As is usually the case, many of the pre-draft storylines in 2018 center around the top quarterbacks available. There are a handful of teams looking to add a player at the position at the top of the draft—and a few more that could trade their way into the running.
There’s a flip side to that coin. For every team that needs a quarterback in the Top 10, there’s another that doesn’t. And an early run at that position means that a Top-10 overall talent and impact player at another position might fall farther than they usually would.
A player like Florida State safety Derwin James.
The 6’3″, 215-pound James, who tallied 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions in 2017, is widely viewed as the No. 2 safety in this year’s class, behind Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, as Dan Kadar reported for SB Nation, James told reporters at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine that any team who wants to draft him had better be prepared to pull the trigger early.
“I’m going Top 10. I know I’m going Top 10,” James said. “I’ll play for anybody. They moved me around a lot. I can do it all. I can play deep, I can cover a No. 2 (wide receiver), I can cover the tight end, I can play in the box, I can blitz. Whatever you need.”
James didn’t hurt his chances of going that early on April 26 when (per Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports) he tested over the moon at the combine—significantly better in many areas than Fitzpatrick did. “Unsurprisingly,” Trapasso said, “James destroyed the combine. At nearly 6-2 and 215 pounds, the do-it-all secondary member ran 4.47 in the 40, almost jumped out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a 40-inch vertical, and had an 11-foot broad jump.”
Combine that workout with hours of tape of James making plays on the field and a reputation as a locker room leader, and you have the makings of a star in the eyes of one NFL Scouting Director. “He is going to be the dude in any locker room he ends up in,” the director cold Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. “That’s his makeup. Physically, he’s probably more talented than Jamal Adams but Adams was more consistent as a player. Derwin is still learning so he has a sky-high projection if his play can catch up to the talent.”
Per Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report, that wasn’t the only scout who gushed about James after watching him play. “What’s not to like?” The way he hits, he can cover, he can bring it off the edge, he can run, another scout said. “He’s a Kam Chancellor type.”
“There’s no comparison for him at safety,” a third scout added. “Maybe Myles Jack or [Jabrill] Peppers in terms of pure athlete.”
Former teammate Jalen Ramsey got in on the attaboys as well. “He’s the best college football player I’ve seen in a while as far as what he can do on defense and his impact,” Ramsey says. “He’ll probably go down, in my opinion, as the G.O.A.T. safety at Florida State.”
That’s pretty heady praise from a top-five NFL draft pick and Pro Bowler.
SB Nation’s Kyle Posey agrees that James should be a top-10 pick. In fact, he went one better – calling James the best defensive player in this year’s class period.
“From an athleticism standpoint, he’s a guy that shouldn’t get out of the top 10,” Posey wrote. “You can’t just rely on athleticism. Not in the first round. You need a player you can rely on that can come in and help you right away. Derwin James is that guy. In every facet, he’s exceptional. James can cover, tackle, and blitz. In coverage, you can see he has the route recognition and awareness to take away routes. In the open field, you see him square up and bring down the most elusive players. Off the edge, or up the middle, his athleticism shines in getting after and bringing down the quarterback. James can line up as the deep traditional safety. He can drop down to the slot and match up against the shifty slot receivers or bigger tight ends. He has the size and physicality where he can play that dime linebacker in sub-packages. Having the ability to put a player anywhere and know he’ll excel is one of the best problems to have.”
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller feels James will slide just outside the top 10 overall picks, mocking him to the Washington Redskins at No. 13. “James is the ultimate plug-and-play prospect at strong safety,” Miller said. “That just so happens to be a need in Washington given the uncertain future of Su’a Cravens (who also played linebacker) and with starter Deshazor Everett being a replacement-level player. For Washington, James is the type of athlete who can come in and give the defense an instant upgrade.”
A landing spot like Washington would be something of a best-case scenario, given that in DC James would likely spend a fair amount of time in an aggressive role close(r) to the line of scrimmage. But there isn’t necessarily a “worst case” – as a Top-15 pick odds are pretty good that he’s going to see the field early and often in Year one.
The future’s bright for both James and Fitzpatrick – the duo is essentially the only two rookie defensive backs I’d seriously consider expending draft capital on in IDP dynasty leagues. But it’s entirely possible James could be in for a relatively quiet first season ala Landon Collins in 2015 or Jamal Adams last year. Sometimes even the most talented young safeties need some time to adjust to the NFL.
At any rate, by the time I get around to doing redraft IDP rankings this summer James (and Fitzpatrick) will probably slot either just inside (or just outside) the Top-25. There will be some upside there – provided that “shiny new toy” syndrome doesn’t cause them to be overdrafted.