Seahawks mocks: Elite FSU safety Derwin James
Derwin James is a popular 2018 mock draft choice for the Seahawks. Is he a realistic target for Seattle in the first round?
This is part 4 in a series of posts on noteworthy 2018 prospects mocked to Seattle. We’ll evaluate the promising players and look at their potential fit with the Seahawks in the draft. We’ve previously explored the prospects of Marcus Davenport, Derrius Guice and Billy Price:
Next up is Derwin James, a prodigious safety prospect from Florida State. Like the players above, he is frequently mocked to the Seahawks in this early stage of the pre-draft process. Most recently (and notably) by ESPN’s Mel Kiper in his first 2018 mock draft.
As things stands before free agency, strong safety is arguably Seattle’s most pressing need on defense. With this in mind, let’s go ahead and get right into it:
Derwin James, S | 6’3, 220 lbs | Florida State, rSO | Top 15 talent
James is a former 5-star recruit who took college football by storm as a true freshman in 2015. He recorded 91 tackles with 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, shining in a variety of roles for the Seminoles. All signs pointed to James being an elite NFL prospect, due to his size, athleticism, versatile skills and production.
Unfortunately, James missed the majority of the 2016 season with a torn meniscus. He returned this year to produce another special season for FSU, but the media has soured a bit on his draft stock. Within the past week, mock drafts created by prominent analysts Kiper, Daniel Jeremiah, Rob Rang and Dane Brugler all have James going in the 14-18 range. Still a rock-solid 1st round pick, but not quite the top 5-10 area projected a year ago.
Why the drop-off? Well, I’ve identified a few false narratives about James that are cycling through the media. We’ll dispel those for you and show why James might be the best defensive player in the entire 2018 class.
False Narrative #1: Lack of playmaking/production in 2017 – Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote the following about James during the season: “The fact is, he simply hasn’t shown the playmaking ability he had pre-surgery.” Additionally, Kiper cited James’ 2017 production in his mock draft, writing that “scouts wanted to see more.” I find this line of thinking a bit perplexing. Let’s compare his 2017 stats with the other two safeties garnering 1st round hype at this time:
Not too shabby. Fitzpatrick is competing with James to be the first defensive back off the board this spring, while Harrison has a shot at going in the first round. As shown above, James’ 2017 production compares favorably to both Alabama safeties. He led the trio in 3 of 6 categories, finishing no worse than second in the others. James was a playmaker all season in run defense (84 tackles, 5.5 for loss) and in coverage (11 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions, 1 for a TD).
False Narrative #2: Not an elite athlete – This is a pertinent criticism (even if it isn’t a common one), as it was suggested by Rob Staton of seahawksdraftblog.com. He presented high school athletic testing results of James’, highlighting the workout’s inferiority to that of Georgia LB Lorenzo Carter (another great athlete). However, the results listed are severely outdated; they were compiled when James was in his mid-teens. Conversely, James’ more recent testing mirrors the freakish athleticism we saw on college fields:
The early numbers came from Nike’s SPARQ combine in 2013 and 2014, while the latest are reported numbers from last spring. The 124 SPARQ score would be enough to place James in the 75th percentile of NFL athletes. But he’s improved a lot since then, adding about 20 lbs while getting faster and more explosive. James also has an outstanding frame, standing 6 feet, 3 inches tall with exceptional length. Lastly, he’s incredibly strong for his size – reportedly being able to bench press 450 lbs and approach 600 lbs on the squat.
James is one of those unique athletes who could play several positions on the football field. He has the quickness and fluidity of a CB, or could easily add mass to his impressive frame and play LB. Jeremiah called James “a more explosive version of Kam Chancellor” in his mock draft. That gets my attention.
False Narrative #3: Not the same player as he used to be – Earlier this the season, an anonymous AFC personnel executive told SI’s Breer that James is “not the same” since his injury. I’ve seen this sentiment a lot when reading about James. The playmaking concerns surely tie into this, which we addressed above. However, I think the real culprit is 1-2 bad plays James had at the beginning of the year. Particularly this embarrassing open field whiff as the last line of defense vs. N.C. State.
Derwin James May be the best player in College Football, Jakobi Meyers of NC State just left him in his wake. pic.twitter.com/13Djss85DQ
— Maximiliano Bretos (@mbretosESPN) September 23, 2017
You may remember Kam Chancellor had a similar whiff this year against the Texans; it’s not the end of the world. I’ve watched close to 10 games of James, and that play in no way reflects his otherwise terrific tackling ability. Yet it sticks out like a sore thumb on his “highlight” reel, especially for those who haven’t dug deep into his tape yet. And honestly, I’m guessing that’s the case for most evaluators this early in the process. Putting in the time with tape is half the battle folks, and there are a lot of players to get through.
I thought James didn’t miss a beat at the start of this season in his return from injury. And his performance down the stretch was utterly phenomenal. Here are my scouting notes on James, which are based primarily on his 2017 (post-injury) performance:
Scouting notes on Derwin James
- Rangy athlete due to height, length, speed & explosiveness – closes fast downhill, and has fluid feet & hips in coverage.
- Quick recognition to read & react to the play – always seems to find a way to the football, even through heavy traffic.
- Impossible to block in space – slippery footwork to evade blockers + the length & power to shrug them off with ease.
- Swallows ball-carriers up with textbook technique – angles properly, stays square w/ choppy feet, delivers a thump & wraps.
- Defends the run like an LB and covers like a CB – versatile athlete capable of excelling in several roles/schemes.
- Player comparisons: Kam Chancellor, Eric Berry, Jalen Ramsey, Deion Jones, Patrick Peterson, Obi Melifonwu.
Derwin James is the Quenton Nelson of 2018 defensive prospects. The only thing holding him back from a concrete top-5 grade in my books is positional value. Nevertheless, I’ll move him up to that elite grade if he tests off the charts at the combine. James (and perhaps Fitzpatrick) is, in my opinion, the best safety prospect since Eric Berry. Let’s roll the tape:
— Bradley Ylitalo (@NFL_drafthub) November 18, 2017
That’s James lining up as a linebacker in man coverage on RB Damien Harris. He advances upfield with Harris blocking, and effortlessly sheds him to make the tackle on the scrambling QB. You see this constantly watching James, as his physical gifts and instincts allow him to get wherever he wants in traffic. Here is he in space this time bringing down the electric Lamar Jackson:
— Scott Dryden (@BrownsScout) November 3, 2017
James doesn’t pack the same hit power as Chancellor (few do), but he still consistently makes guys pay:
Harry + Derwin James would be unfair. Please make it happen Rick. pic.twitter.com/GZ9VOPEEsD
— Tyler Carmer (@CarmerSkol) December 27, 2017
FSU also used James off the edge at times, which highlighted rare power and explosion at his size:
— EFESHEW (@FSU_Football1) November 29, 2015
How about coverage? He doesn’t press often, but he looks like a Seattle corner when he does. Here he is displaying CB skills in the slot:
— Bradley Ylitalo (@NFL_drafthub) January 7, 2018
And lastly, these two interceptions showcase both James’ coverage ability and athleticism:
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 4, 2017
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) November 18, 2017
Is Derwin James a realistic target for the Seahawks?
I wrote the following about Seattle’s need at safety here: Seahawks 2018 team needs
“Chancellor unfortunately may never play again, while McDougald is a UFA. Safety is certainly an important offseason need for Seattle, but perhaps not as significant as fans think. Earl Thomas is a strong candidate to be back next year and beyond (through an extension or franchise tag). Delano Hill is a complete safety in the mold of Marcus Maye, and was a steal in the 3rd round last year. However, he rightfully didn’t get the opportunity to play behind Chancellor and McDougald as a rookie. The Seahawks therefore won’t go into training camp with him as the presumptive starter at SS. Strong safety is Seattle’s top need on defense as of right now.”
There are obviously a few factors at play here. Hopefully Chancellor’s status is clarified before the draft. Seattle would love to have McDougald back on a short-term deal, but he might be priced out of their range. They could instead go cheap on a 1-year stopgap at SS, and have the veteran compete with Hill in camp.
The latter scenario is one where James could be difficult to pass on at 18th overall. I love Hill’s game and think he’ll make a really good NFL safety, but James is potentially a game-changing talent. I bet Pete Carroll and John Schneider will be enamored with his ability.
Ultimately, I think it won’t matter. James is too damn good a football player to last into the latter half of round 1 (barring issues with medical checks). Don’t be shocked if his stock in the media perks back up again, and he gets drafted in the top 10 in 2018.