The New England Patriots certainly will be watching South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr at the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 24.
The long-haired small-school linebacker appears to be the perfect draft prospect for the Patriots. Head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots put a lot of value in the three-cone drill, and Starr could break the combine record, according to CBSSports.com. Starr recently was clocked at 6.29 seconds in the three-cone drill. Last year’s best mark was Utah cornerback Will Davis’ 6.52. The best recent mark was Oregon wide receiver Jeff Maehl’s 6.42 in 2011.
Starr has the right size for a Patriots outside linebacker, too. Belichick typically likes linebackers who are taller than 6-foot-1 and more than 240 pounds (for pass rushers, 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds). Starr is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and played outside linebacker and defensive end at South Dakota. He has experience rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage.
Starr projects as an outside linebacker at the NFL level. His career path is reminiscent of that of Patriots free-agent linebacker Dane Fletcher, who played defensive end at Montana State and got converted to linebacker with the Patriots. Fletcher was 6-foot-2, 250 pounds coming out of college. He ran a 6.93 three-cone time at his pro day. Belichick seems to like success stories that come out of small schools.
Starr had nine sacks in his senior season at South Dakota. He projects as a seventh-round pick, but a strong combine could push him up draft boards.
The Patriots could use another linebacker for the 2014 season. Brandon Spikes and Fletcher are free agents. Spikes is not expected to be back, and Fletcher could find a starting job elsewhere. The Patriots’ projected starting linebackers in 2014 are Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo. They also have depth in Steve Beauharnais, Chris White, Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed.
Watch Starr gather two sacks against Kansas — proving he can succeed against FBS competition — in the video below.