Redshirt sophomore, 6’3″ 211
After bursting onto the scene as a true freshman, Derwin James solidified himself as an elite talent. Now he looks to parlay a recovered season into a top selection.
From comparisons to Kam Chancellor to a cross between Jamal Adams and Reuben Foster, James is widely regarded as the top defender in college football and a walking highlight. He put together a freshman campaign that rivals what most freshman defenders can only dream of as a key cog in the Seminoles’ defensive success in both facets of the game, and began 2016 in the same manner before a knee injury that required surgery sidelined him for the remainder oft he season.
The expanded wave of position-less football predicated on gaining the advantage and eliminating mismatches has placed an increasing value on defenders who can shuffle around the field, handling different responsibilities and essentially operating in a “two-for-one” role. James has the desired blend of size, speed, athleticism and versatility to thrive in this role. He gave tackles fits when blitzing off the edge as his initial quickness off the line and burst up the field gave him the necessary advantage around the corner, while that aforementioned combination of size and athleticism allow for a single-high ball hawk that can legitimately take away half of the field.
Ball production for defensive backs can be found on both ends of the importance spectrum, but the majority of scouts lean to the right, an area where James is lacking. When dealing with a talent of James’ caliber, listing weaknesses come closer to nitpicking than clearly-defined areas of struggle, highlighted by said production and his occasional lack of hustle that can become a nuisance when he’s within the vicinity of the play. The most notable area where James needs refinement are his understanding of angles and responsibilities in his run fits where he can become too eager to make a play, thus opening opportunities for runners to spill carries to the boundary.
James is too talented to suffer a setback despite playing in just two games last season, so don’t be surprised if he doesn’t miss a beat in 2017. Generating more turnovers would be ideal, but playing up to his level of expectations should absolutely solidify James as a top five pick.