They carried over center Mike Pouncey and added tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith in free agency. That leaves them with holes at tackle and guard, and in adding James, the Dolphins are hoping to have found their bookend tackles for the future.
The urgency is understandable. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times in 2013, the most in the NFL and the most in Dolphins history. The question is whether James is the right man for the job and whether it was worth using a first-round pick to acquire his services.
Ja'Wuan James? I see the logic, but it looks like a reach pick. A bit heavy footed, but great strength & can steer pass rushers. #Dolphins— Ralph Mancini (@ReverendRalph) May 9, 2014
At 6'6" and 311 pounds with 35" arms, James has the prototypical size to play tackle in the NFL. He can use his length to get inside the pads of an opposing defensive end, sealing the edge of the pocket against strength or speed-rushers. James is described by NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki as a powerful pass protector, but lacking the footwork or the base strength to move defenders off the ball:
Big, strong, heavy pass protector with good balance, anchor strength and hand use to handle power and speed. Does not affect the run game the same way and almost appears more destined for the left side in the pros. Has instant-starter potential.
It would have been nice if someone like Auburn's Greg Robinson, Michigan's Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame's Zach Martin were on the board when the Dolphins went on the clock at No. 19, but those players were long gone by the time the Dolphins' number was called.
The Dolphins may have even been better suited to take one of the other linemen available, like Nevada's Joel Bitonio or UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo. Both were graded higher than James by NFL.com. Even if James was the best offensive lineman on the board, there were far better players at other positions. USC's Marqise Lee and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks.
The Dolphins could have traded out of their pick to grab more selections, but new general manager Dennis Hickey decided James was the pick.
Hickey said they had a couple of trade calls but they were excited about James.— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) May 9, 2014
Even with the Dolphins spending that first-round pick on an offensive tackle, they still will need to hit the offensive line once more, unless they are comfortable with either Nate Garner (64 games played, 19 starts) or Dallas Thomas (seven games played, no career starts) as a starting guard.
If not, Mike Mayock of NFL Network hinted on the broadcast that James could make the move to guard. James has the frame to hold up on the inside; However, it's fair to wonder whether his lack of tenacity in the running game would be a hindrance to his ability to effectively make that transition.
No matter where he ends up, James will likely be a starter on the Dolphins offensive line, and he immediately addresses a huge area of need. It's important to remember, though, that teams drafting for need often end up drafting for those same needs in short order.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases. Combine measurements and workout numbers provided by NFL.com.