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FSU DB Derwin James has emerged as big-time player early in career

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True freshman Derwin James has played his way into a critical role on the Florida State defense due to his natural ability and physicality.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

When he arrived at Florida State in January as an early enrollee of the Seminoles' 2015 recruiting class, a lot was expected out of Derwin James, who was widely recognized as the No. 1 safety and No. 5 overall player in the class of 2015. Those expectations quickly shot through the roof when he intercepted Sean Maguire and returned it for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage of the Seminoles' spring game in April.

Entering fall camp, it was known that James would be in the conversation for playing time in the secondary, despite Tyler Hunter, Nate Andrews, Jalen Ramsey, and Trey Marshall, among others, returning from playing significant minutes on the 2014 team.

To start the season, Lamarcus Brutus and Nate Andrews were named the starting free and strong safeties, respectively. James came off of the bench in a limited role, accruing one tackle in each of the first two games before not earning any tackles in the road win over Boston College.

When Nate Andrews injured his knee early in the win over Wake Forest, James was called upon to take on a larger role, replacing Andrews at strong safety. Starting with that game, James has recorded a minimum of six tackles in every game since, with his most impressive performance coming in the win over Syracuse last Saturday that saw him make 12 tackles (seven solo), as well as a forced fumble.

Despite only totaling two tackles in Florida State's first 3 games, James now has 39 tackles (23 solo) through eight games, good for third-most on the Seminole roster, and the most by a defensive back. In addition to tackles, James has two forced fumbles, tied for most on the team, two sacks, the most by a defensive back and third-most on the team, and five tackles for loss, again, third-most on the team.

For a look at exactly how productive James has been, let's compare his freshman season to the freshman campaign of the Seminole he is likened to on a near-daily basis, Jalen Ramsey Through eight games, James has surpassed Ramsey's sack, forced fumble, tackle for loss, and pass breakup totals from his first year. He is just ten tackles behind Ramsey's 2013 tackle total as well. Although, it must be acknowledged that there were many more playmakers on that 2013 team that may have cut into Ramsey's totals, he started every game of that 2013 season while James did not make his first start until the Louisville game, the sixth game of the season.

Another aspect of James' game that is polished, especially for a freshman, is his pass rushing. He has been used as a blitzer from his safety position, as well as being lined up with the defensive line as an edge rusher, seeing great success from both areas. In only 15 pass rushes this season, James has two sacks, two hits, and six hurries, which equates to pressuring or hitting the quarterback on 10 of his 15 (66.7%) pass rushes.

Just today, Pro Football Focus announced James as their best-rated true freshman at any position and rates him as the third-best safety in the nation.

Last week at his weekly call-in show, Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that James could remain the starting strong safety, even when Andrews is back at full health.

Although his teammates have been impressed with James' emergence, they were also expecting him to be productive early in his career. Cornerback Marquez White simply said "Derwin is really helping us this year. That's something that we knew he could do coming in, that he's a really good player. He's really starting to come into his own." Junior defensive end Demarcus Walker paid James a high compliment when asked about his abilities, saying "He's a freak of nature. It's something that you really can't coach."

James has shown early in his career that he could be even better than the lofty expectations he arrived in Tallahassee with back in January. After this season, he has a minimum of two more years as a Seminole, and the sky could be the limit for such a well-rounded player who has established himself as a cornerstone of the defense in his first year with the team.