In an uncertain safety class, there exists an opportunity for proactive playmakers to rise at the position. Cincinnati safety James Wiggins falls under that category in the NFL Draft. Does Wiggins have enough playmaking potential to be an early pick, or will other concerns drop him farther down the board?
James Wiggins NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Safety
- School: Cincinnati
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’0″
- Weight: 205 pounds
Tony Pauline’s James Wiggins Scouting Report
Positives: Two-year starter who missed the 2019 season with a torn ACL. Explosive and athletic safety who is best between the numbers. Breaks down well, effectively uses his hands to protect himself, and quickly makes his way upfield defending the run.
Effective facing the action in coverage, tracks the pass in the air, and nicely times pass defenses. Shows good hands for the interception. Does a good job reading as well as diagnosing, and generally, plays instinctive football. Explodes through gaps defending the run and aggressively lays his shoulders into defenders.
Negatives: Struggled with injuries the past two years. Lacks great top-end play speed. Does not possess great range at safety.
Analysis: Wiggins is a hard-hitting safety with a large upside who can flourish in the proper scheme. He projects as a zone or strong safety and should flourish on special teams.
James Wiggins Player Profile
James Wiggins’ career has had no shortage of forks in the road. As a 5-foot-11, 180-pound cornerback prospect in high school, Wiggins originally committed to the Miami Hurricanes. Then a junior, Wiggins was intent on playing for the storied Miami program. But a visit to Cincinnati in January of 2016 made him reconsider.
Wiggins de-committed from Miami one week later. Two weeks after his visit to Cincinnati, he officially signed with the Bearcats. It was unusual, to see a Miami area native leave his hometown team to move over 1,100 miles northward. But as his career exemplified, Wiggins knew what he was doing.
James Wiggins’ career as a Cincinnati safety
Interestingly enough, for all his talent, Wiggins’ career at Cincinnati started out without much action. The Homestead product redshirted his true freshman season without seeing a single snap. As a redshirt freshman, he only logged one total tackle on special teams, in the season finale against Connecticut.
In spite of the uneventful start, Wiggins didn’t get second thoughts. Instead, the Cincinnati safety simply packed all of his missed production into his redshirt sophomore season. The 2018 season saw Wiggins explode onto the college football scene. He started 13 games, logging 54 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, four interceptions, five pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a pick-six. Three of his interceptions were walk-off plays that sealed victories for his squad. They emphasized his ability in the clutch.
Expectations were extremely high for Wiggins heading into 2019. He was a widely-recognized draft prospect and was expected to declare early if he had another standout season. But the Cincinnati safety never had the chance. Two days before the season opener, he tore his ACL.
James Wiggins’ return from adversity
Wiggins had a long road to recovery ahead of him. But much like his play on the field, he proceeded at full speed. Wiggins had surgery to repair the ACL, and four months after that, he was running at 80%. Not long after, Wiggins was cleared for winter conditioning. From there, he kept increasing his comfort level, easing back into the regular routine. Eventually, the 2020 season was on the horizon. Wiggins had worried that his athleticism was sapped, but his 2020 season provided hope.
It remains to be seen if Wiggins puts up the same testing numbers, but the Cincinnati safety was the same playmaker he’s been accustomed to being in 2020. In nine games, Wiggins put up 32 total tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, an interception, six pass deflections, and a forced fumble. An arm injury sidelined Wiggins for the season’s closing stretch, including its bowl games against Georgia. Nevertheless, Wiggins earned first-team All-AAC recognition alongside Richie Grant.
On January 3rd, with renewed vitality, Wiggins declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing James Wiggins’ NFL Draft profile
In a vacuum, James Wiggins’ athletic traits are near elite. Until he shows up at the Senior Bowl and tests at the NFL Combine, there will be some questions — as we’ll soon get into — but Wiggins has exceptional athletic traits. He flashed them in every season of his college football career.
Wiggins’ size/speed context
Wiggins is well put together, standing at 6-foot-0, 205 pounds. He’s fairly lean, and he also has good length for the position. His build helps him maintain solidity as a tackler. As a mover, Wiggins is incredibly exciting. He brings very good closing speed and explosiveness, especially when honing in on the catch point. He’s also fairly fluid with his hips, and explosive out of his hip transitions.
Wiggins might not have bonafide burner speed anymore, but his short-range burst should make up for that. Before his ACL injury, he had a 4.4 40-yard dash, a 37-inch vertical, and a 132-inch broad jump on record, making the cut as one of Feldman’s Freaks. Wiggins’ traits also make him versatile; he lined up at two-deep, single-high, and in the slot throughout his career, and he effectively covered receivers in man alignments.
Wiggins also adequately puts his athletic traits to use. He has fairly good positioning awareness. Additionally, at the catch point, he has the wherewithal, physicality, and acute focus to target the ball with his long arms, even if it’s confined by the receiver. Several of his pass deflections occurred not before but during the catch process. Having a defensive back who has that timely playmaking ability is a big plus. Wiggins goes for the ball, and his proactivity can be very valuable.
What are the concerns with James Wiggins?
Although Wiggins is a stellar athletic talent, there are some inconsistencies in his game, and some prevailing questions surrounding his injury history. On the field, Wiggins’ route recognition can be hit-or-miss. There are some times when he turns his attention away from the quarterback, and in doing so, fails to recognize intent. His tackling angles can also be inconsistent, and his play strength isn’t top-tier when he does get solid contact.
Additionally, there’s the issue of Wiggins’ health. He missed a few games in 2020 with an arm injury, and perhaps more notably, he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason of 2019, which caused him to miss the 2019 season.
We still don’t quite know if Wiggins is the same athlete he was before that ACL injury. Flashes on his 2020 tape suggest that he’s close, as he still appears comparably fluid and explosive. But definitive quantification at the NFL Combine will be imperative for his stock because teams might not be as keen to spend a Day 2 pick on him if he doesn’t have the upside to mitigate his flaws early.
James Wiggins’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
James Wiggins is one of the more exciting 2021 NFL Draft prospects. There’s certainly a degree of uncertainty with the Cincinnati safety. However, he showed off the same athleticism and ball skills in 2020 that he showed in 2018. Even with less consistency, his traits might be worth banking on in a safety class that doesn’t have much clarity.
The NFL Combine will be big for Wiggins — bigger than it is for most prospects. If he can prove to scouts that he still has the athleticism he had before his ACL tear, then there’s a legitimate chance he could rise up into Day 2. He has enough smarts and versatility in coverage to make up for his modest volatility, and although he can iron out some inconsistencies mentally, he has the capacity to get it done.
Any potential team fits?
For now, Wiggins’ health questions likely relegate him to early Day 3, but he’s a value addition there, with the upside to be an early contributor. Teams in need of defensive playmaking ability and versatility at a premium would be most receptive to adding Wiggins there. Off the top, teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, and Washington Football Team could benefit most. But they’re not the only ones.
Wiggins is a truly enticing prospect because of his coming offseason. He rebounded well from his ACL tear. If he stands out at the Senior Bowl and tests like he can, there’s nothing stopping him from skyrocketing up the safety board, potentially into Round 2. For now, there are still questions to answer. But Wiggins has the skills and the aptitude to answer them.
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