Saturday, October 20, 2018
Colleges

On the defensive: Heisman history not in Derwin James' favor

Florida State safety Derwin James is on virtually every All-America team or list of the country's top players.

The Sporting News called the redshirt sophomore the No. 9 overall player in college football. Sports Illustrated ranked him first — a welcome surprise James won't argue.

"I do think I'm the best player in the country," James said.

RELATED CONTENT: Is Derwin James the best player in the country? Spoiler: Yes.

Being called the best is one thing. But being named the most outstanding, as designated by Heisman Trophy voters? That's a much tougher challenge for James.

While USF quarterback Quinton Flowers' biggest Heisman liability is his program's place outside the Power Five, James' only problem is his position. He plays on the wrong side of the ball.

Of the 80 previous Heisman winners, only one has primarily played defense: Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, 20 years ago. The betting website Bovada lists Heisman odds for two Seminoles (quarterback Deondre Francois and true freshman running back Cam Akers) but not James.

"It's pretty simple," said Booger McFarland, an ESPN analyst and former defensive lineman for the Bucs and LSU. "You can be a great defensive player, and if you don't put up splash statistics, then you're not going to get noticed."



 

Defensive battle

Since 1982, only seven defensive players have been Heisman Trophy finalists. Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson is the only winner.

Associated Press

Charles Woodson won the Heisman as a defensive player, but that was 20 years ago.

 

1986: LB Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma

1991: DL Steve Emtman, Washington

1997: CB Charles Woodson, Michigan

2009: DL Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

2011: S Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

2012: LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

2016: LB/DB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan



 

While defensive players and coaches would like more consideration for the game's highest individual honor, they understand why the award is stacked against them. Defenders can't rack up gaudy numbers, and it's easier to follow the player with the ball than the one chasing him.

"Disproportionately the ball is everything," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The Heisman usually goes to whoever has the ball."

Each of the past 18 years, that meant giving the award to either a quarterback or a running back. But look beyond the winners, and there are signs that voters (including me) are beginning to change their minds.

More defensive players have been Heisman finalists over the past eight years (four) than the previous 27 (three). Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen wasn't invited to New York last season, but he earned more first-place votes than two of the players who were.

"I think that dynamic is coming around a little bit," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The dynamic began to change when Woodson used his versatility to top Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning with a Heisman campaign that included seven interceptions and four touchdowns scored three different ways (rush, catch and punt return).

Fisher said more open offenses have caused the dynamic to keep evolving. Do-it-all defenders who can zip across the field and hit in space stand out even more. Two of them, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu and Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, have been finalists in the past six seasons.

"Being that versatile athlete, that's what people like to see," said Louisville cornerback/returner Jaire Alexander.

RELATED CONTENT: What will it take for Quinton Flowers to strike a Heisman pose?.

No athlete in the country is as versatile as James. And that's why he has a chance to make a dark-horse run at college football's most prestigious award.

"I'm more than capable," James said.

He's fast enough to fly in the secondary and powerful enough to bulldoze an offensive tackle, as he did to Florida's Mason Halter as a true freshman.

His 15 career games have produced a statistical smorgasbord: 102 tackles (9 ½ for a loss), five pass breakups, two fumbles forced and recovered, 4 ½ sacks and an interception. While he primarily plays safety, more than one-third of his snaps have been elsewhere — cornerback, slot cornerback, linebacker or edge rusher, according to Pro Football Focus.

 

While James draws comparisons to Peppers (who finished fifth last year), the former five-star recruit is 2 inches taller, 15 pounds heavier and more highly regarded by the NFL.

"No offense to Peppers," ESPN analyst Rex Ryan said while announcing FSU's spring game, "but he only wished he was the player this kid was."

Because James played only seven quarters last season before tearing his meniscus, FSU has yet to fully unlock the Haines City native's potential. That should change this fall in what will likely be James' final college season, before he becomes a first-round draft pick.

James feels faster now at 220 pounds than he did last season at 212. The time away forced him to watch 11 games from the sideline, which could make him an even smarter player in his familiar responsibilities. And James is poised to add to those duties by contributing more in the game's other two phases.

He returned kicks this spring and should continue to do so this fall. Fisher seems open to James' attempts to lobby for more offensive touches. A Wildcat quarterback package wouldn't be a surprise, and Fisher said the 6-3 James has the size and ball skills to become a receiving threat in the red zone.

"There's no doubt he can go do it," Fisher said. "And if we have to, we have to."

Fair or not, James' chance at being named college football's most outstanding player might depend on it.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Comments
ESPNís College GameDay headed to Florida-Georgia

ESPNís College GameDay headed to Florida-Georgia

The biggest Florida-Georgia game in years will have the pregame hype to match the high stakes.ESPN's College GameDay will be in Jacksonville for the annual rivalry game, the network announced Saturday evening. The SEC Network's pregame show, SEC Nati...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Without Milton, No. 10 UCF beats ECU 37-10 for 20th straight

Without Milton, No. 10 UCF beats ECU 37-10 for 20th straight

GREENVILLE, N.C. ó Darriel Mack Jr. stepped in for Heisman Trophy hopeful McKenzie Milton and rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown, and No. 10 UCF forced five turnovers in beating East Carolina 37-10 for its 20th straight victory. Nate Evans returned...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Florida State climbing under Willie Taggart, but ĎNoles still have a long way to go

Florida State climbing under Willie Taggart, but ĎNoles still have a long way to go

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State's 38-17 comeback win over Wake Forest on Saturday was a nice way to start the second half of coach Willie Taggart's inaugural season.It was certainly better than how the first half went — with a 21-point home d...
Updated: 7 hours ago
FSU journal: Tackle for loss becomes moment to reflect

FSU journal: Tackle for loss becomes moment to reflect

TALLAHASSEE — Less than two weeks after Hurricane Michael destroyed his Panama City home, Florida State LB Janarius Robinson was just happy to be back on the field and able to contribute.He did more than that Saturday.Robinson recorded a career...
Updated: 7 hours ago
McKenzie Milton out of starting lineup for No. 10 UCF at ECU

McKenzie Milton out of starting lineup for No. 10 UCF at ECU

GREENVILLE, N.C. ó Heisman Trophy hopeful McKenzie Milton did not start at quarterback on Saturday night for No. 10 UCF at East Carolina. Team spokesman Andy Seeley said only that it was a game-time decision by coach Josh Heupel. Darriel Mack Jr. mad...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Matt Bakerís takeaways from Florida State-Wake Forest

Matt Bakerís takeaways from Florida State-Wake Forest

The best moment of the game was when LB Janarius Robinson corralled Wake Forest's Jamie Newman for a 6-yard loss, then took a knee after the play. It was his first big play since Hurricane Matthew destroyed his family's Panama City home.RELATED: ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Ryan Finley and the NFL draft, Ohio State on upset watch and more college football nuggets

Ryan Finley and the NFL draft, Ohio State on upset watch and more college football nuggets

Eye on the NFL draftWith a 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame plus a top-10 completion percentage, North Carolina State QB Ryan Finley is an interesting pro prospect. Clemson's defense is loaded with even bigger talents, including DE Clelin Ferrell and DT Dex...
Published: 10/19/18
UConn is just awful, a positive at FSU and more state college football nuggets

UConn is just awful, a positive at FSU and more state college football nuggets

FSU bright spotAs rough as Florida State's 3-3 start has been, its run defense has been one of the best in the nation. The Seminoles are seventh nationally in yards per rush allowed (2.76) and held Northern Illinois to only six yards — the best...
Published: 10/19/18
Heisman watch: Two AAC players crack the top five

Heisman watch: Two AAC players crack the top five

5. Memphis RB Darrell Henderson: The nation's leading rusher (1,133 yards) ran for 199 on UCF in a one-point loss.4. Houston DL Ed Oliver: His 1.9 tackles for a loss per game lead all interior linemen nationally.3. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins: The B...
Published: 10/19/18
College football Week 8 viewing guide

College football Week 8 viewing guide

Lamest time window: Late. The marquee games are spread out well, but the primetime spot will have the fewest national implications.Noon: Can Jim Harbaugh start reversing his 1-5 record against rivals when No. 6 Michigan travels to No. 24 Michigan Sta...
Published: 10/19/18