Chargers feel lucky landing Derwin James
Cleveland was a pass. The New York Giants had other needs. Same for the New York Jets. The Browns went with a different defensive back. Denver, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Chicago and San Francisco all said “no” too.
By the time Arizona, Miami, Tampa Bay and Washington also had passed on Florida State’s Derwin James, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and the safety began to think the same thing.
Somehow, if things lined up just right, the Chargers were going to be able to nab the top-rated safety, a physical, athletic specimen with no off-field issues and tremendous leadership potential.
New Orleans traded up and took a pass rusher. The Raiders, who traded down, ended up with an offensive tackle.
At the last minute Buffalo swooped in one pick ahead and took linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, saying, “nope” to James one more time.
And with Edmunds off the board ...
“We got lucky with Derwin,” Telesco said.
And they didn’t mess it up.
“I’ve got something to prove. Sixteen teams passed [on] me,” James said after being picked by the Chargers at No. 17 overall Thursday. “I was surprised. It’s surprising, but it doesn’t matter where you get picked at. You look at the NFL, it’s not where you go. It’s what you do when you get there.”
James fills the one hole in a loaded secondary — opposite safety Jahleel Addae — joining a group with former Pro Bowlers Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, and emerging young players Trevor Williams and Desmond King.
Last season at Florida State, James had 84 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a sack, earning second-team All-American honors. He didn’t miss a game as a junior after suffering an injury the season before, though James said the surgery for torn meniscus in his left knee hasn’t slowed him since.
“It was tough coming off the injury, but I got over it,” James said. “I had never really been injured in my career, and I feel like I learned a lot, faced a lot of adversity, and I feel like it only helped me. I was around the game more, and I learned more about the game and my teammates, and I feel like it helped me as a leader, on and off the field.”
James is expected to replace Tre Boston, who played virtually every snap at free safety last season and remains an unsigned free agent.
James has also lined up at linebacker, strong safety and cornerback in college.
“It’s a good fit for our defense,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “This guy, he has the skill set where he can do multiple things. There’s a lot of versatility. We can use him as a linebacker. We can use him as a strong safety, a free safety. We can rush him off the edge.
“He’s a good tackler in space and an outstanding coverage guy. He’s got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get him here, teach him our system, get him caught up. But very pleased with this pick.”
The Chargers selected James even though quarterback Lamar Jackson was available. He eventually was selected with the No. 32 pick in the first round by Baltimore.
Linebacker, offensive tackle and defensive tackle are positions the Chargers could address when they pick Friday in the second (No. 48 overall) and third rounds (No. 84).
In the week or so leading to the draft, Telesco and staff ran different scenarios trying to figure out who would be available at No. 17. They thought someone would surely have said “yes.”
They were wrong.
“Oftentimes we say that we didn’t think he was going to be there,” Telesco said. “We hear that all the time. I hate hearing that. But honestly, this one, we did not expect him to be there at our pick. We were prepared to take him if he was, but we did not think he would be there.”
They had other options with Jackson, Evans and Vander Esch the leading ones. But ultimately, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made.
“The board worked out pretty well for us to get Derwin, so we’re pretty happy with it,” Telesco said, taking a quick moment to smile. “Pretty happy with our pick.”
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