The NFL Draft is almost here and all across the worldwide web, the best and brightest minds in and around the league are doing everything they can to figure out which player might forever alter the fate of a franchise for decades to come. Because it is nearly impossible to evaluate the degree to which a college player might succeed at the professional level, the draft has become the Super Bowl of hot takes. Everyone has an opinion and none of them are good.
There is, however, a different way of looking at the draft. Instead of guessing (incorrectly) who might succeed, consider who might be awesome. Which players might make the No Fun League entertaining again? Ultimately, that’s what matters. Stardom isn’t always about stats. Stardom is more often about charisma. And that’s why it’s time for fans (and dads) across the country to get on board with Derwin James, the former Florida State safety, and the guy who’s jersey your kid is going to want to wear.
Let’s start with the first thing that jumps out about James: The dude is a freak of nature. Just a quick look at his physical measurements makes it clear why so many football experts have been quick to label him one of the hidden gems of this year’s draft. James is 6’2″ and weighs 215 pounds, putting him above the seventy-fifth percentile in both categories. He also has freakishly long arms (33 inches each) that help create a freakishly long wingspan (78 inches), both of which are above the eightieth percentile for defensive backs.
Unsurprisingly, James’ exceptional size makes him one of the strongest safeties in the draft — he managed 21 bench-press reps at the Combine, one of the highest numbers for players in the secondary — but while a lot of safeties with that size would likely struggle with the speed and agility of the NFL, that has proven to be no problem for James. At the NFL Combine last month, James ran a 4.47-second 40-yard-dash, which is fast for anyone, let alone someone with his massive size. He also had a 132-inch broad jump, which placed him in the ninety-sixth percentile for safeties. Basically, this guy has no physical weaknesses.
Again, it’s nearly impossible to predict NFL success. That said, it’s not too hard to spot a truly elite athlete. Derwin James is an absurdly elite athlete. And James’s time at Florida State shows that he is much more than just raw talent. He is an absolute monster on the field. In just two seasons (he technically played three but was injured all but two games his sophomore year), James managed to establish himself as one of the best defensive backs in the nation. He made smart decisions. He punished opposing teams.
James’ stats speak for themselves — 186 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks in just 26 games — but it’s hard to really appreciate his greatness without getting to watch him deliver a massive hit. On film, even a casual fan can see how this guy has the instincts to consistently sniff out a big offensive play before it can even get started. It suddenly becomes clear why Jalen Ramsey, an All-Pro cornerback for the Jaguars and James’ former teammate at Florida State, is currently preaching the gospel of James’ game-changing talent to anyone who will listen.
And like Ramsey, James is a confident player who backs up his cocky attitude with his play. There is a thin line between self-assurance and arrogance but James walks that line in a way that makes him even more likable. He isn’t bland or boring like a lot of guys coming out of college and he also isn’t running his mouth. James is a player that knows success on a professional level won’t come easy but his natural talent and work ethic allow him to bet on himself without seeming foolish or obnoxious.
But what really makes James such a compelling player is the little things he does that elevate him from a talented risk to one of the draft’s few sure things. It’s already been established that James is a big hitter, which can be both a blessing and a curse for players. Too often, talented safeties will fall deeply in love with the bone-crushing hit and fail to understand that swinging for the fences every time will lead to a lot of missed tackles and when a safety — often the defense’s last line of defense — misses a tackle, that can mean a game-changing big play for the offense.
Fortunately, James is smart and disciplined enough to put his ego in check and pick his spots carefully. Unlike most hard-hitting safeties, he doesn’t let his love for the earth-shattering tackle distract him from the importance of making the less sexy but equally necessary tackles. In fact, he’s one of the best tacklers in this year’s class, regardless of position. Kyle Posey of Bolts from the Blue watched extensive game tape of James’ last year at Florida State and estimated that James only missed four tackles over seven games.
And that, in a nutshell, is what James arguably the most exciting player coming out of the draft. The Florida State safety is more than just a star who can deliver the big play; he’s a workhorse who will consistently prevent big plays and provide a strong backline for whatever team is lucky enough to land him. And while plenty of overrated quarterbacks and “can’t-miss prospects are likely to get their names called before James, don’t be surprised if he turns out to be the player most ready to make an immediate impact on the field and establish himself as a lights-out safety for the next 15 years.