This is the fifth of a 10-part series breaking down players in play for the Dolphins with the 11th overall pick.
Part 1: Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Part 2: Vita Vea.
Part 3: Josh Rosen.
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Part 4: Roquan Smith.
When it comes to the draft, best player available is the Dolphins’ company line, and Adam Gase stuck to it Thursday.
Asked during an appearance on 560-WQAM’s Joe Rose Show whether the Dolphins would take a player at a position of need (outside linebacker, tight end) or the best football player at 11.
“I think I’ll go with your second choice,” Gase said with a laugh.
Florida State safety Derwin James might be the perfect case study. He is remarkable talent — perhaps the draft’s best player — but does not necessarily fill a need. We explored earlier this week how Miami wants a hybrid safety who can cover a linebacker, but is James’ skill set too similar to that of Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald for the Dolphins’ tastes?
Before you pigeonhole James as simply an in-the-box safety, consider this: Some think he could play on all three levels of the defense.
“They moved me around a lot,” James said. “I could do it all. I could play deep, I could cover No. 2 [receivers], I can play the tight end, I could play in the box, I can blitz, whatever you need.”
If that sounds familiar to long-time Miami Hurricane fans, it should.
Sean Taylor was a once-in-a-generation talent. James might be this generation’s Sean Taylor.
The comparisons between Taylor (the UM standout who went on to star in the NFL before he was murdered in his home at the age of 24) and James (who grew up in Central Florida) started basically the moment James stepped on campus in Tallahassee.
Google “Derwin James Sean Taylor” and you get 117,000 results.
It’s easy to see why.
Taylor, at the 2003 NFL Scouting Combine, was measured at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, and ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash.
James, at last month’s Combine, was 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, and ran a 4.47.
But the similarities go beyond the numbers. Like Taylor, James was a terror in college.
“He’s a great inspiration, the way he played the game, the speed that he played at, I feel like that’s the kind of guy you want to model your game after,” James said. “No one can be Sean Taylor, but I want to take some things from his game and add them to mine.”
He’s well on his way. James was a first-team All-American as a redshirt sophomore, totaling 84 tackles (including 5 1/2 for loss), two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and blocked a kick for good measure.
He was more than good enough to jump to the NFL after just two full seasons of college football (a knee injury derailed his 2016 season) and the Dolphins would consider themselves lucky if he slipped out of the top 10.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah ranks him as the draft’s eighth-best player, regardless of position.
“James is a versatile talent with exceptional size, speed and physicality,” Jeremiah wrote. “He lined up all over the field for the Seminoles. He took snaps at both safety spots, nickel cornerback, sub-package linebacker and was asked to rush from the outside linebacker position on occasion during his collegiate career. In my opinion, he’s more valuable when he plays closer to the line of scrimmage.”
Height: 6-foot-1 3/4 (77th percentile among safeties).
Weight: 215 pounds (78th percentile).
Wingspan: 78 5/8 inches (83rd percentile).
Arm length: 33 inches (89th percentile).
Hands: 9 1/2 inches (61st percentile).
40 time: 4.47 seconds (82nd percentile).
Vertical jump: 40 inches (91st percentile).
Broad jump: 132 inches (96th percentile).
Bench press: 21 reps (82nd percentile).
Comparisons (per MockDraftable.com): Eric Berry (Tennessee, 2010), Rayshawn Jenkins (Miami, 2017), T.J. McDonald (USC, 2013).
He said it
“They moved me around a lot. I could do it all. I could play deep, I could cover No. 2 (receiver), I can play the tight end, I could play in the box, I can blitz, whatever you need.” — Derwin James
They said it
“Possesses the desired physical traits and mental makeup of an All-Pro safety who has the ability to not only set a tone but change the course of games. Although James is extremely athletic and talented, he still has room for improvement as a run defender and in coverage. James’ talent is best utilized in an active, attacking capacity in a robber role or near the line of scrimmage where he can support the run, blitz and handle physical coverage responsibilities.” — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com