James Starks, RB - Buffalo
Weight: 218 pounds
40 time: 4.50
The leading rusher in Buffalo history even after missing his senior year with a shoulder injury, James Starks leaves the Bulls having rushed for 3,140 yards and 34 touchdowns on 698 carries (4.5-yards per carry) over the course of his career.
A 2.5-year starter who led the Bulls in rushing for three years and had two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, James’ best statistical season came as a junior in 2008 when he carried the ball 272 times for 1,333 yards (4.9-ypc) and 16 touchdowns.
A tall runner with good size and bulk, Starks has proven over the course of his career that he’s capable of carrying his team on his shoulders. A great athlete who played quarterback in high school and spent time early in career at Buffalo as a defensive back, Starks had one of the best workouts among all running backs in attendance at the Combine; his 4.50 40-yard dash was seventh-best among all backs, his 36-inch vertical jump was tied for tenth-best, and his 9’11” broad jump was seventh best.
James is a patient runner who does a good job of waiting for his blocks to develop before accelerating through the hole. He has a nice burst to run away from defenders in the open field and he also offers pretty good speed. Starks has the size and bulk needed to consistently carry the ball between the tackles as well as the agility needed to take the ball outside
One of the most underrated parts of Starks’ game is his ability to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield; he showed soft hands during his career, having caught 105 passes for 706 yards and three touchdowns in his time with the Bulls. Starks doesn’t offer the quickness or lateral agility needed to make defenders miss in the open field. He’s a straight-line runner who can angle his runs differently to adjust to oncoming defenders, however he’s not going to juke or spin away from many defenders in the NFL.
One of the biggest question marks with James is the shoulder injury that he suffered in the preseason before his senior year; he missed the entire 2009 season after he tore the labrum in his left shoulder during preseason practices. As a runner, he didn’t break too many tackles before the injury, and coming off the shoulder injury, you have to wonder what type of power and strength he’ll play with between the tackles. James also dealt with a knee injury earlier in his career, which is why a lot of scouts are questioning his durability. He also isn’t going to offer much as a blocker in the passing game and will need some work in this area at the next level. I project that Starks will be drafted between the fourth-and-sixth rounds.
James is an intriguing player because he showed that he’s capable of being an every-down running back while carrying the ball 20+ times a game; while his injury makes you question what type of long term durability he’ll have, I do think that he has the chance to develop into a nice player in the NFL. With his experience and production he has some starting potential if he can land with the right team. At the least, I’d expect to see him be a fine change-of-pace back who can be a consistent option out of the backfield in the passing game.
Notes: James was named first-team All-MAC in 2008 and was named second-team All-MAC as a junior and sophomore. In high school, James also played on one of the top-ranked basketball teams in the country, with one of his teammates being former Syracuse guard and current Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Johnny Flynn.
Starks is another under-the-radar type who won’t hear his name called until the third day of the NFL Draft and might not even get a sniff in many dynasty rookie drafts; playing at Buffalo and missing his entire senior season due to injury will tend to erase your name from many lists.
However, Starks has the size and speed to play at the next level. His Combine results certainly indicate he can hang with the big boys athletically, and while his gaudy numbers came against MAC competition his 3,800 yards from scrimmage and 38 touchdowns—without benefit of a senior season—cannot be discounted. The injury that cost him his senior year will certainly undergo scrutiny from NFL team doctors, but you have to assume if a team drafts him they’re comfortable with the risk. And for the low-end pick both NFL teams and dynasty leaguers will have to invest to acquire Starks’ services, the potential for at minimum a quality backup with legitimate feature-back upside might be well worth the risk.