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PFF Data Study: Derwin James, the NFL's ultimate chess piece

Three years ago, Derwin James took the NFL by storm. After the Los Angeles Chargers selected him at No. 17 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, he put together of the greatest defensive rookie seasons of the past eight years.

Since 2013, only two defensive players (Tre’Davious White and Antoine Winfield Jr.) have produced more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in their rookie years than James. While James lost out to Darius Leonard in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race, he still received first-team All-Pro honors.

However, the former Florida State Seminole has since dealt with poor injury luck. He didn’t play a single snap in 2020 after seeing action in all of five contests in 2019. Fans and analysts alike have been left wondering if he'll return to form from his most recent meniscus injury, as not many NFL safeties can do this:

James is special for many reasons, but the main one is that he’s elite as both a pass rusher and coverage defender.

His unicorn ability is clear when comparing his 2018 stats to 2020 NFL safeties. He finished 12th in passer rating allowed when targeted and racked up the second-most pressures. His impact on the passing game is undeniable, and he’s also a great tackler who doesn’t allow big plays. He recorded the second-most stops (40) in 2018, a number that would have led the league in 2020. He also led all safeties in 2018 with 13 tackles for loss or no gain.

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