Assessing grades to draft picks before the players are even observed on the field with their new teams can be a rather pointless activity. Only time and results can gauge whether or not any given selection of the draft was a success or failure. But grades are still a fun way to evaluate picks on paper.
Grading the Miami Dolphins‘ No. 19 overall choice of Tennessee right tackle Ja’Wuan James is no easy task. On one hand, the Dolphins undoubtedly could have traded down and still nabbed James or waited until later in the draft to address a spot that usually isn’t difficult to find a starting-caliber option at. Needless to say, the Dolphins didn’t acquire much value with the pick.
On the other hand, the Dolphins had a massive hole at right tackle to fill. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill needed quality protection at both tackle spots. Now that he should have just that with James and Branden Albert, who was signed to play left tackle in free agency, Tannehill has the support he needs to become the franchise quarterback he’s only shown glimpses of while facing seemingly incessant pressure from all sides.
As a talent, James wasn’t on the same level as the top four prospects at the tackle position in this class — Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin — but he’s still more than capable of becoming one of the league’s better right tackles. His experience at the spot — 49 starts at right tackle for Tennessee — suggests he was one of, if not the safest bet to become the plug-and-play right tackle Miami was desperate for.
Collegiate left tackles don’t always make an effortless transition when they’re asked to kick over to right tackle in the NFL. The position requires flipped technique that isn’t easily mastered for those who have done things the opposite way for a significant period time. That concern doesn’t apply to James. He was arguably the right tackle prospect of the 2014 draft.
James’ ceiling isn’t as high as the tackles who were selected ahead of him on Thursday night, but many of those prospects will play left tackle sooner or later, if not immediately. James will likely be a right tackle from Week 1 of the 2014 season to the day he retires from football. Right tackle was the Dolphins’ biggest need. A right tackle was exactly what they got.
And it’s not like the Dolphins passed on a clear-cut better option. Linebackers Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley were both off the board. A higher rated defensive back wouldn’t have addressed an immediate need. A wide receiver could have been put to good use, but the Dolphins’ current set of pass catchers are more than formidable enough to get the job done with improved pass protection and more consistent quarterback play.
The Dolphins would have made their selection of James appear less desperate by trading down and snagging him later in the first round. It’s impossible to know what really went on inside the war room, though. Perhaps no team was willing to trade up. Perhaps those that were didn’t make a respectable offer or wouldn’t give in to the Dolphins’ demands.
Regardless, James would have been the Dolphins’ pick, assuming no other team pounced on him before he reached Miami’s relocated destination. Not having an extra third-round pick in this draft will have no bearing on whether or not James was the right choice for the Dolphins in Round 1.
Ultimately, the Dolphins deemed their need for a new right tackle too pressing to put off with their first pick. After the 58 sacks — including 12 sacks from lapses at right tackle — Miami’s offensive line allowed in 2013, finishing the reconstruction of the unit was essential enough to sacrifice some value in the first round.
James is a bit of an underwhelming pick for the Dolphins, but he’s a Week 1 starter at what was the club’s weakest position heading into the draft. It wasn’t a great pick, but it certainly wasn’t a bad one, either.
Cody Strahm is an NFL author for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.