Ja’Wuan James didn’t sleep Thursday night, but it was hard to tell. For the past two days, he has been living his dream.
“My prayers were answered last night,” James said Friday at Miami Dolphins headquarters, welcomed as the team’s first-round pick.
If he can protect Ryan Tannehill’s right side, the Dolphins will feel the same way. They picked him to help upgrade an offensive line that surrendered a franchise-worst 58 sacks last season.
The Dolphins had targeted James, from the University of Tennessee, since January. And he wasn’t shy about his intentions, either: He wanted to be in South Florida.
Understandably, emotions got the best of him when commissioner Roger Goodell called his name Thursday night.
“I was sitting on the couch with my family, casually watching [the draft],” he said. “Then I got the best phone call of my life.”
The scouting report on James is that he’s an athletic, cerebral blocker. During his short time in front of the media Thursday, he looked the part.
He was engaging about his background, but didn’t take the bait when asked about the team’s notorious bullying scandal. “That’s last year,” he quipped.
And he had the slender build of a guy just a few years removed from the basketball courts. Hoops was his first love growing up in New Jersey, but when he moved to Atlanta while in middle school, he was recruited into football.
“I was always a bigger kid,” James explained. “So everybody was saying, ‘You need to play football. It’s big in the south.’ My high school coach told me, ‘You could be a [Division] II or a non-scholarship basketball player, but I feel like you could be a really good offensive lineman.’ ”
His coach proved prophetic. He earned a full ride to Tennessee, where he started all 49 games at right tackle – a remarkable stretch of durability.
And though many projected James as a second- or third-round pick, he was one of five tackles the Dolphins viewed worthy of a first-round grade. Unfortunately for them, the other four were off the board when it was their turn to pick Thursday night.
The choice: Take him at 19 or trade back in the first round and hope he’s still available?
Hickey was open to shopping the pick, according to a source, but did not get a satisfactory offer. The Dolphins wanted to be “wowed” but never were.
Instead, they used their pick and got what they hope is their long-term answer at right tackle – and someone who can turn the page on last year’s unpleasantness. He’s expected to start this fall at the spot vacated by Jonathan Martin, traded in March to San Francisco.
Mike Pouncey, one of the principles in the harassment saga, brought the topic to the forefront again shortly after James was drafted Thursday night.
Pouncey tweeted: “Great pick! I can’t wait for our gifts he’s getting us lol.”
Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey responded to the remark Friday.
“We talked with Mike.” Hickey said. “Mike understands that sometimes things can be taken out of context. What is meant as a light-hearted comment can be taken out context. He understands that social media is a great tool to reach our fans for the positive, but you have to make good choices with that. We’re all good. We had a good conversation with Mike.”
Pouncey has since deleted his Twitter account.