The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Florida State safety Derwin James, who has declared early for the draft. For the total list of all players leaving school early, see our underclassmen tracker.
Redshirt Sophomore | 6’3″ and 215 Pounds | Born August 3, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.47 sec | bench reps: 21 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 40 in | broad: 132 in
James’ status as the draft’s No. 1 safety is a bit misleading, as he’s proven to be capable of doing so much more. One of the nation’s freakiest athletes, 2015’s No. 1 defensive back recruit benches over 400 pounds and ran a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at the Nike Opening coming out of high school. The Seminoles attempted to get the most out of their All-American, regularly utilizing James all over the field in a plethora of roles. His elite versatility will undoubtedly be coveted in a league craving multi-talented defenders capable of doing a little bit of everything. He’s expected to join Jalen Ramsey and Xavier Rhodes as the only Florida State defensive backs drafted in the first round since 2010.
James didn’t waste any time living up to his immense hype as a true freshman, racking up 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. His sophomore season was over by Week 2 thanks to a torn lateral meniscus, but James rebounded in 2017 with 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. As Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall safety, he allowed just 17 of 39 passes thrown into his coverage to be caught. This is even more impressive considering that James was regularly asked to guard some of the nation’s finest running backs, tight ends, and receivers on a revolving basis.
The Seminoles utilized their freak athlete in a manner similar to how the Eagles use safety Malcolm Jenkins. James has proven capable of playing center field in a true free safety role, but he’s at his best when able to unleash his physicality around the line of scrimmage. Overall, he spent the majority of snaps as a slot corner, strong safety, or dime linebacker, all the while demonstrating the ability to cover and hit players of all shapes and sizes.
Derwin James does literally everything a defender can and should do pic.twitter.com/SPb9bibsGz
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 19, 2018
James is particularly terrifying on third downs, where he was regularly unleashed as both a blitzer and quarterback spy. Asking him to cover shifty slot receivers on a consistent basis might be a stretch at the next level, but James has the ability to help contain some of the league’s finest weapons at tight end and running back right away. While he’s more than capable of knocking receivers into tomorrow, James attacks the ball first and foremost in both coverage and as a tackler. This trait is vital in today’s NFL, where headhunters can at times cause more harm than good.
The combine will likely push Derwin’s draft hype to a fever pitch, and he’s set to become just the sixth defensive back standing at least 6’3″ to be drafted in the first round over the past 25 years. Sean Taylor and Nnamdi Asomugha are the last two defensive backs to meet that criteria. James has the natural and on-field ability to make an early impact as a game-changing safety, but he’d certainly benefit from a creative defensive coordinator willing to use him all over the field. It wouldn’t be surprising if James becomes a thorn in the side of fantasy owners sooner rather than later.
In our most recent mock draft, we have James going to the Redskins at No. 13.
Photo credit: Melina Vastola – USA TODAY Sports