NFL draft profile — No. 6: Florida State S Derwin James
Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
6. Florida State S Derwin James
6-foot-2, 215 pounds
Key stats: Averaged 6.9 tackles per game in his career and totaled 47 tackles in his final six college games.
The skinny: Widely considered the top defensive back recruit in the country in the country in 2015, James had been committed to the Seminoles for nearly three years on his Signing Day. And he didn’t waste any time making his impact felt at FSU following a legendary career at Haines City (Fla.) High. James played in 13 games (starting final eight games) as a true freshman and tallied 91 tackles (9.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, two fumbles forced and two fumble recoveries in being named third team All-ACC in 2015 and placed on most freshman all-America teams.
In 2016, James started the first two games but suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee against Charleston Southern and missed the remainder of the season, being granted a medical redshirt but traveling with the team to most road games. Came back strong in 2017 in leading the team with 84 tackles and starting all 12 games. James also added 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, one sack and a blocked field-goal try at the end of regulation against Syracuse to preserve the victory.
James, who turns 22 in August, opted to declare for the 2018 NFL draft. He chose not to perform the shuttle drills or the 3-cone drill but did every other skill drill and worked out as both a defensive back and a linebacker.
Upside: Tremendous athletic attributes. Elite jumping and running ability on fill display with huge combine workout — and those traits are obvious on game tape, too. Incredibly chiseled physique. Tall frame with long arms. Can’t draw them up to much better than this, especially considering how well he moves.
Vicious tackler — fearless in coming downhill and striking ballcarriers with a thud. Shows little regard for opponents’ or his own well-being. Brings and edge and nastiness to the field. Always around the ball and always seeking to find it and knock it loose. Made a lot of plays close to or behind the line of scrimmage. Disengages and slips away from receivers’ and tight ends’ block attempts well in space. Long arms to stack and shed and athletic ability to escape contact — and can still read the play while doing so.
Terrific football instincts — diagnoses, reacts and finishes. Very strong, borderline elite blitzer. Watch here in the opener against Alabama as James blitzes and reads the throw to the flat beautifully. James easily could have taken a more direct route to QB Jalen Hurts but read the play before it happened — and though James couldn’t come down with the interception (Hurts actually caught his own pass), he times his leap very well and it goes down as a terrific and disruptive play:
Lined up all over the place — deep safety, box safety, nickel defender, midde linebacker, edge blitzer even outside corner. Has the quickness to handle shifty slot receivers and the strength and length to body bigger-framed pass catchers. Also used as changeup kick returner — six attempts last season, averaging 28.3 yards per return. Had 100-yard kickoff return for TD called back against Wake Forest (on shaky block-in-back call) and also ran back one INT for a score last season. Dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Disguises his coverages well. Can fake the blitz and drop, pass off receivers well and display great range and recovery speed. Fluid, loose hips — can flip and go in a flash. Watch this pick vs. Syracuse, where James lurks underneath and then closes on the wheel route, almost baiting the quarterback into throwing it to him:
Capable of making some highlight-reel interceptions — see the INT called back against North Carolina State. Really valuable red-zone defender who can match up with almost any player in man coverage and use his length and elite short-area quickness to disrupt slants and fades and also crash down on run plays, QB draws and shovel passes. Plays the ball in the air like a receiver (such as the final play of the Wake Forest game to knock away a would-be game-tying TD). Uses his body to shield defenders and long arms and leaping ability to eliminate jump balls.
Finished last season strong. Highly respected leader at FSU. Teammates and coaches alike praised his commitment and determination. Should help transform a defense right away. Talks the talk and walks the walk — holds others accountable and backs it up with outstanding work ethic. Gym rat and football junkie. Lives and breathes the sport the way great players typically do.
Downside: Dropped a few easy interceptions (see Syracuse game) and a few 50-50 balls (BC game) that you’d like to see him come down with a little more often. Hands (which are a bit on the small side) are just OK. Only three picks in 26 college games. Zone-coverage instincts require some development — plays his assignments fairly well but doesn’t always react with the same quickness.
Seeks to square up runners and receivers and will overrun the ball or take poor angles in space — goes for knockout blows when it’s not the time to do so. Freelancer who guesses wrong. Could stand to be a bit more disciplined in his run fits. Will coast a bit at times. We’re not quite sure what the heck happened on this fourth-quarter, goal-to-go play against Syracuse — either a lack of awareness or hustle:
Guilty of excessive contact, some of which went uncalled, but the refs weren’t missing this play in space against Boston College. Watch as James reads the route well but arrives a full second early and can’t hold up from making illegal contact in a spot where he’ll get flagged every time at the next level:
Occasionally reckless style and prior knee injury bear watching — might have shortened career with physical concerns if injuries add up.
Best-suited destination: James should be able to fill a hybrid role as a coverage maven and a blitzing force. His run support should be better for his size, but we would not consider it enough of a detriment to take him out of a box safety role in the NFL. James will be limited on the next level only by the lack of creativity and ingenuity of his defensive coaches. Among the teams that should be especially interested in James include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
Quotable: “Derwin is special. He has a true position as a safety, and a lot of NFL teams will look at him as ‘OK, he’s the best safety.’ But not only that, he’s the best whatever you line him up at. That’s not always the case with guys. Yeah, you can line guys up and they can get the job done at those positions, but when you’re truly the best at it ... it’s clear that he is the best safety in the country. It’s clear when he’s moving for a blitz package, he is the best at doing that, so really he’s totally different than Jabrill Peppers. So versatile on the defensive end and can change the game.”” — Jacksonville Jaguars (and former FSU teammate) CB Jalen Ramsey, to ESPN.com
Player comp: A blend of Eric Berry and Landon Collins
Expected draft range: Top half of Round 1