It has been a rollercoaster start to the young career of Derwin James. He fell into the Chargers lap in 2018 when they selected 17th overall. Instantly made an impact.
During training camp 2018, number 33 was thrown into the starting lineup. There was no need to start him with the third team or anything because the instincts and the talent is there.
He had over 100 tackles in his first season along with 3.5 sacks, which earned him first and second-team all-pro selections along with a pro bowl nod.
Since then, James has been hampered with a pedal foot fracture in 2019 training, then a year later, a meniscus tear.
In 2019, he returned for the final five games of the season and made an impact. In 2020, he had to sit out the whole season, but he kept a close eye on his team.
"Every game, I was on the edge of my couch just excited every throw, every decision that he made that offense made and just to see them grow over the weeks," said James. "It's crazy, and I'm very excited to get out there and help this team win. I can't wait for 2021."
The Chargers can't wait to have him back on the field.
"He's just a big impact player who plays all over the field, a great Blitzer have more pressure on a quarterback and able to just eliminate tight ends out the game," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "He's a guy that can play all over the field. So, he was one of the main reasons I came here just to play with him, you know, to be able to play the secondary with him. Hopefully, next year, he's all the way 100, and we can get going."
James has been sharing on social media almost every day of him working out and getting healthier.
"I'm trying to get the body back to where I know it needs to be," James said in January. "Like I say, it's been good, no setbacks, and everyday been positive. I just had the mindset 1% every day."
Some things will be different when he returns to the squad. Brandon Staley is the team's head coach, and even though he will overlook all phases, that doesn't take away the fact that he is a defensive minded coach. James is one of the players that Staley will count on.
"He just stands out, and I just saw this guy before the press conference, okay? And I'm just here to tell you this guy stands out," explained Staley at his opening presser. "Just ask my kids because they know all these guys, they've been around some of these players. They know that 33 is just a little bit different than the rest and just so impressed with his versatility. Know, a lot of his coaches from college that the competitor he is. His future is so bright, I can't wait to connect with him and compete."
During the 2020 training camp, James started taking a leadership role on the defense bringing guys together and even calling plays. One of the best camp battles was seeing James face off against receiver Keenan Allen. Both went to war during every matchup against each other.
Speaking of Allen, he had a similar start to his NFL career. His third year was cut short when he suffered a lacerated kidney after being on a tear in the first eight games of the season. A season later, he tore his ACL in the first game of the season.
He was able to come back and has been in the conversation of one of the best receivers in the NFL.
"I talked to Keenan a lot during this time as you know me and Keenan kind of workout during the offseason together," James explained. "Guys also like Melvin Ingram that kind of went through some adversity too early in his career."
Ingram went through something similar, tearing his ACL in May 2013 and not coming back until November. The following season, he had a hip tear and only played in nine games.
Like Allen and Ingram, James is hoping to come back to his all-pro form.
James had some company through rehabbing. Linebacker Drue Tranquill broke his fibula in week one against the Cincinnati Bengals. Sometimes having someone there with you helps.
"I feel like it grew a lot," said James. "just continue to just tell each other, man, our time is coming we're going to help this team and then just pushing each other every day."
How close is James to being 100 percent?
"I think in a month, I'll be all the way ready to play as if I'm playing a game," James explained. "So that's the good part had no setbacks during the rehab. We did a great job rehabbing. And I'm like I feel strong, feel more explosive."
He said that back in January, he probably is now, which the team and coaches will be happy about his potential return. James could be a big reason why this team could take a leap in 2021.
So, while James has been rehabbing, he also was watching his team closely. He had to watch them blow huge leads to Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Denver. He watched quarterback Justin Herbert score 36 touchdowns.
He saw his team end on a 7-9 record and feels like they are close.
"We're young, we're hungry, man, we have all the talent in the world," said James. "We just can't wait to show it and just have all our guys out there at the same time."