Derwin James' dazzling debut season of 2018 showcased just how special a talent he was and could also potentially become.
Injuries robbed him – and the NFL world – of following up that rookie campaign, though, as he's played in only five games over the past two seasons.
With the collective hope that James will be able to finally build upon that phenomenal first impression this season, the Los Angeles Chargers safety delivered a highlight that had social media abuzz on Friday.
In a joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers, James jumped in front of tight end George Kittle to pick off a Jimmy Garoppolo pass at the 1-yard line and raced the other way for a 99-yard score.
Practice or not, it raised eyebrows and cheers, even from another James.
"The excitement after that was great, especially after the little scrap [earlier in practice]," James' teammate Joey Bosa said, via team transcript. "It has been amazing. It seems like it has been so long since we've been out there together. I love looking at pictures of us both flying up on the edge together. It's a scary sight. I always say he is one of the best in the league. I truly believe that in any position, honestly, he is one of the most gifted athletes I have ever seen. His energy is unbelievable. To see him out there happy and healthy, it's great."
Bosa didn't view the play as any kind of an arising, but more so a reminder of who the 2018 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is and what he can do.
"I don't think he needs anything to awaken him," Bosa said. "He would have done that regardless, but it was a good way to put the nail in the coffin."
While the INT was surely an exclamation point for the week's practices, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley viewed it as a great sign of awareness in the red zone along with a spectacular battle between two NFL elites in James and Kittle.
"A lot of awareness of what's happening in the red area, that's what I saw," Staley said. "I think that he really anticipated the matchup, anticipated the route. George got him in seven-on-seven on a similar sort of stem, then George went to the back corner — on that one, Derwin held his ground. That's a special matchup. It's been fun to see those guys go head-to-head the last couple of days. They're two of the best in the entire league — not just at their positions, they're two of the best players in the NFL. To see that competition, both in the passing game and in the run game, it was a great environment out there. That was a big-time play."
A big-time play that bodes well for the Chargers moving forward.
"You need your premium players playing well in those types of situations," Staley said. "Most of the time, in the NFL, the end of the game is going to come down to two-minute, low red area — those 'got to have it' situations. You know where good teams are going to go in those situations. George is as good of a player, really in any down and distance, but specifically down there. It's an awesome matchup and great work for us."
As a rookie who earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro distinction in 2018, James was a do-it-all dynamo for the Bolts, racking up 75 tackles, three interceptions, 13 passes defended and 3.5 sacks. A stress fracture in his foot cut his sophomore campaign to only 11 games, though, and a torn meniscus wiped out his 2020 season before it even began.
James encapsulated all that promise and anticipation in 99 yards of excitement.