Derwin James Talks Madden NFL 21 Challenge, Chargers and More in B/R Exclusive

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2020

Los Angeles Chargers free safety Derwin James watches during warm ups before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James will not be on the field this season because of a knee injury, but that won't stop him from putting on a show while dominating foes on the gridiron. 

The virtual gridiron, that is.

EA Sports announced Derwin James vs. The World will be part of its Madden NFL 21 Championship Series this year that will fill the football void on Tuesday nights, which fans can watch on the Madden Twitch and YouTube channels. The Chargers safety is renowned for his Madden skills and will face off against a new celebrity or athlete challenger every Tuesday night for 16 weeks.

"I feel like it's going to be exciting every week just having a different guest," he told Bleacher Report. "I feel like I'm going to dominate, all the way to the top."

His first guest for Tuesday's premiere will be Lil Baby, and he will face Quavo in Week 2. 

Both musicians figure to challenge the Florida State product, but, if James is to be believed, not even any of his Chargers teammates are talented enough to beat him in a Madden showdown.

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"My biggest challenger on my team would be Keenan Allen," he said. "But I'm definitely coming out on top for sure."

Coming out on top will be easier said than done in the Derwin James vs. The World challenge, though, because it culminates in a clash between the safety and the winner of this year's Madden NFL 21 Club Championship. That winner will emerge from Madden's biggest event of the year that includes players from across the globe, so James will need to be ready to compete.

"I can't wait to compete against everybody," he said. "Tune in every Tuesday, I'm going to put on a show."

Putting on a show is exactly what James is known for on the field as well, and he wasted no time establishing himself as a franchise cornerstone as a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro selection as a rookie in 2018 with 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions and 13 passes defended.

Unfortunately for him and Los Angeles, injuries have become a significant concern of late. He played just five games last year because of a foot injury, and he will not play in 2020 with his latest setback.

Anyone who tuned in to HBO's Hard Knocks this year saw how devastating the injury was to the Chargers. The entire tone of practice immediately shifted and became much more somber after James went down, and some coaches could even be heard pleading for it to be just a cramp.

It was a small part of a larger season that focused on the team's preparations amid the COVID-19 pandemic that included temperature screenings, constant testing and mask-wearing instead of preseason games and the usual developments of training camp.

"They were cool, they didn't bother us much," James said of the Hard Knocks crew and its presence at camp. "I feel like they got some good content to show on the culture and the type of team we have, and I feel like they did a good job pushing that out."

A primary focus for the Chargers leading up to the season as they were being filmed was the quarterback battle between veteran Tyrod Taylor and rookie Justin Herbert.

Taylor won the job and was solid but unspectacular while leading the Chargers to a 16-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday's season opener. He completed 16-of-30 passes for 208 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions while adding seven yards on the ground.

He did what was expected and didn't cost his team the game with critical turnovers. The steadiness while putting his side in position to win was surely an example of why he got the starting job over Herbert, who is the presumed future face of the franchise after Los Angeles selected him with No. 6 overall pick out of Oregon but can't match Taylor's experience.

James had the unique perspective of competing against them during practice as a defensive back and offered his takeaway on the battle.

"They're both different in their own way," the safety said. "Tyrod is more of a scrambling guy who can move on the run and make throws on the run. And Justin, he can move well and is mobile but can throw from the pocket too. I feel like both of them are going to be good quarterbacks. ... They're both going to be competing and battling and making each other better every week."

On the other side, the defense did more than just tread water without James. It set the tone by holding Joe Burrow to 193 passing yards, zero touchdown throws and an interception while pressuring the rookie quarterback throughout the contest.

It also caught a break when Burrow's would-be winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green was nullified by offensive pass interference before Randy Bullock missed a chip-shot field goal that would have sent the game into overtime, but it was still an impressive performance.

Safety Rayshawn Jenkins helped make up for the absence of James with two tackles while the secondary kept Burrow in relative check. That was no surprise to the All-Pro.

"Rayshawn Jenkins," James said when asked which under-the-radar Chargers defender was going to stand out this season. "He's going to have a big year. He's rangy, a guy who is going to be all over the field making plays sideline-to-sideline."

Jenkins will have the chance to continue proving himself in Week 2 when Los Angeles squares off with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.

As for James, he will have to stick to impressing in the Madden world until he's ready to return to the field.