Scottish centre forward James Devlin played junior football for Blackstoun Rangers in 1889 before spending time on the books of Glasgow Celtic joining them in October 1890 without making a first team appearance. He played for Abercorn in 1891 and Paisley Celtic in 1892 before returning to Glasgow Celtic in September 1894 He made his debut in a 2-0 Scottish League win at Dumbarton on March 9th 1895. He then played a week later scoring in a 4-0 home win against Leith Athletic (with his brother John also in the side as a triallist). However he left the club for Royal Albert in May 1895 after just 2 appearances for The Bhoys. He played for Chorley later in 1895 and for Dundee in 1896, from where he joined Southern League Tottenham Hotspur for 1896-97 season. He left for Millwall Athletic in the summer of 1897 but the transfer was only confirmed that October, he played 6 times for Millwall either side of his transfer before spending the later part of 1897 on the books of First Division Sunderland without making a first team appearance.
He then joined Arsenal from Sunderland for £80 in December 1897 but was struck by pleurisy soon after arriving. Devlin made a goalscoring Football League debut for Arsenal in a 3-3 draw at Blackpool in January 1898 but did not play senior football for the club again. He then moved to Airdrieonians in exchange for John Dick in August 1898, moving to Third Lanark later in 1898, then to Albion Rovers in 1899. After serving a year in the Army fighting the Boer War, he returned to Albion Rovers in 1901 where he finished his professional career.