NFL Draft

2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Florida State S Derwin James

From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#3 Derwin James/S/Florida State 6’3 215 Lbs

The Good

-Sound tackler with vice grips for hands; rarely lets runner break his tackles
-Physical, nasty edge to his game
-Loves to stick his face into the fan against the run
-Comfortable lining up anywhere on the field on any given snap
-Consistent, effective blitzer off the edge
-Relentless defender that possesses ideal frame and length for the position
-Great range from safety position; constantly around the football
-Smooth, athletic mover in space with powerful strides to close ground

The Bad

-Lacks ideal ball skills for position
-Can be fooled with play fakes due to eagerness to come downhill against the run
-Needs to work on ability to anticipate in coverage
-Is a step slow at times to react to routes developing in front of him in passing game
-Tends to coast on some plays
-Limited college experience at Florida State


-Played in 26 career games for Florida State (all starts)
-Missed all but one game in 2016 season due to torn ACL
-Totaled 84 tackles, 5.5 TFL, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, a blocked kick and a sack in 2017 season
-Earned first-team All-America honors from the FWAA and second-team All-America honors from Walter Camp, Associated Press, Sporting News and AFC
-Named first team All-ACC
-Consensus top defensive back coming out of high school in 2015

Tape Breakdown

Three seasons ago, Florida State’s Derwin James was destined for NFL stardom, but a torn ACL two seasons ago and a quiet year on a bad Florida State team seems to have taken some of the shine off of James’ prospects for the NFL.

I’ve seen some NFL draftniks say James isn’t even the best safety in this class, which is downright absurd, especially if you consider Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a cornerback.

Despite playing on a poor Florida State team in 2017, James’ season was anything but quiet. Look at those numbers in his bio above. You’d take that from a safety on your NFL team today, wouldn’t you? Especially from a guy who plays in the box 75 percent of the time, right? I thought so.

James is a great tackler in space, thanks to his vice-grip-like hands once he makes contact with the ball carrier, and he’s a massive chess piece for a defensive coordinator to play with. On any given snap, James can line up anywhere on the defense and make plays.

Standing 6’3”, 215 pounds, James has the build of a linebacker with the athleticism of a defensive back. He’s rocked up on the field and he moves with ease. That’s rare in today’s game.

Here’s James playing in the slot against Boston College on the road during the 2017 season. Although he’s lined up in coverage against the slot receiver, he’s essentially another linebacker in the box against BC’s power run game with AJ Dillon.

I love the way James not only works off the block here, but also has the strength to slow down Dillon with one hand, allowing him to reel him in for the tackle. That’s what I’m talking about when I say vice-grip-like hands. They’re big and powerful and rarely let go once he’s able to grab hold.

When not defending the run, James is pretty adept at playing the pass too, even if ball skills are a question, due to his lack of interceptions (3 career interceptions).

One of those 3 career picks came against Syracuse in Tallahassee this season.

The Florida State product covers a lot of ground from inside the box to get outside the hash marks in man coverage against the Syracuse running back. Not only does he do a great job of getting into his hip pocket, he’s able to turn around quickly and high-point the football for the interception.

Personally, I think with more reps in coverage like this, James’ ball skills will blossom. It’s not his fault he lived in the box for the Seminoles.

Need him to match up man-to-man in the slot at the next level? He can do that as well.

Lined up against Syracuse’s Ervin Phillips, James shows off the footwork to stay with the quick slant, before then using his long reach to get his arms around Phillips without making contact to bat the ball away.

Phillips is no easy cover out of the slot, considering he caught 179 passes the last two seasons. James makes it look routine here though.

The thing I love most about James is his ability to tackle in space, rarely missing stops. It’s not just that though: he’s looking to throw you to the ground when he gets his hands on you. There’s a nasty edge to his game that can’t be taught.

Against Clemson this season in Death Valley, James reads the jailbreak screen to Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud. He doesn’t over pursue it, staying right in is lane, meeting McCloud head on in the hole.

There’s no chance McCloud is breaking out of this one, especially with James wrapped around his waste. What I love about the play is James yanking him backwards, trying to swing him down to the ground. This shows a ton of core strength by the Florida State safety.

Overall, I’m really high on James. He’s the best safety in the class, but it wouldn’t shock me if he falls out of the top 20. Just 26 career games could concern some teams, and the knee injury from 2016 could be a problem if it gets red-flagged at the Combine.

I think James comes into a team immediately, becomes the leader of the defense and helps win a Super Bowl or two in his career. He’ll be an elite-level player in the NFL. Don’t overthink this one.

Projection:  Day 1

Games Watched:  vs. Houston (’15), vs. Mississippi (’16), vs. Alabama (’17), at Boston College (’17), vs. Syracuse (’17), at Florida (’17), at Clemson (’17)


Previous 2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Sam Darnold Garret Dooley Calvin Ridley Fred Warner Ronald Jones II
Maurice Hurst Mike McCray DeShon Elliott  Malik Jefferson Ogbo Okoronkwo
Trayvon Henderson Josh Rosen Ronnie Harrison Kallen Ballage Cedric Wilson Jr.
Micah Kiser Will Hernandez Leighton Vander Esch Josh Allen   Harold Landry
Marquis Haynes  Tremaine Edmunds Kerryon Johnson Lorenzo Carter  Sony Michael
Kyzir White  Rashaan Evans  Tegray Scales  Isaac Yiadom  Jeff Holland
 Rashaad Penny John Kelly Bo Scarbrough  Roquan Smith  Durham Smythe
 Mark Walton  Josey Jewell  PJ Hall  Dorian O’Daniel  Josh Adams
 Leon Jacobs  Marcus Davenport  Jack Cichy  Royce Freeman  Nick DeLuca
 Vita Vea  Vita Vea  Mason Rudolph  Shaun Dion Hamilton  MJ Stewart


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