2014 NFL Draft: Is Ja'Wuan James Worthy of Miami Dolphins' First-Round Pick?

By Cody Strahm

Most draft pundits expect Miami Dolphins rookie GM Dennis Hickey to act swiftly during the draft to assure Miami a new starting right tackle. But the Dolphins aren’t in an ideal spot — selecting at No. 19 overall — to acquire a surefire starter at the position.

It’s becoming increasingly possible, according to those perceived to be in the know, that the class’ top four tackles — Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin — will all be off the board when the Dolphins select. If accurate, where would the Dolphins turn?

Trading up is thought to be a potential play by Hickey, but doing so would likely require parting ways with a valuable day-two pick — a price that would be much more appropriate to nab a franchise left tackle as opposed to a right tackle.

If the top four tackles are unattainable, either by way of standing pat or moving up, the Dolphins could always choose from a formidable second-tier group of prospects, headlined by Virginia‘s Morgan Moses. However, there might be another tackle beyond the top four that intrigues the Dolphins more than Moses does.

According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have placed a first-round grade on just five tackles. Included among the five is the aforementioned top four. The fifth, however, is Tennessee‘s Ja’Wuan James rather than Moses.

James is considered one of the draft’s fastest risers according to analysts, but would he be worthy of the Dolphins’ No. 19 overall pick? The answer to said question depends on which drafting strategy the Dolphins employ. If Miami is using the draft to patch up its roster — drafting strictly on a need basis — selecting James would actually make quite a bit of sense.

Moses might be considered the superior talent by most, but the Dolphins should be trusted if they rank James higher. Miami’s new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was Virginia’s offensive coordinator during Moses’ first three years as a Cavalier.

If Miami gives James a higher grade, Lazor likely isn’t as fond of Moses as draft experts are. And if that’s the case, the Dolphins would have a legitimate reason to steer clear of a player that appears like a great match on paper.

The reason why Moses has the appearance of an ideal fit is his extensive experience at right tackle to go along with his imposing frame and quick feet. James also has experience on his side.

An underrated factor in right tackle evaluations is projecting lineman, who spent the majority of their collegiate career at left tackle, on the right side of the line. It’s often difficult to gauge how these prospects will handle the flip.

James, with 49 starts at right tackle for Tennessee, is a relatively safe bet to handle right tackle duties at the next level if he can make the jump effectively from a physical standpoint.

By comparison, Zack Martin only started two games at right tackle for Notre Dame. Taylor Lewan never started at right tackle for Michigan.

“He is an excellent pass blocker,” NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah said of James back in February. “He has the foot quickness to slide/mirror athletic edge rushers. In the run game, he has the lower strength to seal/wall-off defenders at the point of attack and he is athletic enough to pick off linebackers at the second level.”

Jeremiah’s sentiments seem to echo the evaluations of many others who peg James as a promising day-two prospect. But nabbing James in the first round would be an egregious reach if operating with a best-player-available strategy.

James won’t be the top remaining player after 18 selections. Far from it. And if the Dolphins burn the No. 19 overall pick on him, they’ll be passing on superior talents at higher impact positions. Instead, a long-term No. 1 receiver could be had. Perhaps better yet, an instant upgrade for a massively overpaid linebacker corps could be secured.

Regardless of the alternative, using a first-round choice on James would offer the Dolphins little value. Miami could easily find a dependable starter, which is arguably all it needs, to fill the void at right tackle in the second round.

So, would drafting James in the first round be a mistake? Not necessarily if the Dolphins’ No. 1 objective is to secure a starting right tackle. It certainly would be, though, if the Dolphins hope to add the best player possible with their top pick.

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