It’s 8:32pm and Derwin James has two phones in hand, ready for them to ring.
The Green Bay Packers are on the clock, and based on his meeting with them and all he’s heard, he’s expecting them to select him with the 14th overall pick.
Then again, James fully expected to be taken in the top 10, thinking it was unlikely he’d get past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at eight.
Yet here he is, waiting.
Instead, the Packers trade their pick to the New Orleans Saints, who take edge rusher Marcus Davenport.
But James isn’t upset.
Shocked to still be on the board?
But this means he’ll either be a Charger or a Seahawk…and he doubts the Bolts will pass on him at 17.
While he’s right, little does he know just how long the Chargers have had their eye on the safety.
In fact, it was all the way back in 2015 that the then-freshman James first made an eye-popping impression on the team, making it an unexpected three-year journey that somehow led him to the Bolts.
Now, get the full story as we go inside the Chargers’ exhaustive scouting process that ultimately led to the biggest surprise of the 2018 NFL Draft – the Bolts landing top-five talent Derwin James with the 17th overall pick.
Part 1: Three Years Earlier….
It’s November 28, 2015 and Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco is in Gainesville, Florida. It’s one day before the Bolts take the field against the Jaguars, so Telesco took the 148-mile round trip drive from the team hotel to watch 13th ranked Florida State visit 12th ranked Florida. The GM is there to catch some of the top defensive backs in the country in Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves and Keanu Neal, all who went in the first round of the draft that year. However, a certain freshman caught his eye in a major way, marking the beginning of the Chargers’ love affair with Derwin James.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “I’m at the game, and in the first half, this number three is flying all over the field. I’m watching those other guys, and I turned to a Colts scout next to me, Jamie Moore, and number three makes this play and we both kind of look at each other and our eyes are wide. We didn’t know who he was. So I look at the depth chart, and I see he’s a true freshman. Moore says, ‘Oh, he’s going to be a guy in a couple years.’ I was like, from what I’ve seen so far, you’re probably right.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “I actually remember Tom saying something about him. Where he had watched a game and there was some freshman kid who jumped out. Whenever you’re watching a game, if a player jumps out, you take notice of what his number is and remember him down the road. There were some games where you saw number three making big plays.”
Telesco wasn’t alone. While it’s no secret the Chargers secretly coveted Joey Bosa, it was far from a sure thing at the time that the defensive end would be there when they were on the clock. The team was high on Ramsey, spending a lot of time scouting his tape from Florida State. It was during this time that James popped on their radar as well.
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “It was impossible not to notice him. He had such an impactful season. That really was a true look that Derwin James was going to play in the NFL. You could see his leadership in 2015. Even with Ramsey there, he had such an infectious leadership presence to him.”
Area Scout Donovan Beidelschies: “Oh, Derwin definitely stood out as a freshman. He came into college as a big, physical, athletic guy that was ready to play. And he made a lot of plays.”
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “From the second Derwin stepped in there and went in the lineup, he was hard not to notice.”
Current Chargers Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch held the same title at Florida State at the time. It didn’t take long for him to realize what a special talent the Seminoles had right off the bat. While James is blessed with God given ability, it’s his work ethic and drive to be the best that allowed him to make an immediate impact.
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “We started him slow. We didn’t want to give him too much, too early. The little role he had the first couple games, he made a huge impact. He made us play him more. Just doing that, he did it the right way. He wasn’t thrown right into the fire. He got a little taste of it, and then more and more. The more he was ready for it, the more we let him go. He proved he was ready for it that freshman year. He put a lot of good stuff out. He would spend extra time with me. He was willing to do that voluntarily. That allowed him to play more because he learned the system faster.”
While all this was going on, James was completely unaware of the fact that he was making a name for himself.
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “When I went to go do the school workout for Ramsey, they said that I would be back there in a couple years. They thought they had another guy who had the potential to be a first-round-type of a defensive back. When I did the workout, that was the first time I had heard about this Derwin James guy.”
Safety Derwin James: “I actually remember Jalen telling me at practice, ‘Man, little bro, you’re next. Keep practicing hard because they’re watching you right now.’ At that age I didn’t really understand. It’s just crazy how this world works. He was right.”
Unfortunately, James had no idea at the time that his NFL path was about to face a major hurdle.
Part 2: The Injury
It’s the second game of James’ sophomore year. Florida State has a 36-point lead over the Charleston Southern Buccaneers midway through the third quarter. The ball is snapped, and James zeroes in on his target.
Then he feels a sharp pain in his left knee as he makes the tackle.
James is taken into the medical tent and eventually carted off the field having suffered a torn meniscus.
The safety would miss the rest of the season.
It was a devastating turn of events, but if you think that derailed Derwin James, you’d be dead wrong. How he responded and conducted himself was a key element in the Chargers’ evaluation of the safety despite not playing a single down the rest of the year.
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “In 2016 when he was injured, his leadership was rare. He was standing next to the defensive coordinator in his blue jeans and his jersey. He was involved like he was an assistant coach. They’d call timeout and he’d be in the huddle exhorting his teammates. It’s really special. I took note of that.”
Safety Derwin James: “I tried to turn it into a positive. That’s just who I am. I wanted to just show my teammates that even though I’m not physically out there, you still can be a leader. You still can be part of the team. I always want to get better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be out there on the field. So I got better how I could. I became more of a student of the game.”
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “That year really showed what type of person he was. It’s easy to disappear and worry only about yourself, especially when you’re as talented as he is. But he was always around the team. He was always on the sidelines. He wanted to come to more away games, but we couldn’t let him because it was hard to travel. But he wanted to be there as part of the team every step of the way. That showed the guys that if someone at his talent level can be like that, that puts no one else above the team. It was huge for the team, and it was huge for his growth; the impact he had on everybody else.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “That’s important, because in our industry, there’s always going to be ups and downs. Good times and bad times. You want to have that resilience where no matter how it’s going, you care and want to keep working hard. That it’s important to you even if things haven’t gone perfectly or how you envisioned. You’re still going to keep trying as hard as you can. That’s really what he exemplified right there.”
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “Defensive leadership is at times, undervalued. On offense, it’s demanded out of the quarterback, but you need guys on the other side. They’re hard to find. But the thing about Derwin’s leadership style is – those coaches tell you that – that it’s easy to see it.”
Part 3: The Return
Derwin James has waited nearly a full calendar year for this moment.
The first game of the season – Florida State vs. Alabama.
The third-ranked team in the country against the top-ranked team.
Top scouts around the county flocked to Mercedes-Benz Stadium as both squads boasted a dozen or so premiere NFL prospects. Among those in attendance was Donavan Beidelschies, who caught James’ dominating return to action.
Area Scout Donovan Beidelschies: “What stood out about him is that he could do a little bit of everything. He returned a couple of kickoffs early in the year, and had some really nice returns. Physically, watching him do those returns, he reminded me of Josh Cribbs. Just big, fast and aggressive. On defense, he played a little bit of linebacker. He played safety. They had special blitzes that they used just for him. You could see him do everything.”
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “I think in the opener, just to (see him) back on the field after a year off in that environment with the whole field (eventually) going to play in the NFL; Alabama’s got 22 starters, Florida St. has about 22 starters who will probably play. He’s just an impactful, disruptive player. His versatility is just so key in college football. And in this league, guys who can play the run, cover the tight end and play the post, cover a slot, the first-level passing game, the bubble screens and that kind of stuff, to play in there and then hold up against off-tackle runs inside.”
Director of Player Personnel JoJo Wooden: “There was a lot of hype going into that game, and players who were going to be in the NFL. I’m just watching everyone there and getting a real feel for it. He had a big game. He was impressive.”
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “When we got him back for that Alabama game, you felt his impact immediately. We moved him around a few different places that game. They were trying to stay away from him at all costs. That was their game plan because he was such an impact player.”
Part 4: A Leader Amidst the Chaos
The game went as poorly as possible for the Seminoles. Not only did they fall 24-7, but star quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a torn ACL, missing the rest of the 2017 campaign.
The injury sent Florida State into a spiral. Not only that, but rumors of Jimbo Fisher leaving the program swirled, causing further turmoil and chaos.
The Seminoles’ historic streak of consecutive bowl games was in serious jeopardy of being snapped.
James refused to let that happen…and the Bolts took notice.
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “That was a top-10 matchup. Alabama won, Florida St. lost its quarterback and they really didn’t have an answer as a backup so things really slid after that for them. Their head coach ended up leaving and going to Texas A&M. There was just a lot of turmoil. Really, Derwin is the guy credited with keeping the ship steady and getting the team to a bowl game.”
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “He wasn’t going to let us fall apart just because of that. He kept everybody going, and we couldn’t appreciate him more for what he did for that team. We ended up 7-6, but it could have been a lot, lot worse if not for Derwin James pulling the guys in the right direction.”
Safety Derwin James: “There’s a lot of tradition at Florida State. I said in my mind that I didn’t want to be the team who stopped that streak of almost 40 consecutive bowl games. I just wanted to keep it going. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve always been associated with being the best player on my team. When you have influence; it’s just what you choose to do with it. You’re either going to lead someone in a good way or a bad way. I always had influence on whatever team I’ve been on.”
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “He took that learning experience of how much he impacts everyone and took it to the next level. When things weren’t going so well, he was the main guy keeping the team together. Keeping their spirits up and things positive.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “We’re always looking for excellent leaders. We’re always looking for guys that have those traits to fit into our locker room. So when you hear stories about that, and how engaged he was, clearly it speaks to his leadership.”
Throughout it all, the Bolts made sure to catch Florida State as often as possible. The life of a scout is demanding with the need to visit every school on several occasions. Still, they squeezed in as many visits as they could to catch the Seminoles in action.
They all witnessed firsthand the tangible impact James made on and off the field.
Director of Player Personnel JoJo Wooden: “When I set my schedule, I was trying to figure out how I was going to see Florida State play. I was looking forward to watching that dude play, so I flew from here to Syracuse to watch them play Clemson on a Friday night. Then I went down to Florida State’s game vs. Duke to watch him. The first thing that popped out to me was physically what he looked like. It was a wow factor. He was a grown man when you saw him physically in uniform. Watching him move around pregame, for a bigger guy to do what he was doing, he was even back there catching punts. A big dude that can run and move, you only see that with a few guys.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “I saw Florida State play at Boston College this year before we played the Patriots. They played him in a lot of different, multiple alignments with different responsibilities. The ease with which Derwin played, he just stood out. The way he plays the game, he makes things look very easy to him.”
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “Even that B.C. game, we were getting our butts whooped, but every time we came off the field with a stop, he was telling everyone, ‘Don’t look up. We’re not looking at the scoreboard. We’re fighting for pride. We’re fighting for each other.’ That showed how far he came along because a young Derwin wouldn’t have done that. But years later, you see what he’s developed into.”
Part 5: Painting the Picture
Derwin James never had any intention of going pro following his junior season.
After missing all of 2016, he simply wanted to return to form and prove to himself, and the football world, he was as good as ever.
Safety Derwin James: “Oh, hell no! I didn’t have any thoughts about it. I went into the year wanting to get better because I had missed a year. I felt like I hadn’t played enough football to go pro, so for me, it was about getting better. You can see it on the film. We were losing and were 2-4, 2-6, but sh*t, I was playing every play like it was my last. I was playing hard. I started really (leaning) toward leaving when Coach Fisher was on his way out. He left before our last game. I was communicating back and forth with him, and then talking with some of my coaches and they all said the opportunity was there for me and to go take it, I had no intention. I really didn’t know until then that I would do it.”
Once James officially declared, it was Beidelschies who painted the picture for the rest of the front office. While every scout is familiar with each prospect to varying degrees, James was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of prospects being evaluated.
The scouts hold several meetings at the team facility throughout the year. One of the most important ones occurs in early February, when they all spend a week together. They pour over each prospect for days on end, but only have a few minutes to discuss each particular guy.
Each area scout gets up and presents individual prospects from the teams they’re assigned to. With so many to review, it’s imperative to be short and concise.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “It’s critical. It’s his area, and he has the most exposure to the players in his area both on tape and live. He’s also the one who has the most information about the player as a person.”
Area Scout Donovan Beidelschies: “As an area scout, my job is the paint the picture for everyone else in the room who hasn’t gotten to see that player live. Say exactly what’s important, because Tom Telesco and John Spanos don’t want to sit there and hear you ramble on.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “The area scout has seen him the most in person and spent the most time, so that’s a very valuable piece. Every scout has a different style, but you can tell when they are passionate depending on how he talks about the guy.”
Area Scout Donovan Beidelschies: “When I sold Derwin James in that meeting, it was as a guy who can do everything that you want on defense, and be a team leader for us as well. A guy that brings a lot of physical tools, and also has leadership, toughness, and the make-up we talk about in what we want in a Charger.
[General Manager Tom Telesco: “Part of it when talking about the players is not just what the scouts say, but how they say it. Part of the reason why we have meetings is not just to read reports. I can read reports on a computer. I want to see the convictions they have, and you could tell Donovan had a conviction on Derwin.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “The thing that jumps out about Derwin is the impressive physical traits. You talk about height, weight, speed. You can’t coach size and speed. So with the combination of his physical traits, he jumps out in that regard.”]()
Part 6: The Coaches Get on Board
Each scout has notes on prospects, and the Bolts’ thoughts on James spoke volumes.
While the scouts are on the road in the fall, the coaching staff is fully immersed in the NFL season.
Thus, Anthony Lynn and company weren’t familiar with the prospects until the middle of January.
Sure, they watch a game here and there on a Saturday when they have a free moment, but they don’t get to evaluate talent until they put the tape on in the winter.
What the Chargers’ coaching staff saw in James got them all giddy…but also caused them to think the chances were slim to none they’d be able to land him.
Head Coach Anthony Lynn: “I don’t get overly excited until I watch a player myself. Now, when I watched his team, oh I got overly excited! With his size, and his skillset and physicality, he definitely gets your attention. He was a favorite (of mine). He’s special for a safety in any draft, not just this one.”
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “First of all, you see height, weight, speed, athleticism. But I think that the biggest thing that pops out when you watch his tape is that this guy is rugged. He’s a rugged tackler and his ability to knock people back. A lot of times when you watch college tape, you’re looking at guys in there who are drag-down tacklers or not very good tacklers. This guy has a little bit of a different mentality to how he hits people.”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “He popped off the film right away. You turn on any game, and you watch him play, his speed and size and height pop out. His speed really shows up. He has very good instincts and a nose for the ball. He understands the defense they played at Florida State very well. And you saw him play with a lot of freedom. I say that in a good way. He must have understood the defense so well that he was allowed to play free. That’s what jumped out to us.”
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “Like everyone else, we thought Derwin was going in the top 10 at least. He’s that kind of talent with height, weight, speed and athleticism. Two or three years prior, Florida St. said he was going to do this! So, I don’t know if you’re blown away. He confirmed what everyone said.”
Part 7: The Inside Source
As noted earlier, one member of the team’s coaching staff already boasted intimate, first-hand knowledge on James.
Safety Derwin James: “Addison is the one that helped me learn the playbook when I first got to Florida State. He was a big reason why I got on the field early. There were a lot of times I would meet with him and he would break it all down. I didn’t really understand the whole concept when I was there, so he made it in a way I could understand it. He’d always be there, even if I ever needed to talk about anything in life. He’s always there.”
Having spent countless hours with the safety from the moment he arrived on campus, there may not be anyone in the NFL who knew Derwin James better than the Chargers’ new defensive quality control coach.
The team used the inside source to their advantage.
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “I think the biggest thing that also helped is when we got Addison Lynch, who had been with the kid for a long time and told us what we were getting. He told us Derwin’s a guy who’s going to be serious about it. He’s a team leader; if he says something, everyone listens. He’s that type of guy.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “We all talked to Addison. That was a great resource. The best sources for us to talk to are people who have been around the player a number of years. Someone who recruited him. Someone who’s been around him freshman, sophomore and junior years. Around him every day. The fact that Addison had that relationship with him at Florida State and knew him well, that certainly helped us.”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “You’re constantly trying to learn the learner. Trying to see how they learn things, how they process and what the best way is to teach them. With Addison, who was around him, we were very confident the information we were getting about Derwin was accurate because of the amount of time he spent with him. There are so many pieces that are part of the evaluation, so you take all the information you can.”
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “I just told them the truth about him. Obviously, I really like the kid. I’ve seen him grow to where he is now, so I tried to give them the facts to make the best choice for the team.
So, what did he say specifically?
Defensive Quality Control Coach Addison Lynch: “I told them about his talent level and all the things you look for. The intangibles. His camaraderie. How he runs the team and his leadership. You can see everything else on film. How physical he was. What he can do with the ball in his hand. So I told them about what type of kid he was. (To) make sure we were getting a good person.”
Part 8: The Combine
The Derwin James puzzle was nearly complete when the Chargers arrived in Indianapolis for the annual Scouting Combine.
They’d seen him play live and on tape.
They’d heard the hype from those around him at Florida State.
And they’d gotten plenty from Addison Lynch.
The final piece was getting to meet James in person, which is why they made sure they used one of their formal interview spots on the safety.
The expectations for him were sky high, yet he somehow managed to meet, if not exceed them, during their 15 minutes together.
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “I loved it. It was one of my favorite interviews from this Combine and maybe all-time at the Combine. I had some pretty direct questions for him about what happened this season at Florida State with his own play. What I hoped his answers would be, they were better. They were right on track, and I hit him hard. He’s a genuine guy. He’s everything they advertised there and more.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “He just has a presence about him. Just the way he carries himself, that’s what I remember the most from that interview. Just that presence, from the moment he walked in the room, you could feel it.”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “Going into the Combine we felt we knew a lot about him, and everything that Addison told us, he came into that room and was at that level, and then some.”
Head Coach Anthony Lynn: “He was really impressive. He was honest. He was open. He talked about the ups and downs of this year. The things they tried to overcome. I respected that. He was professional.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “He had a good interview. His confidence, it’s only 15 minutes, but I think you can get a really good feel for someone. He came across as someone who really cares about football. It’s important to him, and he wants to be great.”
Area Scout Donovan Beidelschies: “Really, what you hope for is that he matches up to the way you described him based on the other things that you’ve heard and what you’ve tried to put together in the reports that you gave. He was exactly how they described him at the school. He was the type of person you’d want to work with as a football player, but also any other business.”
Safety Derwin James: “I had like 24 combine interviews, but I remember the Chargers. I remember Coach Milo asking where they could play me, and I said, ‘Sh*t, where can’t you play me? You guys can play me everywhere.’”
Part 9: Draft Day
It’s April 26 at long last, and all Derwin James can do now is wait.
It shouldn’t be too long.
Pundits and experts for months have him as a lock to be a top 10 pick.
Few if any mock drafts had him slipping much past that.
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “When you go through those mock drafts and you try to be realistic about who possibly could be there, you’re at 17 so you try to think of 16 players who would go ahead of where you pick. It wasn’t even really close. You had him in somewhere and it usually was a single number. But even if he didn’t go there, you were thinking he’d go 10-15.”
The most popular destination all along was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at number seven.
Shortly after they were on the clock, James knew he was about to fall.
Safety Derwin James: “When I saw Tampa Bay traded back, then I knew what was coming. There were a lot of quarterbacks in this draft, and I knew they were going to go early. But then all of them went, and then a lot of offensive linemen went early, too. People are going to go after offensive linemen and defensive linemen and quarterbacks, so I saw that was going to push me back.”
Part 10: Wild Cards
Just as James predicted, a run on quarterbacks, offensive linemen and defensive linemen commenced.
That was music to the Chargers’ ears, who were actively rooting for those positions to go off the board.
Head Coach Anthony Lynn: “No doubt I’m there rooting for the quarterbacks to go high. I knew that if this many quarterbacks (went), then someone was going to fall to us. And there’s always one or two surprises. We call them wild cards, but for other teams, who knows how their board is stacked. So there are some guys that go in the top 10 we didn’t expect, and that makes other players available as well.”
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “It’s great when those wild cards happen. Every so often, guys get picked that you didn’t expect would go that high. Those wild cards feel great. When things like the quarterbacks go, you just know that when one goes, the teams that don’t have a QB are going to panic a little bit, and then they’ll really go. Between that and when you throw some wild cards in, you just sigh and think that it’s for sure going to be one of these guys.”
Part 11: Falling to the Bolts
The Chargers had to sweat it out, but quickly realized the chance of nabbing James at 17 was becoming more real with each passing minute.
Head Coach Anthony Lynn: “I’m looking at the teams I knew he fit their system. Tampa Bay went a different direction, and then San Francisco went offensive tackle. So it was then I thought we actually have a chance to get this guy.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “I knew it was a long shot, but I had a gut feeling it might happen. We had a cluster of guys at the top of our board, and I had a feeling one, but not more than one, of those players may fall to us. I’m certainly happy the one was Derwin James.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Two things happened. Number one, four quarterbacks went very early. That’s kind of rare. And two, there were teams that didn’t have a need at safety and drafted different position. After Tampa Bay didn’t take him, it became more of a reality. Just looking at the teams that were between us and them, we saw that he had a chance to get to us.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “The quarterbacks going definitely helped us getting Derwin. A lot of people speculated Tampa might go safety, and once they passed on him, I had a feeling there was a chance he’d be there for us.”
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “Once he got past 10, the fact that he was still there; crazy things happen in the NFL Draft! Unpredictable things. You try to predict it, but you just can’t. Like I always say, it doesn’t take 32 teams. It just takes one. Just one team has to like a guy differently than everybody else.”
Safety Derwin James: “When Green Bay was up I thought I was going to be there at 14. I had a great visit there, and I knew they liked me. So I thought I was going there. But then they ended up trading back. When that happened, I knew it was going to be the Chargers or Seattle. If the Chargers didn’t take me, I knew Seattle would. And then once the Chargers took me, you saw Seattle traded back. After I passed 14 I knew it was Seattle or the Chargers.”
Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly: “I’m sweating it out thinking a team is going to trade up. You figure that’s the wild card part of this, when guys like Derwin James fall a little bit, then some teams that think they didn’t have enough ammo to move up to get them, all of a sudden, now they’re in play. You know teams are making a move for a player who probably should not have fallen and is falling.”
While all this is going down, Gus Bradley and the defensive staff are sitting in his office, noticing the safety is somehow starting to slip.
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “I was downstairs eating with Gus, and it was probably around (pick) 12 or 13, so I figured I needed to get upstairs and see what’s going on. We all started talking about the different scenarios of what could happen. He may be there, he may not. If he’s not there, who do we go to? If that guy’s not there, who do we go to?”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “We had our mock draft in our defensive meeting room. We put on our whiteboard the names of the guys who are still there, and who we might want to take. We wrote the names of guys we liked that were available.”
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “He’s on the board as it gets closer to us and it’s like, get out of here! It’s like everyone else, you thought Derwin was going in the top 10 at least. He’s that kind of talent (with) height, weight, speed and athleticism. It was more than a little bit surprising.”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “We all thought, ‘A guy of that stature, who has accomplished so much in his college career, he has a chance to be that pick right there?’ We all got excited.”
At the same time, in a cornered off area at AT&T Stadium, Derwin James sat with a small grin on his face.
Safety Derwin James: “I didn’t mind going to the Chargers. I was rooting for it.”
Part 12: With the 17th Overall Selection…
The Chargers are now officially on the clock…but before they make the call, they wait to see if someone gives them a ring and blows them away with an offer.
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “As soon as we were on the clock, we knew who the pick was going to be. Provided there were no last-second trade offers that blew us away, it was an easy decision at that point.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “You always wait to see if a team is going to call. You never close doors. We had decided as it was getting closer that if Derwin is there, we’re going to take him. We’re not even going to look to trade down. But if someone does call, let’s see what happens. Once we were on the clock and Derwin was available, we knew he was the guy we were going to take. But you have to wait and see if we get a call for a trade that we can’t turn down. It was one of those types of things. It wasn’t where we were trying to trade down.”
Director of Player Personnel JoJo Wooden: “You wait and see if someone is going to call, so you’ve always got to be mindful of that. But we were pretty locked in. It was a good situation. That feeling, you’re just so happy for the team. You know we’ve gotten better. We feel we brought in another guy that is a Charger. He’s everything we’re looking for in a player. We knew we got a good man who works hard, football is important to him and is smart. Those are the types of guys we’re trying to add in here to go along with what we have.”
After a little bit, Telesco tells Pro Scout Regis Eller to give James a call. The phone doesn’t even ring on the other side of the line. Eller calls again. The same thing happens.
Safety Derwin James: “My phone didn’t ring! I’m sitting there and it didn’t ring. I had both of them and they didn’t ring. I’m wondering what the hell is going on, because I was convinced they were taking me.”
Meanwhile, 1,114 miles west of him, Eller calls the other number he has on James’ contact sheet.
Safety Derwin James: “And then my agent’s phone rang, and he walked away from the table and turned his head. I didn’t pay him any mind. I was focused on my phone. But then he came to me and said, ‘Hey, the phone’s for you.’ It was Mr. Telesco. Everything just slowed down. When I was on the phone with him it was all in slow motion. I worked hard to get here, and then to finally get the call, I was ready to get on the stage and fly out to L.A.”
A short while later, before James is officially introduced as the Bolts’ pick, Lynn leaves the draft room and heads to Bradley’s office.
There’s something he wants them to hear directly from him.
Head Coach Anthony Lynn: “I knew they were going to be pretty excited, so it felt good to be able to go over there and tell them.”
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “Anthony came down and said, ‘Hey, we got our guy.’ We were all excited about it. It was a guy who could potentially do some big things down the road. We’re excited to see how this guy grows.”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “We evaluated him and had him as a really, really talented player. The draft is funny. You never know other teams’ needs or what they’re looking at, but when we got him, it was, ‘Wow, to have him there available for us?’ We couldn’t be happier.”
At that moment, Roger Goodell approaches the podium, saying the words James has longed to hear.
“With the 17th overall selection in 2018 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Chargers select Derwin James, safety, Florida State.”
James puts on the Chargers hat, and one thing goes through his mind.
Safety Derwin James: “Man, this is where I’m going to be for the next four or five years, and hopefully even more beyond that. This I where it’s all going to begin. This is the start of something great.”
He glides across the stage, embracing Goodell’s hand.
The commissioner has something he wants to tell him.
Safety Derwin James: “I took a look at the jersey, but then the Commissioner said, ‘Look at it. Stare at it. What do you see?’ I said I saw the blood, sweat and tears I put into getting here. The countless hours and sacrifices I had to make to get to this point. I reached one goal, and now I’m ready to start reaching toward other goals I have for myself.”
An hour or so later, there was one last phone call for James to make.
It’s one that resonated with his new defensive backs coach in a major way.
Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus: “I called Derwin when he was at the draft. I left a message and told my wife, ‘His first test will be to see if he calls back.’ He passed his first test. It was just small talk, but at the end of the day, when you make a call like that and I know there’s a lot going on, but in my mind, if he calls back, that’s very important. And he did. It was cool. Hopefully we keep him going in the right direction, he keeps going in the right direction, and we’ve got something there in the future.”
Safety Derwin James: “I haven’t accomplished a thing. What I did in college doesn’t mean a thing. All those high school accolades, the college accolades, they don’t mean anything. This is where I belong. I’m trying to bring a championship to this city. I see the hype. I’ve had to deal with it my whole life coming out of high school as the number one safety in the country. I get it, but I’m just trying to come in, learn my role and learn what the coaches want me to do. Just be the best player I know I can be. I didn’t think I’d be there for them at 17, but I did think the Chargers would be a damn good fit. I’m here now, so it must be God’s plan for me. This was God’s plan for me. I’m in Cali, and I’m able to focus. I’ve got good people around me. Good coaches. Good teammates. I’m in a great situation in an already great defense.”
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley: “I think expectations are good. I think for his whole college career and everything he’s done, there have always been high expectations. I think people rise to the level of expectations, as long as they’re realistic. But now, he has to prove what he can be at the NFL level. That’s what we need OTAs and training camp to find out. How fast will he pick things up and how fast will he perform to the level we need him to?”