When Ja’Wuan James visited Dolphins camp last month, he pulled Dennis Hickey aside and made a compelling sales pitch.
Bring me to Miami, the University of Tennessee tackle implored the Dolphins’ general manager.
Turns out, it wasn’t necessary. Hickey had him targeted all along.
The Dolphins selected James with the 19th overall pick Thursday night, filling the team’s most glaring need — right tackle — in the draft’s opening hours.
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“He was the best player for us,” Hickey said. “That’s how we valued him. That’s how we saw him.”
James, who started all 49 games at the position in his career at Tennessee, will presumably start there in Week 1.
He already knows his No. 1 priority: Keep Ryan Tannehill upright.
“It’s very important,” James said. “We have to keep him up. I’m part of the line now. It’s my job to keep him up.”
He and Branden Albert will book end the Dolphins’ new-look line, which allowed a franchise-worst 58 sacks a year ago. James was one of five offensive tackles the Dolphins viewed as worthy of a first-round pick. He was the only one left when they picked at 19.
The question: Could the Dolphins have traded back, gained another pick, and still gotten their man?
We’ll never know, but Hickey did acknowledge that he fielded calls from teams interested in moving up. Instead, he stood pat and took James.
A few minutes later, the Cardinals, who owned the 20th pick, swapped spots with the Saints (27th). In return, Arizona got New Orleans’ third-round pick.
“We got a couple of calls, but we were excited about getting Ja’Wuan James,” Hickey said. “He fits in from a talent aspect and as a person.”
Dolphins center Mike Pouncey seemed to agree.
“Great pick! I can’t wait for our gifts he’s getting us lol,” he joked on Twitter.
Some context behind Pouncey’s remarks: He was one of three Dolphins players investigated by the league for bullying Jonathan Martin last season, and the only one still with the team.
James said that when he came for his visit, the coaching staff talked about the scandal, saying “that’s not how their locker room is.”
With three new tackles (including Jason Fox) and a new guard (Shelley Smith) in the fold, it’s certainly a new day.
James, a 6-6, 311-pounder from greater Atlanta, languished on a Volunteers team that had a losing record in each of his four seasons on campus. But he flourished individually; his 87.3 blocking consistency grade was third-best for any Southeastern Conference tackle a year ago.
For a while Thursday, it appeared that the Dolphins would be able to land one of the draft’s four best tackles. The top three — Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan — were all off the board by the 11th pick.
Yet when the Giants (12th overall) passed on Zack Martin, the door opened for the Dolphins to move up and get him in the teens. However, a trade never materialized, and the Cowboys snatched him at 16.
Turns out, the Dolphins were content with the guy who was eager to be here.