Many franchises wait years to find players that go on to be foundational building blocks for their franchise’s future. The Chargers managed to do it in back-to-back years when they selected quarterback Justin Herbert in 2020 and left tackle Rashawn Slater in 2021. However, it’s their first-round pick from 2018 that recently made NFL.com’s list of the top non-QB franchise building blocks in the NFL.
Per NFL senior analyst Bucky Brooks, do-it-all safety Derwin James is the sixth-ranked non-QB building block in the NFL. He’s the top safety on the list, with Minkah Fitzpatrick being the other, and the second-highest ranked defensive behind only Sauce Gardner.
In all, the five players ranked ahead of James (in descending order) were: Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa, Justin Jefferson, Gardner, and Ja’Marr Chase. The four players ranked after James were Quinnen Williams, Tristan Wirfs, Fitzpatrick, and Penei Sewell.
Here’s what Brooks had to say about the Chargers’ mythical defender:
The All-Pro safety is a super-sized unicorn with unique skills that enable him to shine as a multi-faceted playmaker in the defensive backfield. James’ ability to blanket slot receivers and tight ends while controlling the box as a run-stopper and flashing dynamic pass-rush skills sets him apart from his peers. According to Pro Football Focus, James has allowed a 77.1 passer rating in primary coverage since 2018, tied for fourth-best in the NFL (min. 150 targets). Considering how Brandon Staley seemingly deploys the sixth-year pro at a different position each week based on matchups and his disruptive potential, the three-time Pro Bowler is the versatile defender that every defense needs in the NFL’s pass-happy era.
Derwin blew the roof off the NFL as a rookie when he set the franchise record for tackles by a first-year defender on top of tying the league record for sacks by a rookie defensive back. His 13 passes defended and three interceptions he recorded that year still remain his career highs, as well.
Since his string of bad injury luck from 2019-2020, James has averaged 116.5 tackles, two interceptions, three sacks, six tackles for loss, 5.5 passes defended and 2.5 forced fumbles. That’s a packed stat sheet for 99 percent of the defenders in the NFL but it’s become just another season for James.
As for a final thought on the list as a whole, I was quite surprised to see Slater absent from the group, however my guess is that his injury last year opened the door for Sewell at #10. He’s been a phenomenal player for the Lions over his first two seasons and availability has always been heavily-weighted when it comes to talking rankings such as these. With another stellar season from Slater, I don’t see how he wouldn’t be thrust right back into this conversation a year from now.
Derwin James is a 1-of-1 player pic.twitter.com/mz0lrLdiZm— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 14, 2022
Be sure to head down to the comments below and give me all of your thoughts on this list! What do you agree with? Where do you disagree? I want to hear it all!