Derwin James came to Florida State as a top recruit poised for NFL stardom and he leaves with a chance to be the first safety taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Three years ago, it looked like Derwin James was headed for a legendary career at Florida State. Two years later, that didn’t quite happen as James lost his sophomore to a meniscus injury that robbed him of much of the year. Then, in his final year as a junior, James was back, but he did have some rust as he worked his way back into football shape and refamiliarize himself in the back end of the defense.
He came to the Seminoles as the latest in a long line of outstanding prospects that included Jalen Ramsey and Lamarcus Joyner. The Seminoles didn’t have a great year in 2017, finishing 7-6, and many may have forgotten about how dynamic of an athlete James is and what he’s capable of doing on the football field.
If you forgot about him, shame on you, and if the first you saw of him was at the NFL combine, here’s what you’ve missed seeing the last three years during his time in Tallahassee and what he brings to the NFL team that takes him in the 2018 NFL Draft later this month.
Derwin James, Safety, Florida State
James is a freak of nature who probably could have been a first round at cornerback, linebacker or even wide receiver if he wanted. That’s how physically gifted the 6-3, 215-pound safety is who checks all the boxes when it comes to size, speed and strength.
Outside of his physical traits, what I loved most about James is he also has the alpha dog mentality. You can’t teach that and you either have it or you don’t. James has it in spades. He makes his teammates better and keeps them accountable. He is a leader in the locker room and a film junkie who led sessions at Florida State.
James is capable of playing a hybrid safety role which has become growingly popular across the league. He can line up in the deep middle and play centerfield, or near the line of scrimmage where he can be sent as a blitzer and get to the quarterback. He can match up with the bigger receivers due to his height and frame but can have difficulties if he’s mismatched with a shifty receiver out of the slot. James can be at his best covering the athletic flex tight ends that are taking over the league.
The biggest concern I have for James is simply gaining more reps after he missed his sophomore year with the meniscus injury. He wasn’t a dominant player for the first half of his junior season before turning it on late in the year. Injuries happen and it’s not anything that will be chronic or linger into his rookie year in the NFL so I don’t have any worries about his long-term health.
He will compete with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick to be the first safety taken, although, I think Fitzpatrick will hear his name called first because he brings more cornerback skills to the table than James. No matter, both are great, and James is going to be a stud in the NFL.
Bottom line is James is a player who can change the culture in a locker room like his former college teammate, Jalen Ramsey did with the Jacksonville Jaguars, or Jamal Adams did with the Jets last year as a rookie. James should be a starter right away as a rookie and challenge for multiple Pro Bowl berths during his prime.
Draft Projection: Top 9-15