By Alex Norman
Ja’Wuan James was a part of perhaps the worst four year stretch in Tennessee football history.
But his future looks a lot brighter than his recent past.
On Thursday, May 8, James heard his name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as he was selected 19th overall by the Miami Dolphins.
James, an offensive tackle, is the 45th player in Volunteers program history to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Shortly after big moment, James posted the following messages on twitter.
“I am so blessed and appreciate the Dolphins so much for this opportunity! Ready to go to work with my new team! #FinsUp”
“Thank you to everyone @ UT!! I appreciate everyone who’s helped me along the way. Love y’all #OLP #VFL”
James started 49 games in his Tennessee career from 2010-2013, which is a Vols record for starts by an offensive lineman. He is listed at 6’6” and 311 pounds, and will be called on to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“We got to keep him up,” said James in a teleconference later that night. “I’m part of the O-line now, and I’m just going to do my job to help keep him up. And like I keep saying, I really appreciate this opportunity… just going to come in and grind.”
“He’s been a targeted player… a guy we spent a lot of time on in the process leading up to the draft,” said Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey. “We are excited about the skill set that he brings, the person that he is… we are excited to add him to our roster. He was the best player for us, that’s how we valued him, that’s how we saw him.”
“I think the one thing that we all felt after watching the tape, and it is the number one job an offensive tackle has to get done on a consistent basis in the National Football League, we feel like he has the ability to pass block, one on one, against defensive ends,” said Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. “We all felt good about his ability to fit in here, to fit within the scheme, we thought he would be a good fit culturally, he’s a good person, a good kid. The more we knew the more we liked.”
“When you line him up in Miami, you can play him at right tackle, and they have a big need there, you can play him at right guard,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. “Either way, day one he is gonna be a starter.”
“I was impressed with the way he played all year,” said ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. “His consistency from game to game was excellent.”
For James, Miami is a fresh start after four collegiate seasons that were certainly a challenge. James committed to
Lane Kiffin and the Vols in November of 2009, and was an early enrollee at Tennessee when Kiffin abruptly left for Southern California in January of 2010. James and the Vols went 21-28 with Derek Dooley and Butch Jones as head coach during James’s time in Knoxville.
But those experiences made him stronger, and he will get the chance to show his strengths in the AFC East.
“It’s just another opportunity, another challenge. In the SEC, I faced a lot of good pass rushers,” said James. “I know at this next level, there’s a lot of great ones. So as a tackle you have to be able to pass block and run block, that’s our job. I just want to come in and show I can do those two things, and can compete.”
James added, “I’m a tough, smart offensive lineman. I pride myself on being smart and not making many mistakes. I bring athleticism to the table, strength, and a lot of experience too, being able to play that many games at the position and the conference that I did.”