Of the many factors that worked against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019, the loss of defensive back Derwin James to a foot injury during training camp arguably affected the bottom line most significantly.
James, a first-team All-Pro selection just a season earlier, provides the defense with versatility and play-making that few players across the league can replicate. Without his services for the first three months of the season, the unit struggled to reach its potential. Now healthy and entering his third season, James looks to bounce back in a big way. Some have even pegged him as a front-runner for Comeback Player of the Year honors.
However, other NFL analysts believe James can accomplish even more in 2020. As part of a bold-predictions column, NFL.com's Adam Schein sees the defensive back winning a bigger award.
9) Chargers S Derwin James will win Defensive Player of the Year
The candidates for this award roll deep. Aaron Donald is always a fine answer. Nick Bosa's an emerging superstar. T.J. Watt's now blowing up defenses like his brother. Tre'Davious White's a stud on Sean McDermott's defense. Stephon Gilmore won it last year. And I personally voted for Chandler Jones.
But don't sleep on Derwin.
As a rookie in 2018, James immediately made his presence felt -- as in, he earned first-team All-Pro honors. Not too shabby. Then, unfortunately, he was injured for most of last year, and it changed everything for the Chargers' esteem and team. But I think he comes back with a vengeance in 2020.
To me, James is already the best safety in the NFL. With a Swiss Army Knife skill set, he makes plays and wrecks games. And I envision him taking his game to a whole other level in Year 3.
James makes plenty of sense as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Not only would a strong season provide a comeback narrative, but the Chargers have a better chance to return to the playoffs than normal due to the expanded playoff field. The team's offseason additions -- Bryan Bulaga, Chris Harris Jr., Linval Joseph, and others -- also aid the cause. Furthermore, James showed in his limited action last year that his ability to tilt the field remains intact following his foot injury.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH