Before the NFL free agency period began it was hard to picture the Buccaneers not selecting at least two pass rushers in the 2018 NFL Draft. With not many impact pass rushers on the free agent market, the Buccaneers were rumored to be going after Robert Quinn or Michael Bennett, but ultimately couldn’t get a deal done. This past week the team struck a deal with the New York Giants for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, but had to part ways with their third round selection, No. 69 overall.
With the additions of Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and hopefully the return of a healthy Noah Spence, pass rush isn’t at the top of the Buccaneers offseason list anymore. There are still a few holes on this roster, especially in the secondary, and I believe that the Buccaneers have a player in mind that would instantly upgrade the defensive back unit.
Enter Derwin James, a safety from Florida State, whom I believe outside of Quenton Nelson, who probably won’t be available at #7, is the Buccaneers number one target on draft night. James (6’-3”, 215 lbs.) has all the physical abilities to become a dominant safety in the NFL, and pairing him with Justin Evans would give the Buccaneers a very promising 1-2 punch at the safety positions.
We will get into what he can bring to the Tampa Bay defense, but first let’s look at how James performed at the NFL Combine.
He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash to go along with a 40.0 inch vertical jump, a 132.0 inch broad jump, and to round it all out, he put up 21 reps on the bench press. It’s safe to say the Haines City, Florida native lived up to all the hype pre-combine.
Now it gets fun. James isn’t just a safety that plays 25-30 yards deep down the field looking to pick the ball off. The kid can play anywhere on the field, including close to the line of scrimmage. This highlight video shows the strength he has as well. Watch him completely over power the right tackle, and while he didn’t get the sack, he disrupted the whole play. Adding this wild card off the edge to an already improved defensive line will give Quarterbacks another dimension to study.
Another positive about James is his ability to tackle in the open field. There were many instances at Florida State in which he read the route, reacted, and put the receiver straight on his back before he even had a chance to turn up field. When Derwin James goes for a tackle he doesn’t look to wrap up, he punishes and looks to cause as many fumbles as he can. We know that Justin Evans plays the same way in terms of tackling, so to have both roaming the middle of the field you have to believe receivers will think twice about going to that area.
After playing in only two games in his second college season due to a torn meniscus, it took James a little while to regain his form in the 2017 season. The stats don’t jump off the board in 2017, but he made several key plays late in games to help Florida State win and that’s what this Buccaneer team needs. Too many times in recent years have they had the lead in the last 4-5 minutes of the game, only to see the opposing offense drive straight down the field with no bumps along the way.
Perhaps the best quality that James would bring to the Tampa Bay defense is his leadership and passion for the game. James is described as being an “alpha in the locker room” according to Lance Zierlein’s NFL draft profile on NFL.com, and I think the Buccaneers need another vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball to go along with Kwon Alexander.
You also want your draft picks to show that they have confidence in themselves and feel like they are on the same level and even better than everyone else. At his Florida State pro day James was asked why he is ranked behind Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“I know what type of player I am, I know I am the best player in this draft,” James said. “It was a down year for us, but I feel like I am the best player and there is no other question”.
If that doesn’t show confidence and that doesn’t convince you that he knows he will be an All-Pro caliber player at the next level, I don’t know what will.
James has all the tools to be as great as he wants to be, and with comparisons to current NFL players such as Eric Berry and Kam Chancellor, the Buccaneers would be very fortunate to add him to an already impressive offseason. We will see come April 26th, but I have a feeling the former Seminole will be making the trip down Interstate 75 to One Buc Place.