Scouting Report | Safety Derwin James – Florida State


Personal Background

Athletic Background

High school

  • Rated No. 1 safety by ESPN, Rivals, 247Sports and Scout
  • Rated as the 5th-best player in the country by
  • Played in the Under Armour All America Game


  • Freshman All-American
  • 2015 Second-team AP All-American

Injury history

  • 2016
    • Lateral meniscus tear in left knee in the second game of the season


26 FBS Games

  • Pro Football Reference
    • 110 solo tackles
    • 186 total tackles
    • 15 tackles for loss
    • 5.5 QB sacks
    • 15 pass deflections
    • 2 fumbles forced
    • 2 fumbles recovered
  • Pro Football Focus
    • Yards/cover snap .47 (21st)
    • Cover snaps/target 10.3 (73rd)
    • Cover snaps/reception 23 (32nd)
    • Tackling efficiency 11.1 (29th)
    • Yards per cover snap (slot) .82 (32nd)
    • Slot yards 75 (44th)

Film Reviewed

  • Boston College
  • Clemson
  • Florida
  • Miami
  • N.C. State


  • Year: Redshirt Junior
  • Height: 6′ 1 3/4″
  • Weight: 215 pounds
  • Official 40 time: 4.47


  • Compact, tightly built defender with long arms
  • Pound for pound one of the best athletes in the draft
  • Ideal speed and quickness, incredibly fluid and able to smoothly transition from backpedal to driving on the ball
  • Strength to match all tight ends
  • Big-time player, when defense needs a stop he is called upon and delivers
  • Doesn’t back down from a challenge or big moment, ‘calls out’ opponents
  • Understands his athletic gifts and always trusts them
  • Recognizes misdirection and counter plays when in the box
  • Calmly sifts through traffic en route to the ball
  • Takes it to tight ends at the point of attack
  • A dynamic force player, cleans up as secondary run support with disciplined leverage and effective tackling
  • Resets coverages after motion, directs teammates to their responsibilities
  • Singlehandedly shuts down WR screens
  • Understands how offenses want to attack certain coverages, comprehends how receivers’ routes will change based on defensive shell (routinely adjusted to deep out vs. deep corner routes)
  • Incredibly quiet feet as a slot defender, efficient use of energy and movement
  • Man coverage
    • Reads releases, then gets into position
    • Eyes and hands match feet
    • Very good technique and angles at the receiver’s break point
    • Turns and tracks the ball with precise timing
    • Eliminates tight ends and running backs as options
  • Zone Coverage
    • On 3rd-and-long played middle linebacker, and his range eliminated much of the middle of the field
    • Downright scared quarterbacks from throwing in his direction
    • Silky smooth transitions while opening to threats, squeezes seam routes before settling into his zone, then immediately closes on the ball
    • Unphased by high/low combinations meant to attack him, does not ‘bite the cheese’
  • Pass rusher
    • Ability to change speed of rush to time up the blitz perfectly
    • Utilizes his speed and lateral burst to avoid running backs
    • Displays defensive end-like bend


  • Supreme understanding of angles and athleticism leads to:
    • Inconsistent level of hustle, only puts in the minimal amount of energy to finish the play
    • At times appears disinterested in pursuit on plays that are away from him
  • Can lose sight of the ball as a box player
  • As C/D gap player, will skate downhill
  • Does not initiate contact with runners
  • Will look to punish receivers that are push-cracking rather than making a play on the ball
  • The further away from the line of scrimmage he is, the slower he processes
    • Half a click slow to read run-to-pass
    • Loiters as a center fielder
    • Struggles to read quarterback cues
    • Quite passive on angles, gives the offensive player too much room to operate
  • At times an aloof tackler, doesn’t square runners up, tackles too high in the hole, attempts to rip the ball out as the first person on contact


It’s pretty clear that safety Derwin James is one of the better athletes in this draft. He has the perfect blend of traits/skills and athleticism. He is about as scheme versatile as they come acrossed all positions. James is the type of player that defensive coordinators build around because he is aware of his skills and can be put in a position to eliminate what the offense is trying to do. This is even more noticeable on 3rd and 4th downs. He plays with a high level of mental awareness of the down and distance. While the stats may not always show it, if you asked opposing coordinators what happened on 3rd-and-long, in most games their answer would be “James eliminated that receiver as an option” or “James made a play on the ball.” His skill set can literally close the middle of the field down as he uses his body position and leverage to wall off crossers. Or he can drop down, man up on a tight end or running back, and eliminate the backside of two- or three-man route combinations, essentially taking away half of the field.

As a centerpiece of the defense, James can be used as a box player, fringe box player, and as deep half safety, and will turn into a guy that a quarterback must find every play. I believe that his processing skills do suffer the further he plays deep and the more green he has to cover. So, as a single high safety in a Cover 3 defense, for example, you could see him struggle because he is often late diagnosing route combinations in conjunction with the quarterback’s drop. That slow diagnosis can often lead to him breaking late on routes, arriving late to the catch point, and/or giving the receiver too much cushion to make a move on him. The film shows instances in which he took good angles to the ball but often appeared to skate or coast. This can sometimes be misinterpreted as lackadaisical. There is some truth to it; on some plays he will only exert as much energy as is needed to get to the ball. This also can carry over into his tackling, where there were times it was lackluster and not as aggressive you’d like to see from a player with his abilities.

Overall, James graded out as a 5.333, a first round grade. Even with some of his minor inconsistencies, he can be a difference maker in and out of the box score.