The New York Giants made several moves this offseason to address the offensive line, which was arguably the area of their roster that needed to be upgraded the most.
While they brought in Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton to compete for starting jobs on the interior line, the only offensive tackle they signed was New Orleans Saints castoff Charles Brown. Brown struggled in 2013 and was ultimately benched, and he is best served as a reserve tackle and insurance for injuries.
With left tackle Will Beatty recovering from a broken leg, it is important that the team considers spending one of their first three picks on a tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Beatty graded out as one of the worst left tackles in the NFL in 2013. If Beatty can’t return to his 2012-form, starting offensive tackle will once again be a major weakness for the Giants.
The good news is that Justin Pugh improved into a plus starter over the course of his rookie season in 2013, and many believe he can be even better if he switches over to left tackle. This should give the Giants the flexibility that they need to target a starting caliber tackle in the middle rounds just because he may be projected as a right tackle.
The better news for the Giants is that offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James is likely to be there with their third and possibly even fourth round draft pick. From the 11 offensive tackles that I’ve had the opportunity to study so far, James is by far and away the best value.
There are two reasons why James is not considered a first-round pick: the fact that he played right tackle in college and the fact that he played on a team with left tackle Antonio Richardson. While I will not say that James possesses the athletic upside that Richardson might, it is clear to me that James is the more polished player right now. I believe James has the potential to be an impact starter at both left and right tackle.
According to a recent mock draft by industry insider Matt Miller, James is projected to be available when the Giants are up with their fourth-round pick. Although his lack of pre-draft buzz his kept his projection down, I believe NFL scouts will see what I do, and I would be surprised if he lasts to the third day.
Position: Offensive tackle
40-yard dash: 5.34
Bench press reps: 22
Bench press: 28
3-Cone: 7.42 (fifth-best at his position)
Production: 49 career starts, setting the record for career starts by an offensive lineman in Tennessee history, 2013 Associated Press All-SEC Second Team.
Strengths: James has the ideal size to play either tackle position. He possesses incredible quickness and agility for a prospect his size. This is evident on film and also in his 3-cone drill time. These are often the attributes that best define a successful offensive tackle. He also has that rare ability to quickly get out of his stance and in position to shut down the edge rusher.
After beating his man to the point, he displays great balance and the strength you would expect for someone his size. James is also an excellent run blocker in space and at the second level.
Weaknesses: James needs to get a little bigger and stronger. At times, he struggles as a drive blocker in the run game.
Overall: I’m not sure why James hasn’t received much hype yet, but it makes him a major draft day value. He can serve immediately as the Giants’ swing tackle and become a starter on either side of the line as soon as he enters the league. He is a pro-ready prospect with the feet and quickness of a left tackle, but experience only on the right side. The Giants would be wise to target and select him with their third-round pick.
NFL comparison: Austin Howard
Projected round: Third to fourth round