Even for those who witnessed his blur-quick footwork and the where-the-heck-did-he-go elusiveness, there is much more to James than meets the eye.
He has internal toughness and self-reliance that may have been destined before he was born, which is when his father was killed, or during a youth where his mother was usually gone and he was raised by his grandmother until she died when he was a junior in high school.
Then what? Then he basically took care of himself those last two years at Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas.
By the end of a dazzling 2010 season at Oregon, when he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, people still did not know the full measure of this young man. Instead of declaring for the NFL draft, he returned to address unfinished business -- a degree in Sports Business to be exact, which he was granted in December 2011 along with Academic All American honors.
James also became Oregon's only two-time consensus All American football player as he led the nation with 150.42 yards rushing a game and ended his career with a school record 5,929 all-purpose yards. James, who finishes 40 yards in less than 4.45 seconds and can leap vertically 35 inches, has been compared to every successful small, quick, elusive back in NFL history, yet his size concerns NFL scouts.
That's understandable, but his toughness never should be in question.
Inside: Size will be a detriment between the tackles at the next level, but don't underestimate his toughness. Prefers to run north-south, though, feeling his way through traffic with quick cuts and nice vision. May be used in zone system, shows patience to wait for blocking on stretch plays, able to find and take advantage of cutback lanes. Gets skinny to find tight creases to rip through when around the goal line or needing to pick up the first down. Can avoid a penetrating lineman, jump-step to find an open lane and accelerate into the second level. Given the ball in crunch time due to his toughness and ball security. Lacks the strength to push the pile or break off NFL linebacker tackles inside.
Outside: Does not try to take every play outside, as you'd expect given his size and speed, but dangerous once on the sideline. Excellent speed and good vision in the open field, capable of breaking off large chunks of yardage, or score, even if safety gets a deep angle. Spins off a low tackle attempts in space and maintain his balance to continue on. Willing to cut inside for extra yards instead of heading to the sideline (but may need to do that more to avoid big hits from NFL defenders).
Breaking tackles: Generally better in avoiding tackles can breaking them against NFL-caliber talent. Willing to lower his shoulder in space to knock over an opponent and churns legs to drag tacklers when owning a head of steam, but comes down on first contact too often even when it is a glancing blow or lunging arm tackle. Flashes the ability to break a tackle in the backfield and reverse field for a big gain, but he will lose yardage a times and it's much tougher to accomplish that against NFL defenses.
Blocking: Does not shy away from contact in pass protection, and is a fairly effective cut blocker with good awareness of where the pressure is coming from. Offers help to tackles on the edge on designed rollouts. Lack of size will make it difficult for him to stand up to NFL linebackers (who will anticipate his cut blocks), though he will give nice effort when holding up blitzers coming up the middle. Flares out into the flat on most third downs.
Receiving: Not used extensively out of the backfield, but has flashes playmaking ability in the flat. Looks capable of adjusting to poor throws with heat coming his direction. Has speed to be a threat on wheel routes, though NFL defensive backs will win jump balls. Can sidestep the first man and accelerate, but is usually brought down quickly by strong arm tackles.
Intangibles: Quiet player who prefers to lead by example. Suspended for 2010 season opener after pleading guilty to misdemeanor harassment charge (four other charges were dropped) due to altercation with his girlfriend; sentenced to 10 days in jail (received electronic bracelet instead) and two years probation. Says he's learned and matured more from that incident than anything else in his life.