The 2018 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching and teams are finalizing their boards. The Green Bay Packers should be looking for impact players on the defensive side of the ball early and often this year. After an aggressive free agency period, first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst should turn his sights on the 14th overall pick. If a run on quarterbacks occurs in the top ten, the Packers could steal one of the draft’s top defensive prospects. Several options include edge rusher Marcus Davenport, cornerbacks Josh Jackson and Denzel Ward, or even safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. All of these players would be welcoming sights for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, but Florida State safety Derwin James should be the target for the Packers in round one.
Florida State Safety Derwin James Fits the Green Bay Packers
James burst onto the scene as a disruptive freshman for the Seminoles after being the top defensive back recruit in 2014. He started eight games, recording 91 tackles, four sacks, and two forced fumbles. His sophomore season was lost to a meniscus tear, but James bounced back in a major way in 2017. He earned second-team AP All-American honors by recording another 84 tackles and 11 pass-breakups while adding two interceptions. James lined up primarily in the box as a strong safety but also has experience in the slot and on the back end. He is an aggressive blitzer off the edge and a physical downhill tackler as showcased by his 15 tackles for a loss. He was the best player on the field most games and has seen a sharp rise up draft boards in recent weeks after a strong NFL combine.
James is an intimidating presence on the field. He has drawn numerous comparisons to Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks. He stands six foot three inches and weighed in at 215 pounds but has impressive athleticism for a man his size. James clocked a 4.47 40-yard dash and 40 inch vertical at the combine while showing up as an electric playmaker on tape. Although he played primarily near the line of scrimmage in college, James has the physical capabilities to play deep as well.
Fit with Packers
Every Packer fan knows Pettine needs more pieces to work with in the secondary. The defensive line was solidified with the signing of Muhammad Wilkerson. The linebacking corps doesn’t have much depth, but there are established veterans locked in to the starting spots. But, after shipping Damarious Randall to Cleveland and letting Morgan Burnett walk, the Packers return only Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from last year’s week one starting lineup. Second-year players Kevin King and Josh Jones will be counted on as building blocks moving forward but need more help beyond the seasoned Tramon Williams.
James does his best work when attacking the line of scrimmage from the slot. Pettine loves to utilize the corner blitz in his aggressive scheme. James is the most downhill defensive back in the draft and is equally adept in the run game and rushing the passer. Although it appears Jones could have the hybrid safety/linebacker role covered, Pettine would undoubtedly find a way to get a talent such as James on the field. The Packers need to develop a more consistent pass rush. They already invested in an interior rusher in Wilkerson. If the team doesn’t love any of the draft’s top edge rushers, a player like James who can impact all facets of the defense could be the ideal target for Gutekunst in round one.
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