Chargers rookie Derwin James: 'I bring my own energy'

The range, pass rush, instincts and physicality of Derwin James have allowed him to line up at no fewer than five defensive positions for the Chargers. David Eulitt/Getty Images

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Make them feel you.

That's the goal of Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James for every game.

"He brings a lot of energy," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "Not just on the football field, it's also just walking down the hallways [at the facility]. I love that guy. He loves football. He's very passionate about what he does."

Added James: "I don't need anyone's energy. I bring my own energy."

The Chargers' ultimate energy guy, James possesses a unique skill set that allows him to consistently create game-changing plays.

Considered one of the steals in this year's draft, with the Chargers getting him at No. 17, the Florida State product did not disappoint this season. He led the Chargers in tackles with 105 and added 3.5 sacks, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions. For his efforts, James earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first NFL season.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound hybrid safety also is a front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

James' versatility stands out. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley used him all over the field, including free safety, strong safety, cornerback, defensive end and linebacker.

"There are weeks we've asked him to be a guy that we're going to pressure a lot on first, second and third down," Bradley said. "There are times we've had him play the middle third.

"We've added him as an extra rusher. There are just different things with him. So what he's brought to the table for us just as a skill set and the flexibility it offers us, I mean, I can't say enough about it."

As they face the Baltimore Ravens' ball-control offensive attack led by another dynamic playmaker from the 2018 rookie class in quarterback Lamar Jackson on Sunday, the Chargers will need James to be at his best.

A look at four plays that illustrate the diverse talents of James and how effectively the Chargers used him this season.


The play: According to ESPN Stat & Information, the Chargers used James on 290 snaps at free safety this season. James first showed his ability to cover from a deep safety position in the third preseason game against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, picking off the future Hall of Famer as he tried to push the ball down the field to receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

Comment: The NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, who also serves as the color analyst for the Chargers on game days, remarked that one of the things that makes James unique is his elite quickness for a big guy. "Just think of someone with the size of Kam Chancellor with the speed of Earl Thomas," Jeremiah said in describing James' game.


The play: James pressured San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard, forcing an errant pass that defensive end Isaac Rochell corralled for an interception.

Comment: James finished tied for 10th (7 percent) in the NFL in disrupted dropbacks on third down, which is the percentage of passing downs with a sack, interception, pass batted or defended. The Chargers used James more as a pass-rusher the first half of the year when Joey Bosa was out due to a bruised left foot. The NFL Network's Brian Baldinger evaluates James' unique ability as a pass-rusher here.


The play: James showed his ability to disguise and drop into coverage on this interception against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Week 13.

Comment: Lynn praised James for having great instincts for the football as a rookie. "It's hard to coach and teach the instincts that he has for the game," Lynn said. "Some of the plays that he makes sometimes, that's not how we [may have] drawn it up, but he's able to make some of those [types] of plays." In probably the ultimate compliment for a safety, ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said the way James moves reminds him of late Washington Redskins standout safety Sean Taylor.


The play: Against the Steelers, James sniffs out this swing pass to running back James Conner and shows both his ability to make tackles in open space and his physicality. James regularly tackles in this manner, showing his ability to be a physical player within the league's new rules for tackling.

Comment: ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen named James his best rookie safety in his annual shutdown index that ranks the best defensive backs in every category. Before the draft, Bowen said that James was the best fit for Bradley's Seattle Cover 3 scheme. "He's an ultra-rare talent who creates havoc on offenses," Bowen said about James. "Remember: James is a rookie. He's going to keep getting better. That's trouble for the rest of the league."