A breakdown of Atlanta Falcons’ 2014 NFL Draft seventh-round pick, former South Dakota edge-rusher Tyler Starr.
College: South Dakota
40 Time: 4.95 (Combine)
Three-Cone: 6.64 (Combine)
He was born on January 25, 1991 and attended George-Little Rock High School in George, Iowa.
He redshirted his first year at South Dakota, and then sat out the next year due an academic problem where he did not have enough credits. When he finally got on the field as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, he broke out with a 14-sack season while starting 11 games at defensive end. He also had 51 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He would earn first team All-Great West Conference honors that year. During his junior season he moved to outside linebacker where he started 10 of 11 games. He finished the season with 74 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. He would earn second team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors and received one vote as one of 20 Buck Buchanan Award finalists (award given to top defensive player in FCS sub-division). He also earned MVFC honor roll, showing his academics had gotten in good standing. As a senior, he started 11 of 12 games at outside linebacker, recording 71 tackles, 15 for loss, nine sacks, one interception, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He placed ninth in voting for Buck Buchanan Award finalists, earned MVFC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a first team all-conference selection. He was also named second team FCS All-American by the Associated Press. Starr finished his career tied for the school’s all-time lead in sacks with 27.
He participated in the East-West Shrine All-Star game at the end of the year, where he had an impressive week of practice. Known for his aggressive play, he was ejected during a game as a senior for a targeting penalty. He launched himself into Missouri State’s quarterback with the crown of his helmet. He also worked hard to improve his academics over course of his career, but had reputed bouts of immaturity at a young age that led to his struggles to get on the field until his third year at South Dakota.
Had an impressive Combine performance, as his three-cone time was the best posted by a true linebacker since 2006. Possesses 32.5-inch arms and 9.5-inch hands. He had a 32-inch vertical, 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump, and the fourth-fastest short shuttle of 4.15 seconds at the Combine.
2013 GAMES WATCHED
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The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Speed (6.5) – Starr’s speed looks better on tape than his timed speed. He shows good ability in pursuit and can make plays by chasing down slower backs from the backside. Can collapse the edge quickly to get penetration and make stops in the backfield. Has good speed to run with tight ends down the seam when asked to don so. Clocked a 4.85-second 40 time at his pro day.
Strength (5.0) – Is willing to throw his weight around some, but could certainly use a year or two in an NFL-caliber strength and conditioning program to get stronger. Isn’t always able to fight off tight ends, and while he flashes the ability to convert speed to power well as a bull-rusher, it’s not consistent and needs refinement. Needs to get stronger, as he has a tendency to get knocked off his rush and winds up on the turf once bigger tackles get their hands on him. Did 24 bench reps of 225 pounds at the Combine.
Tackling (5.0) – Does a pretty good job wrapping up, but doesn’t break down and drive through ballcarrier on a consistent basis. Could get stronger to become more of a hitter than a drag-down tackler he can appear to be in some instances.
Coverage (4.5) – Starr didn’t show great technique or footwork when he was asked to drop into coverage, suggesting he still has many of the basics to learn at the next level. Moves fairly well for a player with his size, with decent hips, flexibility and change of direction ability. Has the size and speed combo to match up favorably with some NFL tight ends, although unlikely to be the sort that can cover the best.
Point of Attack (5.0) – Needs to do a better job stacking and shedding blockers at the point of attack, with a tendency to try and penetrate, and can get redirected out of the play. Tends to be tentative or hesitant about taking on blockers, trying to avoid tight ends which makes him go backwards. Does a decent job setting the edge against the run, but most of the plays he makes against the run are in pursuit rather than when opposing offenses run at him.
Instincts/Recognition (4.5) – Has a tendency to play on his heels a bit, especially when he’s not asked to attack the line of scrimmage or rush the quarterback. Can be a step or two late when being asked to diagnose and then react, which leads to some missed tackles. Rarely in position when working against the zone-read option.
Pass Rush (6.0) – Tends to rely on the outside rip and dip move to challenge edge and turn corner, but will show other moves as well to win. But wins mostly with speed and keeping offensive tackles off-balanced with his initial first step, which is capable.
Motor (8.0) – Plays to the whistle on a consistent basis. Plays with a bit of an edge stemming from his ejection and also getting after opposing blockers and tight ends beyond the whistle, with a nudge and push here and there.
Based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.
Developmental Role Player (4.0) – A player that is best used as a role player but has the ability to become a starter. Typically has a longer length to impact and could take the better part of his rookie contract before he develops enough to trust as a starter. Typically is productive collegiate player that is limited in a number of key areas such as size, strength, speed, or athleticism that will limit him at next level. A solid Day 3 selection that would be considered a reach if taken in the Top 100.
When watching South Dakota’s games against Kansas and Youngstown State on DraftBreakdown.com to look at Starr, it was pretty clear to me that he was the best athlete on South Dakota’s defense.
The argument could be made that he was the best athlete on the field, including the offensive players of Kansas and Youngstown State.
But between the two schools, Kansas and Youngstown State only featured two undrafted free agents in this year’s draft class and two more that earned tryouts with NFL teams.
So the fact that Starr stood out against that level of competition is not automatically an indicator of great success in the NFL.
But it does imply that Starr was certainly the most draftable of the three schools’ potential pro prospects, and that means that I like him a little better than the Falcons earlier fourth-round selection in Notre Dame’s Prince Shembo.
But Starr is the type of player that I think will take time before he can transition to the NFL. The fact that it took him two years to get his act together in college before he could start to contribute doesn’t make me believe that the transition to the NFL is going to be significantly easier for him.
What Starr can become is a solid complementary edge-rusher in the NFL. He has the potential to play in a 3-4 scheme, but also could develop down the road the ability to put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer as a sub-package specialist since that was seemingly what he was most comfortable with at South Dakota.
Starr isn’t going to be the guy that draws a lot of double teams, but he could be like the Anthony Spencer or Jarrett Johnson to someone else’s DeMarcus Ware or Terrell Suggs. Ultimately, Starr projects best to being a role player, but could develop into a valuable one if he can improve by becoming a more well-rounded player.
He has the physical tools to do that, with an impressive Combine performance given that he’s a small school guy.
If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t be as high on Tyler Starr if not for Kroy Biermann’s level of success in the NFL.
I know in many eyes that Biermann hasn’t been that successful, but considering he’s a fifth-round pick, his career has gone well. Biermann’s 16.5 career sacks is the second-most of any defensive player taken in the fifth round of later since 2006. That may mean Biermann is more of a very good role player rather than a starter, but it’s still successful for a FCS player to play six years in the NFL and potentially more.
However, I’m not as high on Starr to think he’s going to be a significantly better player than Biermann in Atlanta.
Biermann flashed early as a pass-rusher in Atlanta, with seven sacks over a 17-game span from late 2008 to 2009. It would take another 43 games until Biermann got his next seven sacks and he sort of settled into a guy that could provide some pressure, but not on a consistent basis.
And I see Starr being potentially better, but not by any huge degree. Starr has better length than Biermann, which if he can get stronger and improve his technique and pass-rush moves can make him into an effective pass-rusher. But by no means do I believe Starr is ever giong to be a dominant pass-rusher.
Another good comparison is Houston Texans edge-rusher Brooks Reed. Like Biermann, Reed had a good start with a five-game stretch during his rookie season where he tallied six sacks. But in the past two seasons over 28 games, Reed has collected just 5.5 sacks.
Reed and Starr have similar measurables, and also sported long hair during their college days. Reed got a good bit of hype when he came out due to comparisons to Clay Matthews, but hasn’t come close to living up to that standard.
Reed’s early success was one of the reasons behind the Texans’ decision to let defensive end Mario Williams depart in 2012. Now we fast-forward to this year, where the Texans just drafted Jadeveon Clowney with the top overall selection. Now Reed is expected to convert to inside linebacker, where his skill-set may be better suited and his lack of pass-rushing prowess less of a flaw.
It’s why I don’t expect Starr to be any sort of major upgrade to the Falcons pass-rush. He’s the same sort of player that Biermann was, if he’s playing across from a John Abraham-esque pass-rusher, he’ll flash on occasion. But if he’s asked to be one of your main “providers” in terms of pass rush, you’re likely to be disappointed.
As a rookie, Reed benefited from having other pass-rushers like Williams, J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin to also provide pressure. And like Reed, I think if Starr is the fourth or fifth best guy in your pass rush, then he’ll be considered an asset. If he’s the second or third best guy, then things might start to get a little disappointing.
Thus, if Starr does develop for the Falcons down the road, I believe he’ll still only be a three-to-five sack guy just like Biermann and Reed. He can provide fairly reliable pressure, but won’t be a guy you can count on to beat quality NFL tackles.
As far as his development goes, Starr seems like a player that will benefit from impacting early on special teams. I don’t expect him to hit the ground running in the pros, particularly in Atlanta where there are better options than him at outside linebacker and designated edge-rusher. If Starr can play on special teams and thus be given some time to acclimate to the league, by his third year he should be capable enough to grow into an effective starter.
Right now, he fits best as a weak-side edge-rusher in a 3-4 scheme, but also has the potential to play the strong-side outside linebacker role that can cover tight ends and play the run more. But he needs help there, as I think he probably needs a year or two of seasoning with improving his footwork and technique in coverage. It’s not something that was emphasized at South Dakota, and he’s going to need time to adjust before he can be expected to cover the likes of Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron at the NFL level.
He also needs to improve as a run-defender, in terms of setting the edge and defeating blockers at the point of attack. A player of his caliber should have consistently won when facing tight ends at lower level, and that was not the case. So again there is going to be a significant leap if he’s going to now be asked to beat Zach Strief, Anthony Collins and Matt Kalil.
With Starr, he projects well for a replacement for Biermann in the defense. He has the tools to be that jack-of-all trades type of player that has benefited from Nolan’s scheme that can play the run, cover, and rush the quarterback competently. But he’ll not be a guy that does one particularly well enough that he’s a true impact player.
At the very least, he should make a quality backup that can give the team value off the bench in the event of an injury. But even for that to happen, he needs to stick and that likely means early production on special teams since his opportunities to play defense may be limited.
With at least a year or two under his belt in an NFL weight room, getting more comfortable with the scheme and what his assignments are, it should all lead to a season where he should be able to step out and be a capable starter for the Falcons, but ideally a quality role player just like Biermann has been.