Career Recap: James was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school, and he illustrated why immediately after coming to Florida State. The Seminoles had a lot of defensive talent for the next level in 2015, but James forced his way onto the field and served as one of the team's top defenders. He recorded 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes broken up, two forced fumbles and zero interceptions. After that debut, there was a lot of hype that James could be the best defensive player in college football in 2016, but that never materialized as James only played in two games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He had 11 tackles and an interception against Ole Miss before going out for the year.
2017 Season Outlook: James is going to see some good receiver talent during his junior season. To open the year, Florida State takes on Alabama with star wide out Calvin Ridley. James' run defense also will be tested by the Crimson Tide's stable of talented runners led by power back Bo Scarbrough. The tape against Alabama is going to be studied thoroughly by the NFL, so James will get a tough challenge while knocking off some rust.
James is going to see a test in Week 3 with Miami sophomore wide receiver Ahmmon Richards. Richards was impressive as a freshman and could be even better with a year of experience.
In November, James will have two more tough wideout tests. Some NFL sources feel that Clemson wide receiver Deon Cain was underrated last year and is a pro prospect they like. The Tigers have been a factory for pro wideouts under Dabo Swinney, so there could be other young receivers who are breaking out at that point. To end the regular season, James will see a dangerous fast play-maker in Florida's Antonio Callaway. James could be called on to help over the top as Callaway is a threat to score from any part of the field.
Skill-Set Summary: Defenses in the passing0driven NFL need safeties who can contribute in a variety of ways; they can be called on to cover wide receivers one-on-one, help deep over the top, defend receiving tight ends one-on-one, challenge big wideouts, and serve as essential run defenders. James is a great fit for being a flexible defender who helps his defense solve a variety of problems.
There is no doubt that James is a freak athlete. He is a very fast defender who flies around the football field, demonstrating good instincts with tremendous closing speed. On top of being very fast, James is a big safety with height and strength. He will dish out some bone-rattling hits and is a good tackler on running backs in space. James has the height, length, and leaping ability to match up on wide receivers or tight ends downfield.
James is a real asset in pass coverage. He can play the deep center field as he possesses the speed and instincts to be a true single-high safety. His coverage skills as a free safety are very impressive, too, as he flies around the field to defend receivers running deep. James can get to the sideline like a blur, yet also havs the size to defend jump balls against big wideouts or tight ends. James is so big and fast that he also could play press-man cornerback on big wide receivers. The versatility of James' skill set makes him a real weapon in man coverage on tight ends and receiving backs as well.
James also is a willing run defender as he will come downhill into the box to make tackles. He doesn't hesitate to get physical in the secondary and dish out some hard hits. James has good size and could be a safety who moves down to serve as the eighth man in the box in a strong safety or a nickel linebacker role given his impressive strength and physicality.
One top scout who has already worked the 2018 class told WalterFootball.com that he thinks James is among the top-three prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft - when healthy. That scout thinks that James has transcendent ability for what he can do for a defense. Sources from other teams have also raved about James being the real deal and a first-round talent. Thus, if James stays consistent with his performance on the field and stays healthy, he should be a highly coveted prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft.
For the NFL, I think James has Pro Bowl potential as a versatile safety who can do a lot things and erase mismatches.
2018 NFL Draft Expectations: If James lives up to the projections by NFL scouts entering his junior season, he should be a top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.