Two years ago, a Chargers rookie took home the award for Defensive Rookie of the Year. In year 1, Joey Bosa recorded 10.5 sacks in 11 starts (12 games) and a forced fumble, announcing himself to the NFL world. That was also after a contract holdout and a hamstring injury meant a delayed start to his season.
Could another young Charger make an equally big impact in his first year and bring the award to the west coast again? Well, I feel like there’s a pretty good chance because I think rookie safety, Derwin James is going to be pretty special.
James may have been selected in the middle of the first round but he suffered an unexpected fall in the spring’s draft due to the amount of quarterbacks taken in the top 10. It was a fall that did his talents and character a huge disservice. Not that the Bolts were complaining when he fell right into their laps at 17.
There are three reasons why I feel James has a fantastic chance of winning the award, two of which I’ve just mentioned; talent and his character. The third is the fit in Gus Bradley’s defensive system.
Let me elaborate on each of those.
The talent has always been there for James. Out of high school, he was a 5 star prospect, the number 5 ranked player in America and number 1 safety. James was subsequently recruited by Florida State meaning the Florida native could stay close to home.
It says a lot that when then Seminoles Head Coach Jimbo Fisher recruited James, he said that he was “one of the best safety prospects” he’d ever seen.
To top that all off, in 2015 James played 12 games as a freshman. Recording a stat line of 52 tackles (39 solo, 9.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, 4 pass break ups and 2 fumble recoveries. Like I said, James is special.
Unfortunately in James’ second year, a meniscus tear in week 2 meant he missed the rest of the season. However, James used his time on the sideline to his advantage. He talks about this period helping him grow as a person and as a player, and taught him how to deal with adversity. This level of maturity really speaks what a high level character James is. Even though he was injured, he still never missed a meeting and was ever present on the sideline, cheering his team mates on.
In his final year as a Seminole, he was back to being the same old Derwin, racking up tackles (84 in total, 5.5 for loss with 1 sack) and getting his hands on the football (11 pass defections, 2 picks, 1 for touchdown). That time in film study and in meetings obviously paid off. Plus, this accumulation of stats just shows how James can affect the game in multiple ways. It’s not often you could have watched a Florida State game and not seen Derwin James make a big play. Big plays mean wins and if you’re making plays on a winning football team, that’s when you start to get in the mix for awards.
James is also a renowned student of the game, something Chargers DC, Gus Bradley has already picked up on. This shows in the fact that during his time at Florida State, James lined up all over the formation, playing; both free and strong safety, nickel corner, linebacker and even as a blitzer. His apparent high football IQ should translate very well to the NFL.
That brings me on to my final point; Derwin James is the perfect fit for what Gus Bradley would look for in a safety and he will know exactly how to get the best out of him.
Quite often we will see players on certain teams and they just don’t fit or they’re inhibited by poor coaching. Well, Gus Bradley is one of the best DC’s in the game and he’s going to put Derwin in a position to succeed. I can see James being moved around the formation to maximise his skill set, much like he was in college. Throughout the spring, the Chargers coaching staff have thrown a lot at James and he’s responded with aplomb, taking it all in like a sponge and he’s seen the most practice reps out of all the defensive backs on the roster. To me, this shows that he’s ready to start and make an impact right away.
I just can’t wait until September and we get to see him in a game that matters, until then, the practice field and pre season will have to do.
It remains to be seen whether this mixture of talent, hard work, maturity and coaching will lead James and the Chargers to success in year one but I think there’s a very good chance. Of course there will be other great rookie defenders. Roquan Smith, Bradley Chubb, Denzel Ward, Rashaan Evans… I could go on. But let me say this…
Defensive Rookie of the Year 2018, Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
– Lee Wakefield is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @Wakefield90