2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: UAB CB Starling Thomas V

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft, we will scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top-10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections, and priority undrafted free agents. Today we’ll be profiling UAB cornerback Starling Thomas V.

#4 Starling Thomas V/CB UAB – 5101, 190 lbs. (Senior)

East-West Shrine Bowl


Player Ht/Wt Hand size Arm Length Wingspan
Starling Thomas 5101, 190 9 5/8 30 5/8 74 3/8
40 Yard Dash 10 Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.38 1.59 4.36 7.29
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
10’5″ 37.5 14

The Good

— Extremely twitchy athlete, capable of sinking hips and changing direction with ease
— Often has a significant quickness advantage over receivers, allowing him to suffocate shallow and intermediate concepts
— Has the necessary speed to carry vertically with ease
— Has a solid frame for his height, should allow him to provide inside/outside versatility at the next level
— Relentless at the catch point, plays the hands with precise and physical punches
— Looked comfortable operating out of the slot in 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl practices
— Does a nice job to mirror and jam in press coverage; stout frame allows him to control receivers in their release phase with strong two-hand jams
— Plays with great pad level in his pedal from off-coverage, stays within his frame with his weight on his toes
— Plays with some of the best catch-man technique in this year’s class; pad level and powerful base allow him to absorb contact and control receivers at the top of their routes
— Has shown the ability to effectively close and tackle the catch point from off-coverage when unable to get in phase to play the football
— Offers some juice as a return man
— Breaks on the top shoulder of receivers, staying disciplined to create contact and carry double moves
— Can generate solid hit power when able to square up his target, snap his hips on contact, and run his feet through the target
— Does a great job to lean and locate the football downfield before playing the hands at the catch point, helps prevent penalties despite his extremely physical play
— Smooth kick-step transition from press coverage
— Can range from hashes to sideline effectively when working as a deep 1/3 defender
— Natural catcher of the football, fielded both punt- and kick-return duties in college

The Bad

— Inconsistent eye discipline downfield can cause him to get lost at the catch point on vertical routes, tends to turn and locate the football too early; would be best served to play to get to the top shoulder before turning to locate the football
— Played predominantly at the field corner spot at UAB, will need to adjust to more slot snaps at the next level
— Tends to struggle a bit shedding blocks on the perimeter
— Not a particularly physical player in run support, often aims low and fails to run his feet on contact
— Tends to play a bit physical downfield
— Inconsistent effort as tackler, too often is lazily arm tackling both in the box and in the open field
— Can get caught with his eyes in the backfield when breaking from off-coverage, needs to glue his eyes to receivers until he gets into phase
— Tends to drop his eyes on contact as a tackler, leading to some misses, needs to see what he hits


— Career: 108 tackles 1 TFL 1 FF 3 INTs 32 PDs
— 2022: 26 tackles 1 TFL 15 PDs
— 21 PRs 157 Yds 7.48 Avg 36 Long
— 10 KRs 199 Yds 19.9 Avg 61 Long
— 2022 First-Team All-Conference USA
— 2021 All-Conference USA Honorable Mention
— Birmingham native chose UAB over various Power 5 offers to stay closer to home
— Tore his ACL midway through 2019, finished the season with the injury, but had to miss 2020 while recovering from knee surgery
— Led UAB in PDs in both 2021 and 2022
— 2018 Alabama 100-meter (10.57) and 200-meter (21.33) state champion
— 400-meter state champion as a sophomore (48.36)
— Graduated with a degree in criminal justice in December 2022
— 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl Participant
— Did not receive an invite to the 2023 Combine, but did participate in drills at UAB’s Pro Day

Tape Breakdown

With the Pittsburgh Steelers in the market of tangibly upgrading the cornerback position ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft, it would be unsurprising to see them double dip at the position, adding a day-three pick later in the draft. One of my favorite names among that crop is UAB’s Starling Thomas V, a former high school track star who stood out as one of the top cornerback prospects at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

While speed is the defining trait of Thomas’s game, as evidenced by a 4.38 40 time and multiple state championship winning 100 (10.57) and 200 (21.33) meter times in high school, I found myself encouraged by his refined technique in coverage, both at Shrine Bowl practices and when evaluating his tape from the past two seasons. Predominantly a field cornerback at UAB, Thomas looked comfortable working out of the slot in Shrine Bowl practices, where his ability to comfortably execute from catch-man alignments gave receivers trouble.

Speaking of that speed, this rep below jumped off the tape. While he is ultimately unable to hawk the ball carrier short of the end zone, Thomas is able to close 10 yards of separation in just 60 yards, bursting past his teammates and nearly closing in time to make a tackle shy of the end zone.

His combination of world-class burst and long speed is unmatched by many, if any defensive back prospects in this year’s class. He is truly a special athlete in terms of raw speed and quickness.

In coverage, Thomas wins through physicality. He is often able to use his strong base to squeeze receivers at the top of their routes and separate them from the football with violent hand usage at the catch point. Evidenced by a whopping 15 pass breakups from this past season, Thomas is extremely effective at the catch point.

Even more impressive, a vast majority of Thomas’s pass breakups come from separating the receiver from the football, as opposed to undercutting prior to the catch point. His level of comfortability in playing the hands should translate to the next level where he will have to consistently compete against top-level receivers and quarterbacks who are willing to challenge tight-throwing windows.

Speaking of undercutting routes and making plays on the football, Thomas has shown the ability to do that as well. Here, working from press man coverage pre-snap, he carries the crossing route across the field, getting into the receiver’s hip pocket and undercutting the pass to secure the interception.

His speed makes him particularly effective at staying in phase with crossing routes, a trait he showcased repeatedly in Shrine Bowl practices. While his turnover production wasn’t elite at UAB, I strongly believe that there is more to unlock in that department as he continues to develop.

While he lacks ideal size in the height department, he possesses a stout frame. I believe that can help him provide inside/outside versatility at the next level. Likewise, his frame complements his quickness out of breaks, allowing him to close to the catch point to generate solid hit power.

This rep, with Thomas working as a flat defender in a Cover 2 scheme, showcases his ability to transfer speed to power at the point of contact. After passing off an inside release from the #1 receiver and expanding for depth, Thomas sinks to read the quarterback’s intentions. As the back expands to the flat, Thomas triggers downhill, closing to the catch point and snapping his hips on contact to deliver a powerful impact.

In zone coverage, Thomas’s athleticism allows him to effectively range from the hashes to the sideline when working as a deep 1/3 defender in Cover 3 schemes. Here, working from a press-bail technique, Thomas sinks for depth, mid-pointing two vertical routes before breaking laterally to close on the wheel route, arriving with physicality to jar the football loose.

Once again, his ability to disrupt the catch point with physicality is on display here, which is particularly impressive given that he is working against a larger framed tight end. His physicality and functional play strength should allow him to survive as a boundary corner or a slot corner at the next level.

Although he struggles to disengage from blocks on the perimeter, mitigating his effect in defending opponent run and screen game, he is willing to get involved, and can make an impact when able to slip blocks using his superior athletic traits. Here, coming down from his boundary cornerback spot, Thomas triggers quickly, beats the offensive lineman to the spot, and effectively slips the block. Keeping his outside arm free to maintain outside leverage, he shoots low to cut the back down with a nice leg tackle.

With plenty of experience handling both kick- and punt-return duties at UAB, Thomas was able to use his speed to exploit seams in coverage. He is particularly effective as a punt returner, where he is consistently able to make the first defender miss and get vertical to steal hidden yards.

Whether or not he continues to handle return duties at the next level, the ball skills to securely track and catch the football as well as showcase natural ability as a ball carrier should translate to his defensive back play at the next level.

Thomas’s primary struggles come from his inconsistent eye discipline, particularly downfield, where he can lose receivers as he attempts to lean and locate the football. Here, Thomas effectively transitions to carry the receiver vertically, staying glued to his hip pocket. He gets caught peeking downfield, allowing the receiver to drift open to secure a well thrown ball.

Thomas would be best served to continue squeezing the receiver into the sideline here, getting in location with the upfield shoulder and playing the hands at the catch point, as he has shown the ability to do repeatedly. Once again, it is important to note that eye discipline is a trait that many young corners struggle with, and one that I believe Thomas could be coached out of.


I am admittedly higher on Starling Thomas V than much of the draft community, but I came away extremely encouraged after evaluating his UAB tape, reinforcing what I saw in Shrine Bowl practices. His high-end athletic traits should certainly entice some teams, but his refined technique in coverage is ultimately what will help him compete for snaps at the next level.

Both in athletic profile and approach in coverage, Thomas reminds me quite a bit of Adam “Pac Man” Jones. While he doesn’t possess the same instincts and ability to bait quarterbacks into takeaways in coverage, Thomas’s similarly feisty approach at the catch point allows him to be particularly effective against larger-framed receivers. While he will need to become more consistent in his tackling and ability to fight off blocks on the perimeter, his work in coverage is far more consistent than certain corners who are perceived as early-round guys in this year’s class.

Although he did not play in the slot at the collegiate level, his work in Shrine Bowl practices was extremely encouraging. It should give teams confidence in his ability to translate to that role if needed at the next level. Capable of competing for sub-package snaps immediately while offering world-class athleticism, Thomas is the perfect type of player for Pittsburgh to add to the back end of its defense on day three.

Projection: Mid to Late Day Three

Depot Draft Grade: 7.6-Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)

Games Watched: at LSU (2022), vs Georgia Southern (2022), at Western Kentucky (2022), vs Florida Atlantic (2021)

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