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Breaking down the prospects: Derwin James

With the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select; Derwin James, Safety, Florida State University

The draft is less than two months away, and teams have already begun to trade up for franchise quarterbacks. New York and Indianapolis made a splashy trade Saturday afternoon, that puts the Jets in prime position to draft one of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s class. But what does that mean for the rest of the draft? It appears that four quarterbacks will go within the top-5 picks and if that holds true, a very, very good player will drop to the Dolphins at 11. Enter Derwin James. A versatile strong safety that has the ability to blitz the quarterback, as well as drop down into the box to stop the run. Sounds a lot like T.J McDonald and Reshad Jones, right? James appears to be every bit as good as the two current Dolphin’ safeties, but where he separates himself is in coverage. Here is my draft breakdown of Florida State safety, Derwin James. He is one of the best cover safeties in this year’s class and after a spectacular combine, James is primed to be a hot commodity in April’s draft.

Here is my draft breakdown of Florida State safety, Derwin James.



Position: Safety

Class: Sophomore

Height: 6’3

Weight: 232 LBs

Hometown: Haines City, Florida


Derwin James can do it all. He can drop down into the box and play the run, or drop back in coverage and cover the athletic tight end. He is a strong safety, which raises the question, how does he fit in Miami with two strong safeties already on the roster? Ultimately, James is a football player, and if Matt Burke gets creative, he would be an asset for this team.

Here, you can see how relentless he is. Some players may have given up on this play, but James continues to work, eventually forcing the quarterback to drop back 20 yards and throw up a prayer into the end zone. Incomplete.

There are plenty of question marks on whether or not James can be the center-fielder in the middle of the Dolphins’ secondary. I’m not sure he can do it on every play like a Minkah Fitzpatrick, but his football fundamentals are second to none. Here, he makes a great play on a ball that probably should’ve never been thrown.

Here is another play that shows just how good Derwin James can be in coverage. He drops back, reads the quarterback’s eyes, and makes a great play with a well-timed pass breakup.

The truth is, this play never stood a chance. The quarterback thinks he has the running back open on the wheel route, but Derwin James (who is playing in the box) reads the play immediately. Easy interception for #3.

Another example of his versatility. James is once again down in the box, occupying the middle of the field. He prevents the quarterback from making the easy play on the crossing route, as well as the dump-off to the running back out of the backfield. As soon as the quarterback rolls to his left, James uses his speed to close on the quarterback, forcing the incompletion.

Here, Derwin James is giving a significant cushion to the slot wide receiver. He keeps outside leverage, forcing the quarterback to throw the football to the middle of the field. James makes a great play on the football, preventing the touchdown.

In no world should you allow Derwin James to blitz without getting a hand on him. Not in this lifetime or the next.

Even when he’s not lined up in the box, Derwin James is quick to react. Here, he reacts immediately, shooting down into the box to make the stop on the running back. He doesn’t over pursue and makes the sure tackle in the open field. Minimal gain.

As soon as he recognizes it’s a run play, he drops down into the box. Without over pursuing, he stands his ground and waits patiently for the running back to cut outside. One on one, he makes the open-field tackle for a minimal game.

Here, you see Derwin James ability to react while the ball is in the air. There is a significant cushion between him and the wide receiver. James gets there a little late, but lands a big hit on the receiver, forcing the incompletion.

James reads the screen and makes the stop for a minimal gain. The only person that almost got a hand on him was the offensive lineman, who whiffed mercifully.

James very rarely misses a tackle. Here he weaves through traffic, stopping the running back short of the first down. Oh yeah, and he finishes the play with a powerful German suplex.

I mentioned earlier in this article that it would be foolish to give any player a free run at the quarterback, especially Derwin James. Here, you see his ability to change direction, not losing a step on Hurst despite his sudden stop and go. Great defense from James.

Here, you see how disciplined James can be in coverage. He knows he’s going against one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the nation, and remains disciplined as he occupies the middle of the field. Once he sees Hurst take off, he closes in, making a nice open-field tackle.

This play speaks for itself. James is near the line of scrimmage, playing the role of a linebacker. The running back is able to get his hands on James, who sheds the block with ease on his way to the quarterback. Short gain.


Sure, he disguises the blitz well, but Alabama has no counter for the blitzing safety. Thankfully for Saban and Co., Hurts was able to get the ball off. Well executed blitz that led to the incompletion.

Again, James is untouched off the line and nearly picks off an errant pass. Although you’d like to see the ball taken to the house, this is a well executed play from the likely top-10 safety.


It is difficult to consider this a con, because Derwin James reads the play immediately from the snap. The biggest gripe I have is with the angle he takes to get to the ball carrier, which had it been a bit more precise, would have resulted in a short gain.

Here, James get drawn in by the playaction. His half second delay allows the receiver to get open, resulting in a significant gain.


The biggest question mark surrounding Derwin James, is how he fits on the Dolphins roster. His skill-set is eerily similar to T.J McDonald’s and Reshad Jones’ and the team has a more pressing need at linebacker, defensive tackle, tight end and free safety, than any other position. The difference between James and the two safeties currently on the roster, is that he is exceptional in coverage. He can do it all and paired with the right defensive coordinator, could become one of the league’s top defenders in the coming years. Derwin James is a can’t-miss prospect that would make any team picking in the top-10 happy, and after a solid combine, the chances of him being available when Miami is on the clock continue to diminish. Though I believe Miami would be better suited to go linebacker at 11, no one should be upset if Derwin James is the name called on draft night. After all, good teams find ways to utilize talent, and a trio consisting of T.J McDonald, Reshad Jones and Derwin James, would give opposing offenses nightmares for years to come.

Because who doesn’t like highlights?

This article was written by Josh Houtz. Follow him on Twitter!

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