The Detroit Lions, who found cornerback Jerry Jacobs as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in 2021, are hoping to uncover another valuable player in Starling Thomas V. Signing Thomas, a cornerback from the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), as an UDFA immediately after the conclusion of the 2023 NFL draft shows the team’s confidence in his potential.
High Praise for Thomas V
Cornerback Starling Thomas V continues to appear on lists of the best undrafted free agent signings. With top-tier speed and a 4.38-second 40-yard-dash time, Thomas stood out as a player with promise at the next level. However, his smaller stature may have hindered his draft stock. The Lions see an opportunity in Thomas, as their cornerback room is filled with studs, however several are on one year contracts. Thomas, a three-year starter at UAB, boasts an impressive track record, allowing just 37.9% of his targets to be caught and forcing a 29% incompletion percentage.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic shared his thoughts on Thomas prior to the draft:
A three-year starter at UAB, Thomas was an outside cornerback in former defensive coordinator David Reeves’ balanced scheme. A Birmingham native, his college career was disrupted by an ACL injury, but he returned to lead the Blazers in passes defended his junior and senior seasons. Thomas displays the explosive acceleration and fluid movement skills desired at the position in the NFL. He gets his hands on plenty of footballs but needs to turn more of those breakups into interceptions and dial back his leaning mid-route, which allows receivers to become unglued at break points. Overall, Thomas lacks ideal height/length and needs to add more discipline to his scrappy style, but he has high-level speed and twitchy cover skills with the toughness to match. He has the skill set to play both outside and at the nickel.
Impressive Stats and Speed
Thomas’s speed is worth noting. The 5-10, 190-pound corner recorded a 4.37 40-yard dash during pre-draft workouts, but his high school track title in the 100-meter dash (10.4 seconds) and a GPS-timed 24.1 MPH at UAB demonstrate his true potential. As one of the fastest player on the Lions, Thomas brings additional athleticism to the team.
Utilizing Thomas’s Unique Skill Set
At UAB, Thomas primarily played outside cornerback, showcasing his press-man skills and jam technique. With a 6-foot-3 wingspan, Thomas effectively uses his length when jamming receivers at the line-of-scrimmage. In his final two years with the Blazers, Thomas intercepted three passes and disrupted 23 others.
Transitioning Thomas to the slot may be challenging due to his size and the Lions’ lack of depth inside. However, his straight-line speed and aggressive tackling make him a valuable asset in the run defense. Though Thomas’s footwork could use improvement, his feistiness, twitchiness, and passion for football make him an appealing prospect for the Lions.
Exploring Additional Roles for Thomas
In addition to his cornerback skills, Thomas has experience as a return man at UAB. This versatility could provide another avenue for him to secure a roster spot with the Lions. While Thomas did miss the 2020 season due to a torn ACL, he has proven to be reliable and durable in all other instances.
The Detroit Lions are eager to see if Starling Thomas V can make a significant impact as an undrafted free agent. With his exceptional speed, athleticism, and passion for the game, Thomas has the potential to become a valuable addition to the team. As the Lions explore various ways to utilize Thomas’s skill set, they may have discovered another hidden gem in the UDFA pool.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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