COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — When Derwin James slipped in the first round of the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Chargers pounced.
The Chargers nabbed the vaunted Florida State safety with the 17th overall pick Thursday night, picking up one of the top defensive prospects in the draft without needing to trade up for him.
Both James and the Chargers left the first night of the draft with fairly significant degrees of surprise, but clear excitement about the way things went down.
"Oftentimes (executives) say that we didn't think he was going to be there," Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. "We hear that all the time. I hate hearing that. But honestly, this one, we did not expect him to be there at our pick. We were prepared to take him if he was, but we did not think he would be there. So suffice to say we were very excited to bring him in."
James spent a bit longer than expected waiting for his name to be called at the draft in Texas. The hard-hitting former Seminoles star acknowledged he was annoyed when several teams filled other needs instead of grabbing him.
"It was a crazy feeling," James said. "It was like a roller coaster in there, but it was great having my family in there with me. I'm excited that LA came and got me."
Indeed, James seemed thrilled to land with a probable playoff contender — and to play alongside Casey Hayward, the Bolts' second-team All-Pro cornerback. James and Hayward share an agent, and they met while James was in Orange County in recent months to prepare for the draft.
"They told me they were going to bring me out to go win a Super Bowl," James said. "I said, 'I'm ready.' It was great getting that call. I'm ready to come and contribute right away. I've got something to prove. Sixteen teams passed (on) me."
Although James was widely considered a top-10 talent, he dropped to the Chargers, who could use him immediately in several roles on an already solid defense. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn could see James everywhere from deep coverage to the Bolts' pass rush.
James has been widely compared to Seahawks star Kam Chancellor, and now he'll have a chance to play for Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the original coordinator of the Seattle defense that made Chancellor famous.
He will join a secondary led by Hayward and featuring above-average cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Trevor Williams, strong safety Jahleel Addae and versatile Desmond King, who excelled as a rookie last season. James could even take the starting spot held by Tre Boston, who is a free agent after starting 15 games and playing almost every snap last season.
"He has a skill set where he can do multiple things," Lynn said. "A guy like that, we want to get him involved. You'll see him closer to the line of scrimmage, and you'll also see him in the middle of the field. ... This is a run-hit safety. He's one of the better tacklers in space that I saw on tape. I think he's going to help eliminate some of those explosive runs that you saw last year."
The Chargers had minimal contact with James during the scouting process leading up to the draft, likely because he seemed highly unlikely to be available to them. But James already knows Addison Lynch, who joined the Chargers this year as a defensive quality control assistant after spending the past three seasons working for Jimbo Fisher at Florida State.
James excelled in two of his three years at Florida State, but missed most of his second season with a knee injury. He made 84 tackles and two interceptions last season, earning second-team All-American honors.
James' size, speed and versatility will be a boon to the Chargers, whose defense occasionally struggled to stop the run. He also fills an area of need for a team that has two of the NFL's best edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but wanted more strength up the middle.
The Chargers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker last season after winning nine of the final 12 games in their relocation season. They've retained nearly every major playmaker from that team, and they managed to add a potential starting safety.
"It means a lot (to join a winning team), James said. "I know I've got Joey Bosa rushing the quarterback and Melvin Ingram and all those guys. I'm pretty happy. I can do my job, come right in, fit right in."