DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins got the man they wanted to protect Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins selected tackle Ja’Wuan James with the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft Thursday.
Miami general manager Dennis Hickey said James was always a target for the Dolphins, who hosted lineman for interviews before the draft.
"We were always targeting Ja’Wuan at our pick," Hickey said. "A couple times he grabbed me and said, ‘What do you have to do to get me here?’ "
James, who declined to attend the draft festivities in New York City "to be around my loved ones" in Suwanee, Georgia, said he had a positive feeling he might go in the first round after four offensive tackles were selected ahead of him.
Scouts originally projected the lineman to go in either the second or third round.
"That was a good thing, watching the draft and seeing the run on linemen," James said.
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound James, who graduated from the University of Tennessee in December, started all 49 games he appeared in for the Volunteers.
James describes himself as a "tough, smart offensive lineman" who prides himself "on not making any mistakes."
Hickey agreed, citing James’ skill set and character as key factors in the decision to select the lineman.
"He started 49 games, was a captain, played at the highest level at the SEC," Hickey said. "We’re excited to add him to our roster."
Since the start of his sophomore season, James recorded 264 knockdowns or key blocks, 35 blocks which produced rushing touchdowns and 23 which resulted in passing touchdowns. He registered a blocking consistency average of 88.1 percent over his final three seasons.
Reshaping the offensive line has been a top priority for Miami. Aside from wanting to start fresh after the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal, Miami’s front wall allowed Tannehill to be sacked 58 times last season, the most in the NFL since 2007.
"It’s very important," James said of protecting Tannehill. "We have got to keep him up. I’m going to do my job to help keep him up."
During James’ senior season, opposing defenders who lined up against him registered just two of the 15 sacks given up by the Vols. Now he will get the opportunity to be a force at the next level, going up against top opposing pass rushers on the right side.
"It’s just another opportunity, another challenge," James said. "In the SEC I saw a lot of great pass rushers. At the next level, I know there are a lot of great ones. So as a tackle, you’ve got to be able to pass block and run block. That’s our job."
And in the locker room, James recognizes his role — even as a rookie — in fostering a new mentality in Miami.
"I’m a tough-skinned guy and when I was down there, [the Dolphins] expressed that’s not how the locker room is," James said, referring to last year’s scandal. "They have a lot of signs that say ‘respect’ and the team is built on respect. It’s not going to be a problem at all," he said.