There are four players I believe the Los Angeles Chargers should target with their first-round pick. Next up, Florida State S Derwin James.
Let me start by saying that Derwin James should be a top-10 pick. Even he believes he’s going in the top 10.
Unlike fellow safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith, who are all consensus top-15 picks, James is being mocked all over the place. I’ve seen him go as high as seven, and I’ve also seen him fall to the Chargers at 17. Last year, safety Malik Hooker, who was often mocked to the Chargers at No. 7 overall, fell to the Indianapolis Colts at 15 on draft day. Jamal Adams, the top safety that year, was picked No. 6 overall by the New York Jets after going in the top five in almost every mock prior.
Maybe it’s a safety thing. But you know what? I’m going to write this up with the hope of James sliding.
The Chargers need help at the safety position. As of right now, Jahleel Addae, Adrian Phillips, Rayshawn Jenkins and newly-acquired Jaylen Watkins are the current safeties on the roster. Yeah, not too much flash there. Tre Boston, last year’s starting free safety who finished with career highs in every statistical category, is an unrestricted free agent and remains unsigned.
It’s clear general manager Tom Telesco doesn’t value the safety position, but James will make Telesco change his stance.
James was a member of the Seminoles for three seasons (2015-17). However, he entered 2017 as a redshirt sophomore after a meniscus tear cost him all but two games in 2016. James was the highest-graded safety in the nation in both 2015 and 2017, per Pro Football Focus standards.
And he was very durable and had decent production in those two seasons. James played in all 24 regular-season games and totaled 175 tackles, including 15 for loss, 15 pass deflections, six quarterback hurries, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown, per College Football Statistics. In 2017, he contributed on special teams, returning six kicks for 170 yards (an average of 28.3 yards per return), as well as blocked a field goal.
James was named first-team All-ACC and first-team All-American (Football Writers Association of America) for last year’s performance. PFF’s Steve Palazzolo details what James brings to the table in this very insightful piece. He’s a leader in the locker room and the perfect movable chess piece for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. He’s a hard hitter who is solid in coverage and, unlike most of the team’s safeties last year, he can tackle. Pazzolo notes that James missed just 15 of his 160 career tackle attempts.
In terms of weaknesses, many scouts agree that despite always being around the football, James doesn’t have the ball skills you want in a safety (only three career interceptions). They also say he takes some bad angles, gets fooled on play fakes from time to time and can stay locked in on a receiver instead of focusing on the quarterback’s eyes. However, he’s still learning and has an extremely high ceiling.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah is also high on James, ranking the Florida State product eighth overall among 2018 draft prospects. Jeremiah is keen on James’ versatility.
“James is a versatile talent with exceptional size, speed and physicality. He lined up all over the field for the Seminoles. He took snaps at both safety spots, nickel cornerback, sub-package linebacker and was asked to rush from the outside linebacker position on occasion during his collegiate career.”
Not only is he versatile, but he’s so athletic for a 6-foot-3, 215-pound safety. At the NFL Scouting Combine, James ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, bench pressed 21 reps of 225 pounds and finished with a 40-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump; he ranked in the top 10 in those categories among safeties (did not participate in any other event). With his size and speed, he can match up with almost anyone on the field.
Why might he slide? Again, safeties don’t go high. Dating back to 2010, only three safeties–Adams (sixth overall), Mark Barron (seventh overall) and Eric Berry (fifth overall)–were selected in the top 10; only four others made it in the top 15, including Hooker (15th overall), Karl Joseph (14th overall), Kenny Vaccaro (15th overall) and Earl Thomas (14th overall).
Will past knee injuries push James down the board? He’s not considered injury prone, but he has had a torn meniscus and torn ACL (in his medical history). What about his limited experience? He only played in 26 games at FSU.
I hope James slides. He’s my favorite defensive player in this draft not named Tremaine Edmunds and would start right away at safety alongside Addae. Like the great Michael Scott once said, “May your hats fly as high as your dreams.”