Given the explosive offenses in today's NFL, safeties with size, speed and instincts have never been more valuable. This is especially true for safeties with the versatility and big game chops that James has demonstrated since standing out as a true freshman on a 2015 Florida State defense teeming with pro prospects, including future All-Americans Jalen Ramsey and DeMarcus Walker.
A consensus five star recruit, James lived up to the recruiting hype and proved to be one of the best freshmen in the country that season, finishing with 91 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, two fumbles forced and two fumble recoveries to earn Honorable Mention All-ACC honors from the league media.
James looked well on his way towards even bigger accolades in 2016, collecting a team-high eight tackles and recording an interception of future Denver Broncos' draft pick Chad Kelly in FSU's season-opening comeback win over Mississippi, earning ACC Defensive Back of the Week praise. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury which required season-ending surgery to his left knee the next week, abruptly ending his sophomore season.
At least initially, James struggled to live up to the hype in 2017 after an offseason in which some characterized him as "the next Sean Taylor" and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. As the season wore on and James became more comfortable with his surgically-repaired knee, however, he re-emerged as one of the nation's top defenders, ultimately finishing second on the team with 84 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and a sack while splitting time between safety, linebacker, nickel cornerback and kick returner. James also set career highs with 11 passes broken, two interceptions (including a pick-six) and a blocked kick.
With only two full seasons of play at Florida State, James lacks the experience of most top prospects and few enjoyed a more athletic supporting. His size, awareness and exceptional closing speed, however, project very well to the next level where he projects as a traditional strong safety with Pro Bowl upside.
Signed with Florida State as the consensus top-rated safety and a five-star recruit, fielding offers from virtually every program in the country. Had 94 tackles and four interceptions in eight games for Haines City High School in 2014 with 11 receptions for 181 yards and two scores on offense... Sustained a tear of the lateral meniscus in his left knee in the second game of the 2016 season (Charleston Southern) ending his season and taking a medical redshirt.
James boasts a prototypical build for a modern day safety with broad shoulders, long arms, a tapered middle and an athletic, well-distributed musculature. He is a slippery and sudden athlete, with impressive stop-start quickness and very good closing speed, traits which show up not only on defense but when he has the ball in his hands as a kick returner or after turnovers, including a pick-six in 2017. James possesses excellent spatial awareness, deftly avoiding would-be blockers and taking sharp, aggressive angles to cut the field for runners and passers, alike. He flashes explosive collision power to be an intimidating force across the middle and is a generally reliable open-field tackler, using his long arms and excellent hand strength to latch onto and drag ball-carriers to the ground, ripping at the ball as other defenders arrive on the scene. James is an instinctive defender who anticipates route combinations and is willing to take risks to undercut receivers and attack the line of scrimmage on quick screens or runs to the perimeter, while maintaining his gap and last-line-of-the-defense responsibilities. He explodes off the ball as a blitzer, showing excellent initial quickness, agility to avoid blockers and the closing speed to get home. Excellent timing on his leaps, showing explosiveness and body control to contort in space and compete for 50-50 balls. - Rob Rang 12/9/2017
At times James played tentatively in 2017, appearing the shake the rust off after missing much of the 2016 season with a knee injury. He is more athletic than technically sound as an open-field tackler with some notable misses (North Carolina State-2017, Houston-2015) on games viewed, too often resorting to grab and drag down 'rassling rather than the textbook hit-lift-drive. He will occasionally make the mistake of hesitating and getting flat-footed, allowing patient ball-carriers to set him up and forcing James to lunge. Though he possesses good enough ball skills to earn snaps as a kick returner, James intercepted just three passes among his 17 career pass breakups with a couple of drops. James could do a better job of hustling downfield, too often banking on his teammates making tackles rather than always pursuing with passion. -- Rob Rang 12/9/2017
COMPARES TO: Hall of Famer Mel Renfro, Cowboys. Scouts are enamored with James' upside in large part due to his prototypical size, sheer athleticism and playmaking instincts. Renfro used a similar blend of traits to earn 10 Pro Bowl trips, showing the kind of position versatility (safety, cornerback, kick returner and punt returner) James demonstrated with the Seminoles.
IN OUR VIEW: A moveable chess piece with experience at safety, linebacker and cornerback, James might just be the most versatile defender in the 2018 NFL draft. He offers a combination of instincts, athleticism and prototypical size that scouts will find alluring, earning an early first round grade - perhaps even a spot in the top 10.
Scouts will also have to weigh in the fact that James' best season - at least from a statistical standpoint - came three years ago and that he does come with some durability concerns after missing virtually the entire 2016 season with a torn meniscus and opting to sit out the 2017 Independence Bowl to avoid the risk of injury after announcing his decision to enter the draft with two years of eligibility remaining.
-- Rob Rang.