After a run of playmakers in the early teens, the Dolphins had few choices who would instantly start in their first season.
Enter Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James.
At 6’6” with 35” arms and 311 pounds, James is the ideal tackle for head coach Joe Philbin and offensive line coach John Benton’s zone-blocking scheme.
Throughout the draft process, it was clear the Dolphins were interested in addressing the offensive tackle position early on, as they didn’t add more than veteran depth through free agency. Former Lions right tackle Jason Fox couldn’t stay healthy throughout his four-year career, so Miami clearly couldn’t count on him entering 2014. Dallas Thomas, the team's third-round pick in 2013, projects as a guard and couldn’t get on the field as a rookie.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper had this to say about James:
There wasn't a steadier right tackle in college football last season than James, and with Branden Albert installed on the left side, the Dolphins can draft James projecting that he can play right away. We've seen tackles come in and struggle some when you add not only the leap to the NFL but also the shift from one side to the other, but James has a chance to succeed early as he stays home on the right side. There are some flashier options on the board, but maybe none that simply make Miami better like this pick would.
Ultimately, after the churning door that was the offensive line in 2013, Miami needed to add a solid tackle with upside to get better.
2013 starter Tyson Clabo had a terrible first half of the season, forcing the Dolphins to trade for Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie. After the Jonathan Martin fiasco, Clabo was forced to play again, and his inability to block one on one with the nasty pass-rushers in the AFC East hamstrung the Dolphins offensive play-calling. Running backs had to help block instead of becoming underneath options for Tannehill.
Coming from Tennessee, James has experience playing in a zone-based scheme. His transition into the offense should be less than the other tackles who were available at No. 19. With his blend of quickness, awareness and effort, expect him to be an on-field leader.
Bleacher Report's own draft expert Matt Miller, due to his rawness, considers James the ninth-best offensive tackle in the class. Miller notes that he has considerable upside and the ability to develop, but right now he doesn’t play powerful enough to be an impact run-blocker.
James needs technique work, as he doesn’t play with enough leverage consistently. With his long arms, he needs to initiate contact with the defensive player with a strong punch and drive the defender back.
His outside steps on outside zone run plays aren’t as sharp and strong as his steps for inside zone, sometimes leaving him to be a liability. This is correctable, as he has great foot speed and agility for a big man, but it is a technique flaw at this moment.
The Dolphins entered this first round with one huge need, offensive tackle.
Not only did Dennis Hickey fill that need, but he drafted a high-character player who works tirelessly to improve.
With James’ strengths and weaknesses, the thought process has to be that he will start immediately for the Dolphins. If he doesn’t, it is because Fox is healthy, and that would allow James to benefit from the Dolphins' weight training program for a season, only increasing his effectiveness.
Now, the Dolphins can focus on playmakers to fill out a roster that has a good foundation to build off. What separates good general managers and the ones who don’t last are the Day 2 and 3 picks, so there is plenty of time for Miami to add firepower on both sides of the ball.
Ian Wharton covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report, specifically focusing on defensive backs. He also covers the Miami Dolphins for DraftMecca.com and FinDepth.com. You can follow and interact with Ian on Twitter @NFLFilmStudy.