Safety isn’t high up on the priority list of position needs for the Redskins as they enter the draft. The team signed D.J. Swearinger in free agency last year and he quickly established himself as a leader of the defense. Meanwhile, Coach Jay Gruden said Montae Nicholson, a fourth-round pick last year, had the same type of impact on the defense that Jordan Reed has on Washington’s offense (when Reed is healthy, that is, and Nicholson was limited to eight games last season amid injury issues).
Still, there is a safety prospect in this year’s draft class that could prove too tempting to pass over, if he falls to Washington’s pick at No. 13 overall: Florida State’s Derwin James.
James is one of the best prospects in this draft and has the talent to go in the top 10 picks. He’s a do-it-all safety who can play a variety of different roles.
Here, James aligns as the deep middle safety, shading slightly toward the trips side of the offensive formation. The inside receiver attempts to angle his route outside before cutting across James to the post.
James reads the route perfectly, working to stay on top of it but waiting for the receiver to declare his intentions. As soon as the receiver breaks inside, James undercuts the route and locates the ball, breaking up the pass before it arrives at the receiver.
James reads routes well from deep and understands where the quarterback is looking to go with the ball, enabling him to take away routes before the quarterback can make the throw.
This time, James is part of a two-deep safety coverage. With the ball on the far hash, he aligns slightly further inside, nearly over the tight end, who runs a basic cross.
Just like before, James reads the route perfectly and drives down on it as soon as the tight end breaks inside. By breaking on it so quickly, he’s in perfect position to contest any throw, taking the option away from the quarterback, who is forced to check it down.
James isn’t just a deep safety, either. He’s incredibly versatile and can play a number of roles. FSU often played him in the box as a dime linebacker to match up with tight ends and running backs in man coverage.
On this play, James is in the box and has to drop into coverage to match the tight end on an out route.
James makes up the ground to the tight end quickly and mirrors his cut outside easily, getting himself in position to undercut the route should the quarterback throw his way. Instead, the quarterback checks it down underneath and James works off the tight end to assist the tackle on the checkdown.
James is also a strong option to send on the blitz. He’s a fantastic athlete who can win with speed or technique when rushing.
Like before, James is in his dime linebacker role.
FSU runs a clever stunt, with the defensive tackles working inside to occupy the center and left guard, clearing a lane between the left guard and tackle for James to rush into. But while the scheme is good, James shows off his athleticism. Not only does he accelerate to top speed quickly, he shows great bend as he turns the corner sharply at a very low angle. His quick pressure forces the quarterback to step up into another defender, who makes the sack.
James is an elite safety prospect with great versatility. He can play deep or underneath in a zone, match up in man coverage, blitz and is stout against the run, too. Even with Swearinger and Nicholson penciled in as starters, James’s talent would likely make him the best available player on the board if he falls to No. 13. He could fill in at either safety spot in base defense and even play nickel corner or dime linebacker in sub-packages, which are on the field more often than base packages in today’s NFL.
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