clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Could Derwin James lead FSU football in sacks in 2017?

New, comments

Short answer: yes. Here’s how.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Of course he can. He’s Derwin James. But let’s delve a bit deeper into just why this is, in fact, a very real possibility.

We all know about the athleticism and versatility that makes James one of the best players in all of college football. But the stars may be especially aligned for James to excel in getting after the quarterback during the 2017 season.

Despite being a defensive back, James is well acquainted with the concept of bringing down QBs. While he missed the vast majority of the 2016 season with a knee injury, James had the second most sacks for Florida State in 2015 (4.5), his true freshman season. Ahead of him, of course, was defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who’s now a Denver Bronco. Walker also led the team in sacks in 2016, with 16, followed by fellow end Brian Burns, with 9.5. And while fans are right to assume even bigger things from a beefed-up Burns in 2017, he’s far from a shoe-in to take over Walker’s role.

Because while they play very different positions, James and Burns have similar roles, situationally speaking. The latter is still probably not an every-down defender, whereas James will likely miss very few non-garbage-time defensive snaps. Burns is a pure, and very talented, pass rusher. But so is James.

And James’ 4.5 sacks two years ago could have been so many more. 2.5 of those sacks came in the season’s final four games. Why? Because FSU coaches figured out what they had in the dynamic James. Upon what conclusion did they finally arrive? James is a violent, heat-seeking missile that can annihilate the pocket and cause destruction that rivals a bunker-busting missile.

Still, that elite weaponry could only be deployed so often— at least as FSU coaches saw it. Let’s not forget that Florida State’s own media guide listed James as a second-string strong safety, behind Nate Andrews, entering the 2015 season.

’Nole coaches, early on, did not trust the nation’s highest ranked safety recruit to do what his very job description entails: playing free. And we really don’t give that adjective enough weight. Free. The free safety position is all about a lack of encumbrance tied into amazing responsibility as the last line of defense. It’s a really tricky mixture of maturity and mayhem. Which makes James, an FSU Academic Warrior and resident X-Man, an ideal candidate. Bottom line: there may well be no defensive position that requires as much trust as that of free safety.

And with regard to trust, the FSU braintrust certainly seemed to foster that in James as the 2015 season wore on. It became rather predictable to see James getting after the QB on third-and-long situations as the season wore on. Why?

James can rush off the edge with speed— but that’s standard for a DB. What makes him unique is that he can also bullrush blockers as big as offensive tackles. So if you’re a step slow in reaching, you’re done— or, more specifically, your QB is toast. Step too quickly, and you’re likely to draw a penalty. And even if you range wide enough, James possesses foot-speed superior to any OL challenger, which facilitates his ability to take an even more direct route to the opposing quarterback, via a quick cut inside. Want to bring a running back in for help? Hilarious.

But James has even more working for him. Namely: secondary depth. The Seminoles may be deeper than any other 2017 team on the back end, and that only increases James’ chances of terrifying QBs. Tarvarus McFadden had as many interceptions as any other player in the country in the 2016 season. Trey Marshall is back, as are Nate Andrews, A.J. Westbrook, Kyle Meyers, Levonta Taylor, Carlos Becker III, and impressive newcomers Stanford Samuels III and Cyrus Fagan.

Simply put: the Seminole secondary is beyond deep. So if the desire to unleash James on downs beyond just third exists, it’s entirely feasible.

And that starts up front, where FSU returns a plethora of its defensive line. Derrick Nnadi, Demarcus Christmas, Wally Aime, Fred Jones, Josh Sweat, Jacob Pugh, and company will be enough for opponents to contend with. Add in the country’s top DT recruit, Marvin Wilson, and the prospect of contending with James at the line of scrimmage becomes that much more challenging. And scary.