We’re a little less than two months from the college football season, and a ton of talented players are waiting to make their marks. One of the hungriest players is Florida State defensive back Derwin James. Speaking last month at ACC Media Days, James thinks he should be considered college football’s best player.
The redshirt sophomore played in just two games last season, before he went down with a torn meniscus. But during his true freshman season in 2015, he lived up to the hype as the nation’s No. 1 overall safety per 247Sports and the No. 3 prospect from the state of Florida. James finished with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. His tackle number tied for the second-highest among freshmen in the ACC.
At the time, Ian Boyd broke down James’ versatility on defense, and explained how he’s used to stop teams from converting on passing downs.
The first task is pressuring the QB so he doesn't have time to find a receiver or deliver the ball, and obviously James has a lot to offer in terms of bringing pressure.
The second is eliminating hot reads. Many offenses excel at beating the blitz by getting the ball out quickly to a receiver who's working in isolation against a linebacker. James has a lot to offer here as well, because the 'Noles will often plant him in the box on passing downs and sometimes use him to lock down a receiver rather than blitz the QB:
A couple of outlets named him college football’s best overall player. In late June, Sports Illustrated made the case for James as No. 1 in its Top 100 players list.
James may be the only player in the country capable of lining up virtually everywhere on the defensive side of the ball, and Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher might want to consider dialing up a running play for him or asking him to run a deep route. Billing James as the next Jabrill Peppers is underselling the number of tasks the 6’3”, 211-pound redshirt sophomore can perform on the field at a high level.
And 247Sports said the same, comparing his value on defense to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson’s on offense.
James has the same kind of impact on defense. He's an eraser on the back end, an intimidator over the middle and a linebacker in run support. But James also adds a pass-rushing element takes things up a notch. The guy could be a nickel defensive end if he wanted and be a nightmare for pass protectors. It's almost the equivalent of Lamar Jackson rolling down as an additional edge blocker for 'wildcat' runs.
And now ESPN, in a staff ranking, has James at No. 1, too:
Perhaps the most versatile player in college football, expectations for James are skyrocketing after an offseason spent rehabbing his knee and learning nearly every position on defense. Expect him to line up at his usual safety spot, while also playing cornerback, linebacker and some defensive end.
Florida State blog Tomahawk Nation broke down how James could even win the Heisman in 2017. James playing as a kick and punt returner in the Noles’ spring game could be a sign he’ll be used there in the fall.
Since James’ injury, he’s shown signs this offseason that his knee is just fine. Exhibit A:
And in April, he pulled off this impressive dunk.
It’s obvious that James isn’t the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, although quarterbacks and running backs usually win the award. But if James’ value on defense vaults Florida State to a College Football Playoff berth and he does things on special teams, he could easily be looked at as the sport’s best overall player.