Florida State redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James is no stranger to hype. He was the top recruit at his position in 2015, earning five stars from all major scouting outlets. James became an instant starter for the Seminoles and the talk of his special traits began.
Last season, James suffered a knee injury in Week 2 that forced him to miss the rest of the year. For most college prospects, a season marred by injury would cause damage to their NFL projection. Not for James.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound playmaker was named the defensive player most likely to become a star in the NFL heading into this year’s college football season.
After a fabulous freshman season in 2015, James finished third in the ACC Rookie of the Year voting. He played multiple roles in the Seminoles’ defense, playing effectively both in coverage and as an occasional blitzer. Last season, he made his first career interception against Ole Miss in FSU’s season opener, but a Week 2 injury to his left knee put James out for the season. He returns this fall as a redshirt sophomore with understandably high expectations. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared him favorably to Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor.
James is an easy player to fall in love with. He’s big. He’s physical. He’s athletic. He also has a nose for the ball, despite recording only one interception so far. His five pass breakups and two forced fumbles prove it.
The NFL welcomed several talented safeties via the 2017 NFL Draft, but only Jamal Adams (who was selected by the New York Jets at No. 6 overall) comes to mind when evaluating James’s game.
Adams is a blue-chip player who will elevate the Jets’ defense in 2017, but he’s without the natural physical makeup that James has. It’s because of that that James, if healthy, could end up the first non-quarterback drafted in 2018.
Guys with his size and range simply don’t come around often.