Name: Derwin James
School: Florida State
40 Time: 4.47s
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Awards: First-team All-ACC (2017)
Games Watched: vs Florida, vs Alabama, vs Boston College (all 2017)
Former no.5 overall player (and no.1 safety) in his high school class, committed to Florida State for 2015. Moved from backup to starter during 2015, but missed the majority of 2016 owing to injury. Came back in 2017 to play 12 games. Plenty of NFL heritage in the family – his cousins include Vince Williams, Karlos Williams and Mike James.
Derwin James is an incredible athlete. His combine measureables showed speed, strength and length, and speed and length at least show up regularly. The speed shows up first in coverage. He can quickly move across to cover a running back coming out the backfield. And he combines speed with length and agility with a change in direction and great closing ability to hold firm underneath.
He’s also a terror flying off the edge, either in a blitz (delayed or otherwise) or as a straight-up rusher, comfortably fast enough to blow by whoever’s blocking him, be they tackle, tight end or back. And his length and agility came out against Boston College, on a couple of occasions he was leaping to avoid blocks, and maintaining balance. Oh, and if you like a safety blitz, you are going to love Derwin James.
The thing that surprised me though, for a player considered more athlete than football player, is he’s already a decent technician. His tackling technique is only in need of minimal clean-up. He can be slow to get a wrap in place, true. But he has length, strength and tenacity to hold on and bring a player down. Importantly, he doesn’t dive into tackles and give up big plays either. His eye-discipline and play-reading is also impressive. He works well as either QB spy or if waiting for the opportunity to dive in and rush the passer or back late to make a play. James plays with his head up, and shows awareness and nous.
The way he uses strength can sometimes be in question. I did see him struggle to shake the odd block, whether that’s over-eagerness getting him in poor position or simple strength issues. If he’s going to excel against the run, he needs to pick his battles, and develop better hand use to fight through players a little more. Related to this is he needs to develop a good counter to the stiff-arm, as he can get himself in poor positions. That said, he does generally have enough to at least throw the stiff-armer significantly off-balance.
In general, Derwin James isn’t necessarily the platonic ideal of the strong safety. He isn’t a vicious tackler, and certainly isn’t a tone-setter. This doesn’t bother me, but it does suggest that he could stand to use his strength more effectively in the NFL. Frankly, I hope he does because the skillset he has lends itself to use anywhere from linebacker to safety (and maybe, if you’re feeling adventurous, slot corner, though I’d shy away from that for now).
James isn’t a thumping strong safety, which may count against him in some eyes. But he is an athletically-gifted, technically-proficient player who should absolutely thrive in the NFL. He shows a great balance of coverage, run and pass-rushing chops. He could be a moveable chess piece anywhere from linebacker to slot corner. That said, I suspect he’ll have the most initial success as a high safety. I think he’s a more complete player than last year’s top-drafted safety Jamal Adams, and may have an even higher ceiling.
Projection: Top-10 pick.
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Derwin James Scouting Report.