IDP Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookie Update: Derwin James, S LAC

Tom Kislingbury

Name: Derwin James

Position: Safety

Pro Team: Los Angeles Chargers

College Team: Florida State

Draft Position: 17th overall



  • Height: 6’1 3/4”
  • Weight: 215 lbs
  • Hands: 9 1/2”
  • Arm Length: 33”
  • Bench Press: 21 reps
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.47
  • Broad Jump: 132”
  • Vertical Jump: 40”

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Flexibility. The terms “swiss army knife” and “moveable chess piece” are vastly overused given the sport is so much about individual matchups and assignments, but James is a player who really deserves them with his varied skillset.

Athletically, he’s a marvel. He has the perfect size for a modern safety and his timed speed matches what you can see on tape. He has sideline-to-sideline range and has displayed it when lined up deep. His Combine leaps were particularly impressive and showed the explosiveness that’s easy to see on tape.

He’s excellent in man coverage. He can stick to tight ends or backs and do a good job against receivers too. He’s very at home lining up in the slot or simply in deeper man. He has smooth hips and excellent agility and does a good job tracking the ball and making plays. His eight passes defended and a single interception in 2017 show this skill.

He’s aggressive and impactful in the run game – he identifies it well and reacts fast. He can sift through traffic well for a safety and he’s a sound tackler. James missed only eight tackles in his final college season.

He’s outstanding as a pass rusher. He was used to blitz effectively from multiple spots. In his college career, he tallied seven sacks and 38 total pressures.


This is nit-picking as he is such a fantastic prospect. I’d like to see him do better in zone coverage. That’s not to say he’s bad (far from it) but given his athletic talents, decision-making and instincts, he really should be an elite zone player and he’s not yet. Certainly, I thought Jamal Adams was better in that aspect coming out in 2017.

Also, James’ ability to play as a single-deep safety is a little lacking. He has done that job before on scattered plays but not really as a full-time job. That’s the far more valuable position to NFL teams so it would be nice to see him display those skills more. Having said that, this is an IDP article, and for our purposes we want him lined up as close to the line of scrimmage as possible.


Derwin James was born to play strong safety for Gus Bradley. He has the size and the ability against the run that Kam Chancellor thrived with in this scheme. But James also has better man coverage ability and can be used more in variable coverages – similar to how Morgan Burnett has been used over the last couple of seasons. Lots of times people just think strong safeties are extra linebackers who come down and hit running backs. That’s a vast oversimplification.

Because of the heavy pass gameplans of so many NFL teams, safeties need to be more flexible and able to pick up tight ends, slot receivers (big and small) and running backs at a moment’s notice. When Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara and James White and Theo Riddick motion out wide, it’s going to be James who picks them up. That requires a flexibility most linebackers do not display. And again, flexibility is James’ superpower. He can line up against any sort of receiving threat but also be used in other ways.

All of this together means he is going to be on the field every snap he’s healthy for. He’ll likely play in several different roles but his ability to adapt to any situation or personnel conundrum means he’s guaranteed playing time.


This Chargers defense is starting to look really good. But it’s not there yet. A defense is only as good as its weakest link and there are a couple of those left.

The most obvious one is the lack of a true deep safety. Tre Boston filled that role in 2017 but was not brought back this season which points to a big issue. The clear best safeties on the team are James and Jahleel Addae but neither is an obvious free safety in a Cover 1/Cover 3 scheme. In fact, Addae there would very possibly be a disaster. He has not displayed the range or the instincts to do that job at all. A player at free safety without instincts is a liability in today’s NFL and would be giving up big plays consistently.

On the other hand, James certainly has the range and instincts and has shown the ability sporadically at least. So my worry is that he’s installed in that position for the short term at least. It’s entirely possible the Chargers come up with another plan. They could move a cornerback there (although that’s not a simple solution) or sign someone else to fill the role. But the simplest solution y far is for Addae to play strong safety and James to play deep safety before revaluating next off-season.

That sounds like terrible news to us IDP heads but it’s important to note that the Chargers would probably like it to work out. It’s fairly simple to find a strong safety. It’s really hard to find a good deep safety.


This is a bimodal problem because James statistics are going to look very different depending on whether he’s starting at strong or free safety, and we can’t simply average them out as that would be definitely wrong.

If he’s the strong safety, then I can see him producing 81 solos, 287 assists, a sack, 4 batted passes and an interception. That would make him a top-eight IDP safety.

If he plays deep, then I’d project 47 solos, 17 assists, three batted passes and two interceptions. Those numbers would make for an unstartable option in most IDP leagues – certainly outside the top 24 players at the position.


As I wrote above, I think he was born to play a modern strong safety role. His ability in man coverage, the run game and as a pass rusher is extremely tantalizing. Regardless of the potential need for him to play deep, his long-term role is very likely being a consistently productive player in and around the ball.


This is really high praise but his skillset reminds me a lot of Harrison Smith. He’s equally at home playing deep or in the box and that wonderful combination of a top athlete and ferocious tackler.

Additionally, Harrison Smith is often used as a blitzer, both from mid-depth LB alignments and coming forwards pre-snap to blitz from either the A gap or off the edge. That potential of movement where quarterbacks have to account for a player being a deep center-fielder or on the line of scrimmage makes it possible to disguise defensive coverages so much more than most other teams can which has been hugely successful for the Vikings. So although it’s extremely high praise (and James will need time to improve to get to anywhere near Smith’s level), there are obvious stylistic similarities.


James has been going between the late second round and mid third round in most rookie drafts I’ve seen. Safety is generally a low-value position because of the multitude of similarly productive options but James certainly has the potential to be an elite player. At the very best I could see him having Landon Collins/Reshad Jones-like production. If you’re the sort of fantasy owner who wants an elite safety and don’t like taking shots on second-tier skill players, then this is a good opportunity to obtain an elite talent.

Thanks for reading.


tom kislingbury