Derwin James is one of the best safety prospects this year, but its hard to tell where he’ll land in this draft.
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series is back! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the defensive back position. Today, we’ll take a look at Derwin James from FSU.
Derwin James was a standout in high school. According to 247Sports, James was the best safety prospect and the fifth-best overall prospect in the entire country. He decided to stay local and attend Florida State, where he continued to show off his elite ability.
As a freshman, James was an instant contributor, playing in 12 games and recording 91 total tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. He developed a reputation for being a hard-hitting safety that wasn’t afraid to come into the box to make a tackle. However, James’ second year was cut short with a knee injury after just two games.
For the 2nd time in 3 years, Derwin James finished the season as the highest graded safety. pic.twitter.com/PlLtfdyx0c— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 15, 2018
Despite the injury, James went into last season as one of the top safety prospects in the country. The question was just how well was he going to bounce back. After a slow start, James looked like his old self and finished the year with 84 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. When healthy, James is one of the best defensive backs heading into the draft.
The aspect of James’ game that immediately jumps off the game tape is the fact that he is everywhere on the field. Versatility is everything in the NFL, and James is one of the most versatile players you’ll find in any draft class. He can play anywhere on the field, and is particularly adept when playing up in the box.
In the season opener against Alabama, James showed off his unique ability for stopping the run. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the shiftiest players in the country, but on this play James, keeps his eyes on Hurts and uses his speed to run him down and make a tackle in the open field.
It’s not only in the open field where James can make it hard for runners; he’s also one of the best pass-rushing defensive backs in the country. Over the course of his career, James has 15 tackles for loss along with 5.5 sacks. Again, against Alabama, his pass-rushing ability was on full display.
In the play below James comes off the edge without even being touched. This, along with his speed, allows James to get to Hurts just seconds after the snap, disrupting the play and forcing a pass attempt to come up short.
If James was only talented against the run or rushing the quarterback he’d make for an excellent outside linebacker. But while he may hit like a linebacker, he has the skills to drop back in coverage and be a game changing pass-defending safety.
In the NFL, safeties have to be able to come up the field to cover the short routes and also drop back for deeper passes. On this play, James shows off great play recognition as well as athleticism. He takes a step up faking like he’s going to cover the underneath route, but at the last second breaks over and covers the running back’s wheel route. The quarterback doesn’t see James in time and he pins the receiver against the sideline before leaping up to snag the interception.
On this second play, James doesn’t get an interception, but he breaks up the pass perfectly.
He comes over to help the corner and does a great job of getting his head around to find the ball in the air. If the corner doesn’t make contact with James then he would have had his second interception of the game. Plays like this show the ability James has in coverage over the top while helping his teammates.
Trying to find weaknesses for James feels a lot like nitpicking. He’s one of the most versatile players in the draft and does everything on defense that you can ask. He’s not the most polished in coverage like Jamal Adams was last year, but James is still an extraordinary talent.
While watching his film, the only thing that stuck out as a weakness was some hesitation when coming up on the run. You never want a safety, or any defender for that matter, to come up on a play with a full head of steam and risk making a mistake. James comes up strong, but then seems to hesitate at times on the runner. Again this is nitpicking with him, but it is something to keep an eye on. If James doesn’t initiate a tackle at the next level then running backs will run right over him.
James missed almost the entire 2016 season with a knee injury and that raises some concerns with NFL teams. It took him a little while to get back into the swing of things in 2017, but James again showed the talent that made him such a talked about prospect after his freshman season.
Derwin James is top-10 talent and one of, if not the best, defensive player in the draft. He’s competing with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick for the best safety prospect, but Fitzpatrick still needs to find where exactly he fits best in the NFL. James has no such issue, he’s a safety through and through, and a very good one at that.
Derwin James: I can play deep, cover tight ends, whatever you need https://t.co/tXFJGkG23R— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 5, 2018
He can come up in run support and is as solid a tackler as you will find. Man-to-man coverage isn’t his forte, but James can cover just about anyone in any part of the field. With tight ends like New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce wreaking havoc over the middle of the field, guys like James are a coveted commodity.
Safeties don’t normally go very high in the draft, no matter how talented they are. In fact, only seven have gone in the top-10 since 2000, with the latest being Adams going sixth to the New York Jets last year.
FSU S Derwin James was asked what he thought of Cowboys fans already making edits of him in a Cowboys jersey. James smiled and said, “Yeah, it’s cool. I don’t think I’mma go that late, but it’s cool.”— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 4, 2018
This season there are several teams that need help in their secondary. Mock drafts around NFL circles are kind of all over the place with James: NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s latest mock has James going seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, CBS Sports’s latest has him going 16th to the Baltimore Ravens, and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report has the Washington Redskins taking the Seminole prospect at 13.
The Buccaneers are the most interesting choice in my mind. If Bradley Chubb, Quenton Nelson, and Saquon Barkley are all gone by the seventh pick (which is entirely possible) then James makes a lot of sense in Tampa. If the Bucs don’t take him, I can’t see James sliding past 13th to the Redskins.
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