[#FilmWithFive] Prospect Preview: SS Derwin James

For a few years in a row now, I’ve made it a point to share and completely obsess over my favorite player in the draft. These players, often times, are the same names that I’d link to Oakland in the first round.

In 2014, there was Sammy Watkins, although I wasn’t nearly as invested (loud and obnoxious, essentially) back then as I would be going forward.

In 2015, Amari Cooper was the apple of my eye.

In 2016, I let y’all in on my running back fetish, and it all started with Ezekiel Elliott.

Last year, in 2017, that love clearly spilled-over and it was all about Christian McCaffrey.

For 2018, I’m switching it up a little bit. It’s not an offensive skill position that I want my favorite football team to draft before anyone else.

This year, we’re going to the other side of the ball, but not without some amount of controversy, I’m sure.

Derwin James is what the heart wants, and he’s the impact-defender that this Raiders team desperately needs.

He was one of, if not the best, football players in the country during his 2015 freshman season. I was all the way on board back then. He was banged up in 2016 (knee), and then rebuilt his stock and had folks buzzing again in 2017.

Now, I speak of “controversy” not because of Derwin’s prospect; he’s widely-considered a top five or ten talent in the 2018 class who’s versatility and athleticism is exactly what team’s covet in today’s NFL. Rather, his selection for the Raiders would cause a bit of a stir given the position that he plays, and his projected usage.

Obi Melifonwu was selected 56th overall last year. That’s notable draft capital. His deployment and usage would be very similar to Derwin James, I would think.

What do the Raiders do? Is James even on their board, given the selection spent on Melifonwu? Does any of this matter given the new coaching staff that’s in place, and Jon Gruden’s influence on player evaluations (assumption)?

I had a Day 2 grade on the Connecticut defensive back last year. He jumped out of the gym. It’s easy to understand why many were higher on him than I was. While I was good with the pick and felt a bit better about the value, I have no problem calling it like it is: Derwin James is the better player – right now – and I’m not sure it’s even close. Athletically, their ceilings are similar. Melifownu is more of an extraterrestrial. But physically, and potential impact, there’s no contest. We’ll talk about what separates a player like James from other’s more below.

Derwin James would be a home run at 10 overall. He’s the best defender in the class, and the one player the Raiders cannot afford to pass on.

Game’s watched: vs. Florida (2017), vs. Alabama (2017), vs. Boston College (2017), vs. Florida (2017), vs. Syracuse (2017)

Ability in coverage.

If you’re drafting a defensive back inside the top ten, you want to know that he can cover. With Derwin James, I’ve consistently read that he’s “currently a better athlete than football player” right now. While I agree that he’s clearly a specimen, big picture and body of work, I disagree with that analysis. In man coverage, for a player his size, he’s sticky as heck. He’d immediately be the the Raiders second best cornerback at absolute worst (we’ve gotta take that for what it’s worth).

James is better in the slot than the Alabama defensive back receiving plenty of praise. He just doesn’t let much happen over the middle, which is where the Kam Chancellor comparisons come into play, I’m sure. When pushed outside, he made it work there too. The “problem” there is simply the lack of reps. Unlike former teammate Jalen Ramsey, Florida State never played James on the outside full-time. We can read into this however we’d like.

Regardless, his versatility is real, and the elite athleticism surely helps.

Here he is on the boundary. It’s not a deep route, so it’s not something to get too worked up about. Good press, and the eventual pass break-up.

Playing off in the slot. Not the best clip as we lose him momentarily, but again, his jump on the ball might be best-in-class. Completely cuts off the receiver and leads to another PBU.

This is probably the play that many have run back over and over again; the play where we fell in love.

Same game, and another poor clip (yuck). Working the middle this time:

I don’t know why Syracuse even looked at 3. This is perfect coverage out of the slot:

And here he is playing deep, bullying ‘Cuse again:

Playing the run; working down hill.

The physicality is probably the most “obvious” part of the Haines City hitter’s game.

To summarize:

Clearly athletic.

Willing, able, and effective in coverage.

Range works on the back-end in a pinch.

Strong and physical enough to work in the box and play down hill.

He doesn’t leave many (any?) boxes unchecked from what I’ve seen.

Working down hill was “what we coveted” in Obi Melifonwu’s game last year coming out of school. You quickly draw the parallels. His freaky athleticism, ability against the run, coupled with his size and speed in order to match-up against tight ends had the former Husky sitting in the top 32 for many.

If you thought that highly of Melifonwu, there’s no reason that James shouldn’t be sitting inside at least the top 10.

Getting off his block because he’s #strong:

Not afraid to get involved:

Down hill game. Look at the hips. His base is always so consistent:

Showing off some of that athleticism and lateral agility, working back toward the outside:

Stonewalling and suffocating the run:

Out in the open.

If I’m highlighting coverage ability at the top of my “must have” list for a defensive back, right below that is tackling. It sounds boring obviously, and something we may even take for granted in a prospect. Everyone should be able to tackle, right?

More importantly, I want to know what they can do in the open field. Again, James aces the test. We started to pull back that curtain above, and you probably have a good idea what you’re getting with him. Rarely did I see him take a bad angle. He’s smart and he’s efficient. His size allows him to match-up with anyone, all over the field. He’s the ultimate chess piece.

Good patience here, doesn’t get beat by the potential cut-back:

Coming up in support with those good hips, staying square:

Predator and prey, or something:

Applying pressure.

Derwin James’ ability off the edge is probably what separates him from any other defensive back prospects in this class. While I’m high on Minkah Fitzpatrick for obvious reasons, James is just built differently. Both are clearly versatile enough, but Derwin’s ability as a blitzer puts him on a different tier.

Getting his hands on the ball:

Later, forces the throwaway:

Hands in the passers face again:

The definition of a difference-maker. Special player:

Areas to improve, and final thoughts/projections:

He’s only a red shirt sophomore, so by default, games played I suppose? Games played also matters because he missed time due to a recent (or recent enough) ACL injury; you could also flag things from a medical-standpoint. I pointed out his patience and ability to really key-in vs. the run, but sometimes, it can be his undoing as the play develops a bit too quickly and he’s late to react.

At the end of the day, these warts are all minor for the most part, and it’s nitpick-y because that’s what we have to do. There’s no such thing as a perfect prospect. Derwin James isn’t perfect, but he’s close enough. I don’t think he’s better than Jalen Ramsey coming out of school (common name that gets thrown around just due to build and alma mater), but James has the type of game that easily translates to the next level, and his impact should be felt early.

On “my board”, he’s a top five talent (my second graded player overall), the best defender in the class, and a player that can turnaround a defense – even a unit which struggled as notably as Oakland’s did last year, and over the years. Derwin James is about as “can’t miss” as they come. Don’t overthink it.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive


4 thoughts on “[#FilmWithFive] Prospect Preview: SS Derwin James

  1. Have you noticed that your favorite players are not very good & you should hope the Raiders pass? You named one good player and he’s a punk, not a guy you should want.

    Also, SS is not a position of value, meaning that if you have a good player at S and at CB, CB is more valuable, so you take the CB. James makes the Raiders marginally better if he fulfills his potential. Ward or Smith improve the Raiders by leaps and bounds, because their positions are far more important. S isn’t even a need. LB, need. CB, need. Coaching up Joseph & Obi, need. Heck, DT, need, not a value position either (unless you’re getting Aaron Donald), but at least a need

    1. Agree 100% about how his man crushes arent that good except for the guy that is a derp as a human being and on what the Raiders needs are and safety not an immediate one.

  2. Sure they can afford to pass on James and they will. He’s good and if S was a position of need then they might consider him. But S is not a Need and there will be other BPA’s on the board at positions of need at #10.

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