Buffalo's James Starks, with 127 receptions in his first three seasons, sat out last season because of a shoulder injury that just didn't improve through rehab and was re-injured during the spring game. Finally, doctors discovered he had a torn labrum, and when he had surgery in August, his college career was over because he had redshirted as a true freshman in 2005.
Had he been healthy and added to his impressive resume, Starks almost certainly wouldn't have been an option for the Packers in the sixth round at No. 198 overall.
"You know what, he probably would have (been a Day 2 pick) because he's a very talented young man," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "Versatile, very good receiver out of the backfield, good size, good speed. It's one of those situations where missing last season because he had a shoulder injury probably had something to do with it."
At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Starks is a big back more in the mold of starter Ryan Grant than a true change-of-pace back. Starks, a high school quarterback in Niagara Falls, N.Y., who played basketball alongside Timberwolves rookie Jonny Flynn, is a good athlete. He went to Buffalo as a quarterback and briefly moved to cornerback before settling in at running back. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at his pro day with a 36-inch vertical and 15 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
"I'm a mixed runner. I can catch out of the backfield. A north-south guy," he said. "I have a lot of wiggle, most people don't see a lot because I'm usually running downhill. I can catch, I have speed and I'm calm, but a lot of people mistake me as being kind of weak. After I'm playing in a game, you can tell I have a lot more power than people expect. I mean, there's things that obviously I can work on, but I think I'm an all-around back."
He was productive in all three seasons with the Bulls. After rushing for 1,103 yards (4.4 average) and 12 touchdowns with 41 receptions in 2007, Starks rushed for 1,333 yards (4.9 average) and 18 touchdowns with 52 receptions in 2008. For his career, he rushed for 3,140 yards (4.5 average) and 34 touchdowns and added 127 receptions for 898 yards (7.1 average) and three more scores.
That diverse skill-set was noticeable as Bennett and the scouts poured over the tape from Starks' 2007 and 2008 seasons.
"Very good size, good speed, has power, can make people miss, and like I said earlier, he's a good receiver out of the backfield," Bennett said. "I think he's got good versatility. That's something that jumps out at you. I guess you can also look at the fact that he's a very, very good athlete. You're talking about a kid that first came in as a quarterback and played receiver, as well. Hopefully, all of that will help him in his transition coming to this level."
All of which makes Starks – who says he's 100 percent -- feel like he's one of the steals of the draft. Brandon Jackson, a second-round pick in 2007, has been solid but hasn't produced much explosion with the ball in his hands. Starks' ability to fit in a zone-blocking scheme and his skills as a receiver – both on checkdowns and sometimes featured split wide – give him a chance to upgrade an already-dangerous offense.
"I'm going to go in and give my all," he said. "I'm very confident in my ability. I'm going to prove to those other people that I'm healthy. I'm going to do a lot of things that whoever said I couldn't do, I'm going to show them that I can do it. I just can't wait to start working and do everything I can to help the Green Bay Packers."
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