While size is increasingly valued at the modern cornerback position, speed, quick twitch agility, physicality, and consistency in technique remain pillars of what remains one of the most difficult jobs in football. Enter Starling Thomas V, a Shrine Bowl product who turned heads in a breakout senior season, in which he tallied 26 tackles, a tackle for a loss, and 15 pass breakups on limited targets, good enough to earn First Team All-Conference USA honors.
For his career, he compiled 97 tackles, a tackle for a loss, a fumble recovery, a pair of interceptions, and 28 pass breakups. Along with his impressive defensive resume, Thomas V showed the ability to impact the game as a returner, fielding 21 punts for 157 yards (long of 36), and 10 kicks for 199 yards (long of 61).
His game breaking speed is readily apparent when watching his collegiate tape, unsurprising given his high school track accolades, including a 10.4 second 100 meter dash time, which was good enough to him a state title in Alabama. The UAB product quickly proved that his speed translated to the collegiate game, landing on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List after being clocked at a blazing 24.16 miles per hour on a GPS.
After playing primarily on the boundary at UAB, Thomas V impressed in Vegas, working well both from the slot and on the boundary, consistently showing refined technique and explosiveness in closing to the catch point. The primary concern scouts may naturally have about his game would center around a lack of size, measuring in at just 5’9”, although stoutly built at 194 pounds. In response to a perceived lack of measurable height, the UAB product did not seem fazed in the slightest.
“I was telling them, you don’t never play football without shoes on.”
As for an invite to the NFL’s scouting combine, at the time of our interview, Thomas V was still without an invitation to showcase his game breaking speed on center stage to scouts from all 32 teams. Once again, Thomas V’s response was a lighthearted one, joking that the combine had yet to invite their fastest prospect. After watching the UAB product in Vegas, it was abundantly clear his unrelenting self-confidence allows him to cause issues for receivers, always believing he is the best player on the field regardless of the matchup.
“Haven’t? It’s surprising to me, but it’s alright. How you gonna leave the fastest man out? Hell? They tend to miss quite a bit.”
He claims that he is eying a 4.2 40 time, citing that he has been clocked as fast as 4.28 by his strength coach. In regards to his breakout 2022 season, which garnered national attention from the NFL draft community, Thomas V cites an increased commitment and refinement of his film study habits.
“This past year I took a big step in watching film. Just learning different sets, different formations, how they line up and what they want to do at certain points in the game. So I feel like that was a big part of all the pass breakups.”
Building on his film study habits, Thomas V outlined his weekly progression from this past season. While it was similar to what would be expected from a collegiate defensive back, his mention of studying personnel groupings was a testament to his football IQ. In studying opposing offenses by personnel packages, a corner can develop a solid feel for what the offense likes to do out of each grouping, allowing their anticipation skills to take over in game.
“Saturday and Sunday I watch our game and then I go on to the opponents game, just watching the game. I just watch it and then on Monday we’ll install first and second down. So I’ll go watch first and second down. So then we watch like third downs and redzone. So I’ll go watch that. By the time Wednesday comes, I’ll go look at like 11 personnel, 12 personnel, 10, empty, whatever they wanna do. And then Friday and a few hours before the game I watch a cutup of all passing plays.”
When asked about his background as a return man, Thomas V opened up about his initial transition to defensive back. Growing up as a receiver, Starling always had the ball in his hands. When his high school coach asked him to move to corner, in order to get the talented athlete on the field as an underclassmen, he offered him an incentive laden avenue to move back to offense. In spite of taking care of his end of the deal, Starling never moved back to corner, instead becoming the dominant corner and return man that showcased his talents in Vegas, on the cusp of achieving his NFL dreams.
“My high school coach wanted me to get on the field early. We had a lot of older guys talking to a high school where they were just bringing back the football program which was basically the same thing as at UAB. We had a lot of older guys that were playing and he wanted them to play for they last year. So he’s like, man, I just wanna get you on the field. And I was hurt about not playing receiver. He was like, if you get an interception the first game, I’ll put you back at receiver. I went out there, got an interception in the first game. Then he’s like, your not going back to receiver. So that’s how I started playing corner. I just love returning the ball, being able to showcase my speed and showing that I can make a change.”
A family man at his core, Starling Thomas V credits god and staying closer to his ill mother for his commitment to UAB, a commitment he made despite having various big time power 5 offers, including Notre Dame. At UAB, Starling had the opportunity to play collegiate ball fifteen minutes from home, helping to relaunch a program just as a he had once done in high school.
“So they don’t even have my biggest offer, which was Notre Dame. Todd Light came down. I came out like two or three times trying to get me to come up there and play, but it really led to me going here to be with God. My mom ended up getting sick during my senior year of high school and I wanted her to continue to see me play football. And so me being from Birmingham, nearly 15 minutes away, so I ended up choosing UAB so she could see me play my freshman year before she passed away. So that was like a big brother, like I’m a big family guy, like.”
Starling Thomas V enters the NFL with a unique path to the league and an equally unique skillset, one centered around his otherworldly athleticism. Whether at the NFL combine, or at UAB’s pro day if he remains a combine snub, Thomas V has the change to post some earth shattering testing numbers, particularly in the 40 yard dash. Regardless, a refined technician with the ability to play on the boundary or in the slot at the next level, the UAB product is a mid round target that should absolutely be on Pittsburgh’s radar come draft time.