College football: Breakout players to watch
2:21 | College Football
College football: Breakout players to watch
Wednesday June 17th, 2015

Every college football season brings a lot of roster turnover. To get you ready for the 2015 campaign, presents the Off-season Spotlight, a weekly feature on a player whose name you’ll want to know by the fall. Last week, we focused Wisconsin junior running back Corey Clement. This week, we shift our attention Florida State freshman safety Derwin James.

Why is he important?

Jalen Ramsey is the unquestioned star of Florida State’s defense, but the true freshman James could quickly become Ramsey’s protégée. As Ramsey slides from safety to cornerback this season, James will likely see immediate playing time—though he’ll have to contend with junior Nate Andrews and senior Tyler Hunter. Still, as the No. 1 safety and No. 5 overall recruit in the class of 2015 according to, James brings too much potential to not get an immediate shot.

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He has tremendous speed that gives him impressive range in the secondary, allowing him to close on ballcarriers and throw around his 6’2”, 212-pound frame. James has all the physical tools to make an instant impact; the only question is whether he can absorb the defense well enough to be trusted right away. With 29 Seminoles players joining the NFL in the past three draft classes, coach Jimbo Fisher needs his talented youth like James to adapt to the college game.

What has he already done?

James won’t see his first in-game collegiate action until this fall, but the Haines City, Fla., native had plenty of success in high school. In his senior year he made 49 tackles, including seven for loss, in eight games, and he scored touchdowns four different ways: on a reception, fumble return, interception return and punt return. Although Haines City High is not a powerhouse program in talent-rich Florida, James helped the Hornets go 6-4. His brilliance did not go unnoticed.

"He's got as high a ceiling as a safety that I've ever seen in my 15 years covering high school football," national recruiting director Mike Farrell told the Tallahassee Democrat in January. "That's why he's the [No. 5 player] in the nation and the highest-ranked safety we've ever had."

Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

How did he look this spring?

James enrolled early at Florida State, and although he spent most of the spring working with the Seminioles’ second-team defense, he started the Garnet and Gold game after Andrews injured his ankle. James took advantage of the opportunity, intercepting the second pass of the scrimmage and returning it for a touchdown.

Even before the highlight-reel play, James was already drawing praise from his teammates and coaches for his athleticism and physicality.

Anything else you should know?

If it wasn’t already clear, James offered a few more indicators last week of just how athletic he is. He blazed past sophomore safety Trey Marshall and sophomore wide receiver Ermon Lane in a 40-yard dash after earlier leaping over a man.

Show the highlights!

Now that you’ve seen the pure athleticism, here’s what James can do on the field:

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