Derwin James – Defensive Back
School: Florida State
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Weight: 215 lbs.
Derwin James NFL Draft Profile
James is the kind of rare, prototypical athlete who is impossible to ignore. Think Jadeveon Clowney making the opposition look like children until reaching the NFL. After a high school career ending with him being a five-star recruit and a freshman season ending as a Freshman All American, James suffered a lateral meniscus injury, cutting short his sophomore season after only two games. 2017 marked a return from injury and a return to on the field dominance, high production and even higher accolades.
One of the many things to love about James is that his play and his numbers are well rounded. He is not the one-dimensional safety who only looks for big hits or the interception. This shows in his 84 tackles, two interceptions, 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack in 2017. James is physically dominant as well, he was in the top seven amongst safeties for the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump and broad jump. The three drills where he placed outside the top seven? He did not participate.
You might be waiting for the “but…” section which usually comes along to balance out the positives. For James, there aren’t many. He has had no notable off the field issues, he is a smart kid and has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches thus far in his young career. A small knock might be that he is too used to being the dominant force on the field and lets the play come to him rather than a player like Tyrann Mathieu who has unteachable instincts.
James is used to the spotlight, as mentioned earlier. He has earned a reputation as a hard worker, a student of the game and as a natural leader in the locker room and on the field. Depending on where he lands, it would not be surprising to see James have an immediate role in relaying plays in the secondary. Again, it cannot be overstated that this kid has never been in trouble and all the headlines he has generated have been through stellar on the field performance and work ethic.
If scientists built a hybrid safety in a lab, he might look a lot like Derwin James. Standing at 6’3″, 215 lbs. with room to grow and above average speed and strength at the NFL level is proof that he is ready for the pros. His movements are also fluid and James plays with loose hips when tracking receivers. For a rookie in the NFL, players of James’ size can fit a wide array of roles immediately, which helps boost his already high day one value.
Which leads directly to his versatility within complex NFL defenses. For nickel and dime packages, James could play a range of positions from edge blitzer, slot corner, linebacker and, of course, safety. With his willingness to mix it up in the run game and his natural physical ability, there is no reason to not plug and play this guy as needed. A true luxury for any defensive coordinator.
One major knock on James as a pass defender is his split decision instincts. At the risk of beating a dead horse, a great way to think of James is the anti-Tyrann Mathieu. While they both are potentially great players, Mathieu has pure instinct and playmaking ability while James relies heavily on his athleticism and preparation. In other words, while James produces on the field and handles his business, it begs the question how great he could be if his natural instincts and reaction time were top end.
Watching the film, one aspect of James’ game that will sometimes leave him out of position is the tendency to overcommit or lock on to coverage or a ball carrier. For an NFL safety at the back end of a defense, that can be a legitimate concern. When he will be asked to cover half the field, he will need to be coached up and understand when to come off his first read and identify a greater threat. There are a few examples of him breaking on a shallow route with eyes in the backfield while a defender breaks deep for a touchdown. While this was not an every game occurrence, pro quarterbacks will take advantage every time if the issue is not addressed.
Inexperience and Longevity
Above all else, the kid hasn’t played as long as many NFL execs would prefer. Compounding that concern is the fact that one of his three college years included a major knee injury. This is not a boom or bust situation as James is considered a can’t miss prospect, but for a potential top 10 pick, injury concerns and lack of experience should always be considered.
Derwin James may be the purest athletic defender in this year’s draft class. Instead of coasting on his natural abilities, he has shown a dedication to the game, a strong work ethic and has earned the respect of peers, coaches and media. The only major concern when it comes to James is his injury history, which consists of just one major injury from which he made a full recovery and earned second-team AP All-American in his returning year. While there is no such thing as a “can’t miss” prospect, James might be the defensive version of Saquon Barkley in this year’s blue-chip category. It is hard to predict where James will land for a simple reason: every team could use a player like him.
NFL Player Comparison
Teams With Need at Hybrid Defensive Back
Browns, Colts, Broncos, 49ers, Raiders, Bengals, Panthers, Steelers, Chiefs, Texans
San Francisco 49ers