Continuing on with our coverage of ESPN’s top players at every position, we’ve got another Charger defender being highlighted today as Derwin James was named the ninth-best safety heading into the 2021 season as voted on by a group of over 50 total players, execs, and coaches.
Even after playing in just five games over the past two seasons, the amount of respect for James’ play and potential from around the league hasn’t seemed to falter all that much. He’s still regarded as one of the best young players in the NFL and if it wasn’t for the injuries, many would likely be arguing for him to be the very best player at his position heading into year four.
“James’ sheer talent lands him on the list, but after missing 27 games the past two seasons, voters were hesitant to include him.
“‘He’d be a lot higher if healthy, obviously,’ an NFC defensive coach said. ‘The year that guy had [in 2018], holy s---. Off the chain. You’d say he’s better than just about anybody.’”
“Many teams are still enamored by the prospects of a 6-foot-2, 215-pound player who can cover tight ends in the slot and hit with force. James was an All-Pro in his only full season, with 3.5 sacks, 13 passes defended and three interceptions.”
Despite it being almost three years ago, we can all fondly remember James’ record-setting rookie season that saw him earn a First-Team All-Pro nod after setting the team’s rookie tackle record with 105 stops. That has since been broken by Kenneth Murray who recorded 106 in 2020. That same year, James tied the rookie sack record for a defensive back with 3.5, all of which he recorded within the first six games of the year. It’s pretty crazy that he wasn’t able to see half a sack the rest of the year, but alas.
In 2021, surrounded by plenty of talent and speed, combined with the defensive mind of Brandon Staley as his head coach, the ceiling has never been higher for James who is expected to play as versatile of a role as ever this season. A year, safety Johnson called a lot of the defense for the Rams, so does this mean James will see a similar responsibility? Maybe, but regardless, this is James’ year and everyone in the NFL — not just Chargers fans — are ready to see him back on the field in one piece.