DAVIE, Fla. (AP) - New Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey says Tennessee right tackle Ja’Wuan James was the highest-rated player on their draft board when their turn came in the first round Thursday, which made for an easy decision.
The Dolphins passed on a chance to take 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. They opted for a blocker even after four offensive linemen were taken among the first 16 picks.
James never missed a game in four seasons at Tennessee and made 49 career starts, a school record for an offensive lineman. He’s the first Volunteer offensive lineman taken in the first round since 1991.
“We’re really excited about the skill set he brings and the quality person he is,” Hickey said. “He played at the highest level, the SEC. We had a conviction.”
“He has the ability to pass-block one on one,” coach Joe Philbin said. “That was the No. 1 thing that jumped out at us.”
The Dolphins gave up 58 sacks last year, a franchise record and the most in the NFL. They ranked 26th in rushing and finished last in the league in yards between the tackles.
James said he can help improve those statistics. He was initially projected by some as a third-round pick but said he helped his stock by doing well at his pro day workout.
“I’m a tough, smart offensive lineman,” he said. “I pride myself on not making many mistakes, and I bring athleticism to the table.”
Four of the Dolphins‘ five starters from last year’s offensive line have departed. That includes tackle Jonathan Martin and guard Richie Incognito, who were at the center of a bullying scandal that helped to sabotage last season.
“I’m a tough-skinned guy, and when I was down there they expressed that that’s not how their locker room is,” he said. “That’s definitely not going to be a problem at all.”
James watched the draft with his family from their home in Suwanee, Georgia, and didn’t attend the event in New York with other first-round prospects.