Derwin James Jr. has been a star on the football field since high school, when he was a consensus 5-star recruit who eventually signed with the Florida State Seminoles. The only thing that’s kept him from being one of the most productive players at whatever level he’s been on has been injuries, as his sophomore season in Tallahassee got wiped out by a meniscus tear and he played just five games in his second season in the NFL due to a foot injury.
When he’s on the field, James is a game breaker on the back end of the defense, earning Pro Bowl honors in both of his healthy NFL seasons thus far. He has a great chance at being named an All-Pro for the second time in his career later this year. The Chargers came mere seconds away from a trip to the Playoffs this year, as they rather famously just needed a tie against the Raiders in Week 18 to reach the postseason, but even with the disappointment of how the season ended, James sees nothing but a bright future ahead in L.A.
Uproxx got a chance to catch up with James this week over Zoom, as he was in Las Vegas for Pro Bowl festivities, including the Madden Bowl in which he teamed up with Nick Chubb to represent the AFC against Justin Jefferson and Micah Parsons from the NFC. That competition will air Saturday, February 5 at 6 p.m. ET on NFL social channels and the EA Madden Twitch account, as they played on the big screen at Allegiant Stadium. We got to talk with James about his season, why he believes so much in coach Brandon Staley and quarterback Justin Herbert, and how his injuries have taught him about himself.
First off, how are you feeling and what does it mean to be in Vegas for another Pro Bowl?
Man, first of all, feeling good man. Excited to be out here. You know, it’s an honor — my second Pro Bowl. I’m excited. Got the family are here, man, and I’m just soaking it all in.
Coming back this year off of injury, what was the year that you had when were sidelined like? And how do you try to stay engaged while you’re rehabbing and be able to come back as strong as you did this year?
Man you find out a lot about yourself through the hard times, and I feel like I learned a lot about myself. I grew and I just said like, I’m not gonna let this stop me. So whatever I can do to get stronger, come back from it, I wanted to do that, and I think I’m doing an OK job doing that.
Absolutely. You got to do the the Madden Bowl here in Vegas and what’s that experience like, getting to play with Nick Chubb and go up against Micah and Jet?
Man, I had so much fun last night man with those guys, playing on one of the biggest gaming stages in the world, represent EA and our AFC side and NFC side. We was just excited to be out there, you know, one of the four guys that was out there and so it was very exciting. Having Ocho out there, Marshawn was amazing, Charissa too. Everybody was just having a good time.
Have you ever played on the stadium screen like that?
Never in my life, boy. Like it was so many TVs in front of me. So we had like 7-8 small, regular TVs, and then we had this one big TV. I’m like, I don’t know which to look at like, know what I mean? So it was pretty cool.
Who’s the best Madden player on the Chargers? Cause I know Keenan Allen’s a big Madden guy too.
Not including myself?
Not including yourself, because I assume that you would say yourself?
Oh, yeah, I like me. But if it ain’t me then I say probably Keenan. He’s pretty good.
I want to get your general thoughts on this past season for you guys in L.A. Obviously had ups and downs and came just short of the playoffs. But when you take a look back now it’s been a few weeks, what are your thoughts on the season you guys just had?
I’m excited, man. Because I feel like just looking at everything that’s going on around the NFL and to have the security we have at quarterback, we know he’s gonna be what he’s going to be — what he already is — always gives you a chance and always gives you opportunity. So we just gotta build for more. We didn’t end how we want it to end but I feel like we got a great team and we one or two plays away from still playing today. So I mean, we got to just keep working hard and you know, just take that next step as a team.
Yeah, I was gonna ask, is there anything that you can see as what is that next step? Is it just finishing some of those games because you had a bunch that were close?
Yeah, finishing those games, because I look back on it on the season. I think 14 of our games were fourth quarter games — 14 or 15 of our games were fourth quarter games and one possession games. So we gotta just be able to man to give ourselves that comfort room, you know. Whether we’re up 10 or 12 or something to where, I mean, we could just finish those games.
This was the first season with Coach Staley. What did he bring to this team that makes you excited about what y’all can do next year having another year and comfort in what he’s asking you guys to do?
I feel like he brought aggression, belief. I feel like we’re a team, we closer. I just feel like he just brought everything. He’s really the whole package. And I feel like we’re gonna do a lot of great things. I don’t want to just sit up here and just talk about that, but I’m just like, he really the guy, man. And I feel like we picked the right guy for the job and the results will eventually finish how we want them to finish but no, we building here still.
Finally, as you look forward towards your offseason, obviously you’ll take some time to rest and recuperate. How do you go about planning, your offseason training and trying to continue to add to your repertoire so you can be back in the Pro Bowl again next year?
Really just like you said, man getting the body back right. Because, you know, it’s a long three, four, five months of the season man, and just getting the body ready to do it again. So that’s what it is constantly, man. Just getting reset in the body, reprogramming it. Whatever you need to get fixed or anything, just making sure everything’s good that way when the season comes, you don’t have nothing sneaking up on you or popping up, and you can just go play your best.