How will FSU replace Derwin James?

Photo by Logan Stanford

On Monday, Jimbo Fisher announced that sophomore safety Derwin James will miss some time with a knee injury that he suffered in the game versus Charleston Southern. James will undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee and Florida State does not yet have a timetable for his return.

James is Florida State’s best player on defense and arguably the best overall defensive player in the nation. His athleticism and skill set are second to none and his importance in Florida State’s defense cannot be overstated. While he is listed as Florida State’s starting free safety, he has also played a linebacker-type role in dime packages and lines up at defensive end in certain pass rushing situations. Many draft analysts already have James pegged as a Top-5 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

With James out for the foreseeable future, Florida State has a couple of options to work with.

First and foremost, sophomore A.J. Westbrook is penciled in as James’ backup at free safety. Westbrook is listed at 6-0, 186-pounds per FSU’s official roster, much smaller than James’ menacing presence at the position. While Westbrook does not have the same insane athleticism as James, the coaching staff seems to trust Westbrook with the playbook. He played very well in the spring game and has played sparingly so far this season in backup duty.

Another option is moving sophomore cornerback Marcus Lewis to free safety. He is currently the starter at the STAR position, but practiced at safety at times during offseason practice. He has played very well so far this season and his coverage skills would bring an interesting element to the safety position as well.

If Lewis moves back to free safety, then Florida State would likely rely on true freshman Levonta Taylor to start at STAR. A five-star recruit out of high school, Taylor enrolled in Tallahassee with a lot of hype surrounding him. He has played in backup duty so far this season, but the coaching staff did trust Taylor to play against Ole Miss’ offense in the first half of the game. If Taylor has a good knowledge of the playbook and Charles Kelly feels comfortable trusting a true freshman with perhaps the most important position on Florida State’s defense, then this might be the most logical move. Moving Lewis back to free safety and plugging Taylor in at STAR would allow Florida State to keep a great level of athleticism in their secondary.

Ultimately, the loss of Derwin James is huge for Florida State’s defense. He is a Top-10 player in college football right now and his importance cannot be overstated. While the Seminoles cannot simply plug someone else in and hope for the same amount of production, they will have to dip into their secondary depth until James can return to the starting lineup. With Louisville and Lamar Jackson on deck this week, they will have to come up with an answer soon.

Dakota Moyer

Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *