It’s a homecoming of sorts for former Florida State and now L.A. Chargers safety Derwin James at the Pro Bowl in Orlando this weekend. James has had quite the rookie year in the NFL after being taken in the first round by the Chargers last April.
The season culminated with his team making the playoffs and winning their Wildcard game in an upset at Baltimore with a tremendous defensive performance. Unfortunately, they were beaten decisively the following week by the now, AFC Champion Patriots ending their 2018.
Still, for James he’s come a long way in a short amount of NFL time, and has apparently a very bright future ahead of him.
Consider the end of James’s college career at FSU.
He basically did not play in 2016 due to a knee injury suffered early in the season that required micro-fracture surgery and rehab. Head coach Jimbo Fisher stressed to James that he needed to think about his long-term future, including the pros and not rush back that year.
The Seminoles went on to have a good finish to the 2016 season and even won their Orange Bowl game against Michigan with James watching the entire time.
Fast forward to the disastrous 2017 season for Florida State, as they floundered after starting quarterback Deondre Francois was injured in the opener with Alabama. And, it became more apparent as the year went on, that Fisher was looking to exit more so than trying to coach up the Noles into being better.
James was solid but not spectacular in terms of stats, but the FSU continued to struggle to win games. Fisher did leave for Texas A&M late in the season. A season ended with Florida State barely making .500 at 6 – 6 and James electing to sit out their Independence Bowl game with Southern Miss looking towards his NFL future.
As we have written on more than one occasion since James was drafted by the Chargers later in the first round, both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins (who had need at safety) passed on the chance to get the Florida State star.
In Miami’s case they went with a fellow defensive back, who could help them at safety as well, in Minkah Fitzpatrick. He was good, but not spectacular in what turned out to be a 7-9 Miami season.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay chose massive Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea instead of James to help in their secondary. The Buccaneers pass defense, and secondary specifically, was so bad the first half of 2018 that defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired mid-year.
While the Bucs were better in the second half of the season they still finished 5-11. And, it’s only more fueled the outrage of some by Buccaneer fans and criticism from some media on the decision to have passed on James, when there was clearly a need.
And, then James developed and starred out in Los Angeles into one of the top safeties in all of the NFL, as their 2018 progressed. The analytics guys at Pro Football Focus have raved about James all year:
Derwin James has been the top rookie safety in the NFL this season. pic.twitter.com/BMfxhpsiF1
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 12, 2018
He helped the Chargers to a 12 – 4 record and the playoff success that we mentioned above.
And in addition to the on-field winning success, James graded out as one of the best young players in the NFL last season. That has to have the Chargers and their fans smiling for the future with James part of it.
Just as James has been smiling at Disney’s Wide World of Sports this week, coming back to his home region Haines City in Central Florida, as part of the AFC Pro Bowl team.
— Bill Kemp (@BillKempSports) January 24, 2019
For most young players it’s not only a reward, but a fantastic opportunity to be around and even bond with some of the other great players from other teams in the NFL in this relaxed all star format.
And, Derwin James is clearly getting to do that based on what he earned his first year in the league with the Chargers.
And good news for James is: he has the chance to be even better for a long time to come.
And, that’s worse news for the Chargers opponents and those that passed on the had the opportunity to grab him last April.
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