Standout safety Derwin James accepted a scholarship offer from Florida State as a freshman. The head-turning commitment ensured he would spend his entire high school career in the spotlight.
He's lived up to lofty expectations every step of the way.
James, a 6'2", 201-pound playmaker from Auburndale, Fla., is regarded as one of America's elite defensive backs. The Haines City Senior High School junior rates No. 1 nationally among 2015 safety prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings.
An early pledge to the Seminoles did little to quell interest from college programs across the country. His offer list has expanded to include Ohio State, Clemson, Miami, Auburn and Florida.
He attended a Gators junior day in January.
He continued to makes strides last fall, anchoring the back end of a defense that dominated opponents during an impressive final stretch of the regular season. He helped the Bloodhounds close things out on a four-game win streak that featured just 18 total points allowed.
He earned first-team all-state honors in the process.
James, a 5-star recruit, deserves consideration as the top rising senior in talent-laden Florida. Let's take a closer look at the game tape to uncover what makes him a must-see prospect and how parts of his game can still improve.
|School||Haines City Senior High School|
|Size||6'2", 201 lbs|
|Rankings||No. 1 safety; No. 15 overall prospect; No. 6 player in Florida|
|Key Offers||Committed to Florida State (Feb. 25, 2012)|
From a physical standpoint, James is the caliber of athlete who stirs the imagination of defensive coordinators. His build and athleticism bring several options into play, and it's even tempting to envision him lined up at weak-side linebacker.
However, given the increase in size at wide receiver and the advantage provided by having a dynamic defender serving as a lynchpin in the secondary, safety is his ideal landing spot at the next level.
Offensive game-planners must be mindful of James at all times due to his tremendous range. He flies to the football in run and pass coverage, laying the lumber when he arrives at his intended target.
He provides an intimidating presence thanks to his penchant for full-throttle play. He dishes out devastating hits that make receivers think twice before extending for receptions with him in the vicinity.
Expect Florida State to utilize him as an enforcer across the middle in intermediate coverage. Despite having a muscular frame, he's nimble enough to maneuver and weave his way through traffic while maintaining attention on the passing pocket.
He displays outstanding awareness as a play develops and puts himself in favorable positions to disrupt passing lanes and bait quarterbacks. He has strong closing speed that allows him to make up ground and reach his arm into the targeted area of a receiver.
He is perhaps most impressive against the run, reacting and firing downfield in pursuit of the ball-carrier. James is a sure tackler in the open field, which seems to be a bit of a lost art these days in collegiate secondaries.
The defensive front receives a significant boost when he lines up in the box. James is stout along the edge and provides perimeter containment when offenses aim to stretch rushing attempts outside.
His style of play also makes him a strong candidate to contribute as a special teams star in kick coverage.
James' aggression is a double-edged sword at times. He can be overzealous in his pursuit of the football and take himself out of plays with improper angles.
His deep pass coverage requires refinement at the next level, where even impressive acceleration won't be enough to make up for mistakes in route identification. He will look to improve his reaction time while dissecting what's coming his way in the defensive backfield.
Slight tweaks to his tackling approach will make him even more effective against the run. He can become increasingly efficient by exhibiting lower pad level on a consistent basis.
There aren't any holes in James' skill set, just details that need to be ironed out.
James has the makings of a multi-year starter in any collegiate defensive backfield. He should impress early enough to command consideration as a situational defender during his first season on campus, when his quickest path to playing time will come on special teams.
There's plenty to be excited about in Tallahassee, where fans and coaches alike have waited more than two years to see him in garnet and gold. Expectations are sky high, with eventual Jim Thorpe Award contention as a realistic possibility down the line.