- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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DAVIE, Fla. – It's been a long time since new Miami Dolphins first-round pick Ja'Wuan James sat on the bench. James started 49 straight games for the University of Tennessee that dates back to his freshman year. He isn't ready to end that streak in the NFL.
James is a heavy favorite to become Miami's starting right tackle in Week 1. The Dolphins believe they got one of the most NFL-ready linemen in the draft due to his durability and extensive experience in the SEC, which is regarded as the best conference in college football.
The Dolphins filled their biggest need to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill's front side. James will compete with free-agent pickup Jason Fox for the starting job at right tackle in training camp.
"I expect to come in and work hard and earn what I'm given," James said. "I got to go earn it. That’s how I was raised my whole life; you got to earn what you get."
Some believe James was somewhat of a reach at No. 19. Few draft experts projected James to go that high, but he was a late riser up the draft boards.
Dolphins first-year general manager Dennis Hickey said the team entertained trade offers in the first round last week but felt James was the best fit for the team.
“We were always targeting Ja'Wuan at our pick," Hickey said. "We are excited and he was very excited as we talked to him through our visit here. A couple of times he grabbed me and said, ‘What do we have to do to get me here? I want to be here.'"
Both sides are happy that it's a match. The Dolphins get a natural right tackle who could be a potential building block on the offensive line for years to come, and James gets a good opportunity to start right away at the NFL level.
Miami's offensive line had a complete makeover this offseason. The Dolphins will have at least three new starters this year, which include James, left tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith. The other guard spot remains wide open between Sam Brenner, Dallas Thomas, Nate Garner and rookie third-round pick Billy Turner.
The Dolphins need James to have a short learning curve and be ready to contribute right away. He faced some of the best collegiate pass-rushers in the country over the years, including former SEC rival Jadeveon Clowney, who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick.
“I went against him this year,” James said of Clowney. “It was only for about eight or seven plays. I did pretty well. He’s a great defensive end. I’m a good offensive tackle too. I just blocked him. That was my job.”