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D.J. James Senior Bowl.jpeg
MOBILE, AL - January 31, 2024 - Auburn Defensive Back DJ James (#4) during Senior Bowl practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, AL. Photo by Austin Perryman Photo by Austin Perryman

Auburn Draft Profile: Why D.J. James has the potential to be a draft steal, even in a talented cornerback class

AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) - Let’s get it out of the way immediately: D.J. James only weighs 164 pounds. That’s not exactly what you think when you hear “prototypical NFL corner.” However, James excels in many other areas, possibly making him the better Auburn corner in this year’s draft.

James has elite short-area quickness and extremely fluid hips, two things that could make him attractive to NFL teams instantly. However, he doesn’t have the long speed that you might expect. Look for James to light up the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle at this year’s NFL Combine rather than the 40-yard dash.

That agility and quickness allow James to stay in a receiver’s hip pocket for almost all types of routes in man coverage, as well as quickly shift directions and drive on the ball in zone. Because of this, James can be productive in both man and zone schemes.

James’s hip fluidity is especially showcased in the intermediate areas of the field. He has an incredibly smooth backpedal and shows the ability to carry a long vertical drop before easily swiveling to cover any of a post, corner, cross, out, or dig route without losing his position.

James is also a willing and effective tackler, his quick downhill trigger allowing him to get to ballcarriers quickly and then finish off the play. Because of his lack of size, James can tend to go for the legs more often than some would like, but he still is effective overall in run support. 

James is also a good defender at the catch point, consistently driving his hands into the receiver’s breadbasket and forcing pass breakups. He recorded 10 pass breakups in the 2023 season, as well as two interceptions for the second time in his career, the first being his last season at Oregon in 2021. 

Furthermore, James can play the ball in a disciplined manner. Despite his aggressiveness and high number of pass breakups, he was only penalized once over the entire 2023 season, a feat even more impressive as pass interference and defensive holding rules are changed to protect the receiver more and more each year.

The main playstyle weakness for James is his tendency to get caught out by double moves or fakes due to his aggressiveness. James will sometimes abandon or lose his man in an attempt to make a splash play and flip the field. He can also get caught with zone eyes in man coverage, looking in the backfield to identify where the opposing quarterback is going with the football rather than tracking his man.

James’s other weaknesses are more on the physical side, including his extremely light weight and lack of elite long speed. The combination of these traits makes some think he could be more suited to the slot in the NFL, where he can utilize his short-area quickness and tackling ability without being asked to track extremely vertical routes or contest jump balls with large, physical NFL receivers. 

The lack of size and speed might drive James down draft boards a bit, but expect him to still be a day two pick. Some of his best team fits include teams with Cover 3 schemes such as the Colts, Vikings, or Panthers. Overall, James offers an elite athletic profile in the short and intermediate areas of the field that could make him a good starter and even a draft steal for whichever team takes a shot on him.

The NFL Draft takes place April 25-27 in Detroit, Michigan.