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The case for the Bucs and NFL draft prospect Derwin James

Only two players in the country matched FSU safety Derwin James' stats of 84 tackles and 13 passes defended.
Florida State safety Derwin James has the talent worthy of consideration for the Bucs at No. 7. [ MONICA HERNDON  |  Times ]
Florida State safety Derwin James has the talent worthy of consideration for the Bucs at No. 7. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times ]
Published Apr. 25, 2018|Updated Apr. 25, 2018

The best weapon against the NFL's evolving offenses, Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher said, is a defender who can do it all — someone who can cover a tight end, shadow a receiver or blitz the backfield.

"The way the game is played now on defense," Fisher said, "you can't find enough of those guys."

Fisher's comments came in 2016, when he was coaching Florida State and gushing about defensive back Jalen Ramsey, whom the Jaguars picked fifth overall a few weeks later. But the same philosophy applies to another one of Fisher's players and a potential Bucs target with the No. 7 pick in this week's NFL draft.

Derwin James.

Like Ramsey, James is an athletic freak who played multiple positions in the Seminoles' secondary. He's bigger (6-foot-2, 215 pounds compared to Ramsey's 6-1, 209) and stronger, but his 40-yard dash time was only six-hundredths of a second slower (4.47).

And some of the criticisms about James also could have applied to Ramsey, who became an All-Pro in his second professional season.

Some Bucs fans sound hesitant about adding a fourth FSU product to the roster (not including failed second-round pick Roberto Aguayo), even though that has nothing to do with James' abilities. The Jaguars have three former Seminoles, which didn't stop them from making it to the AFC title game.

The same question James is facing about whether a safety is worth such a high pick also applied to Ramsey, who became the sixth defensive back chosen in the top five this century. Although secondary labels can be amorphous, lists only nine pure safeties who were drafted in the top 10 since 1991. Six of them made at least one Pro Bowl, and a seventh (Jamal Adams) started every game for the Jets as a rookie last season.

That criticism also misses the point: James has few, if any, peers at the position. James can roam the secondary, cover a receiver, inch toward the line of scrimmage or rush off the edge — and that's just from the first five plays of the season.

His versatility gives coaches options to handle multiple personnel packages, or give quarterbacks different looks without substituting. How many prospects can bulldoze an SEC tackle (as James did against the Gators as a true freshman) and blanket a slot receiver (as he did for much of his final season)?

James' draft stock might have taken a slight hit after one of FSU's worst seasons in decades. But while FSU's defense underachieved relative to its talent, it wasn't awful, either; the Seminoles finished 29th in points allowed (21.2 per game), 11th in yards per play allowed (4.75) and 10th in opposing passer rating (110.90).

No, James didn't become a Heisman Trophy contender, but he still had a productive redshirt sophomore season. Only two players in the country (Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell and Southern Miss defensive back Tarvarius Moore) matched James' stats of at least 84 tackles and 13 passes defended. The fact that James' season was still viewed as disappointing shows how high his potential is — and why he could become the do-it-all defender the Bucs need.


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