems an on-brand pick for the Patriots and could get snaps as a third-down back the mold of a faster Rex Burkhead or even Darren McFadden-type back.

At 5-11 and 205 pounds, Strong is a good athlete with above-average straight-line speed while showing good body control as a runner. In the passing game, he’s shown sufficient hands out of the backfield. He is a definite threat in space when he gets the ball on a check-down. He is physical and willing in pass protection but should be better in this regard with pro coaching.

In the run game, he is a slasher-type runner that has been extremely productive at the FCS level. He is a good decision-maker who has a good feel for weak-arm cutbacks on a defender. He runs with good vision and instinctive feel in traffic. He will not be a back who breaks many tackles or a back who consistently creates when nothing’s there.

After redshirting in 2017, Strong was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year in 2018, leading SDSU with 1,116 rushing yards and 11 scores on 117 carries (also 6-84-14.0, one TD receiving). Strong was a third-team Associated Press FCS All-American and first-team all-conference pick in 2019, ranking fifth in the FCS with 7.1 yards per carry and topping his squad in rushing (143-1,018-7.1, eight TDs rushing; 14-169-12.1, one TD receiving in 11 games, seven starts).

He battled through injuries during the 2021 spring season and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (top player in FCS), earning first-team All-MVFC honors for his play in nine starts (131-707-5.4, three TDs rushing; 20-178-8.9, one TD receiving). Strong capped his outstanding career with the Jackrabbits by receiving first-team FCS All-American and All-MVFC honors in 2021, leading the FCS with 1,686 rushing yards and ranking second with 18 rushing TDs (7.0 yards per carry on 240 totes in 15 starts, also 22-150-6.8 receiving).