For everything that has been inconsistent on the Tennessee Volunteers offense this season, the one constant has been their offensive line. There are plenty of people who think four or five members of this year’s group could end up playing in the NFL. The most noted of the bunch if Antonio Richardson at left tackle and center James Stone is a solid pivot prospect, but the most intriguing of the group might be their right tackle, Ja’Wuan James. James is a terrific right tackle in Knoxville, but he has more than enough ability where he would be playing left tackle for a significant number of teams in college football. As a result, Tennessee has a pair of enormous bookend tackles that are in the conversation as the best pair in the nation this year.
James has great size, strength, and athleticism to play tackle as well as a mean streak that will show up in the running game. In pass protection, James offers significant ability but will occasionally just stop his feet and give opponents an opening to work around the edge against him. James looks like a top 100 pick and it would not be a shock if he was mentioned as someone who could move to left tackle in the NFL but he makes for an extremely talented right tackle prospect as well. Inconsistency might be the only thing that prevents from going in the top 75, but he still looks like he could be a great plug and play right tackle that could potentially make the move to left tackle or at least be a backup option there.
Vitals & Build
James is listed at 6’6” 318lbs with a terrific build. It will be interesting to see just where he measures in as he is remarkably svelte for the position. He has good functional strength and terrific feet and agility. James has a pretty good motor but appears to have an extra gear when he feels challenged by the guy across from him. So much will depend on the advice he gets going forward but if he is looking to maximize his ability at right tackle, he could easily add more weight and strength without sacrificing a problematic amount of athleticism. Should he want to try to make the move to left tackle going into the NFL, he will obviously want to add strength but he might be more careful with his overall weight as he wants to maximize his feet and ability to slide.
James has impressive athleticism for the tackle position. Not only does he have the capability to slide and mirror with opponents well, but he is able to get up to the second level with relative ease. James is able to do these things while maintaining his balance and working from a position of strength, but will end up out of control on occasion. He might still be a better athlete than his play would suggest.
James is not always consistent but he shows the ability to be a force in the running game. When he locks on, he drives his feet to push the opponent down the field and often times looks to finish and dominate his opponent, displaying a nice mean streak. There are situations when James will make multiple efforts on the same opponent and just keep pushing the player down the field.
James is also able to make multiple blocks on the same play and has the ability to get up the field and make a block at the second level. There are times when he will get lost in the woods and maybe he is tired, but he will not be blocking anyone as the play matriculates down the field.
James is able to get to the second level, but he needs to avoid lunging at opponents. For the most part, he is comfortable in space and able to contribute when he gets there. This is exacerbated when he does not take a good angle and lunges from a bad position as the miss looks far worse and more noticeable. He is also natural at kicking outside and leading toss plays. James gets out of his stance comfortably and accelerates well going forward, looking natural and fluid in the process.
Occasionally, he will have lapses where he lets someone beat him with a quick move but he is usually able to make up ground and correct the issue. When he locks on, he usually stays locked on but there are certainly times when he will fall off of blocks. He will also occasionally get caught lunging and miss.
While more strength would help him, especially going to the next level, the only real issues that stop James from being a great run blocker are consistency and occasionally wearing down and getting tired. Beyond that, he looks like a terrific asset as a run blocker at either left or right tackle.
James is more than capable of being a great edge pass protector but he runs into issues with effort at times. When opponents attack inside or attack right at him, he is extremely effective and holds up well to strength and stops opponents attacking the B gap.
James certainly has the ability to protect the edge and mirror against opponents but there are times when he just stops his feet too early and more or less leans on the opponent to force them outside of the play. For the most part, he is able to get away with it but more talented pass rushers are going to take advantage and his attempts to take the easy way out will get him in trouble.
There are a few examples where James will get beaten by an opponent or faces a talented opponent and he has another gear. Stepping up to the competition, James will play at an even higher level and his feet are extremely active and he is looking to send a message to the opponent.
Occasionally, he will lunge to cut with inconsistent results. While it may work to keep the opponent honest and keep them thinking about protecting their legs, James is more than capable of just beating them without it and when he misses, it puts his quarterback at risk.
Like with his run blocking, James can take some angles that cause him problems in how he attacks a block and the position from which he can operate. He needs to get a better sense on where he needs to in terms of position and his angle to the play. For the most part, he does a good job but there are times when he makes his job harder than it needs to be.
James has the ability to be a great pass blocker and it will all come down to effort and how badly he wants to be great from week to week to even play to play. He can be great for a substantial portion of the game and have a couple bad plays that make a big impact on the game. Consistency is huge with James.
James has a pretty good punch and is not afraid to use it more than once in the running game. He is able to knock opponents backward and drive them off the ball. When he is able to lock on, he is rarely shaken off and really shuts down the opponent from there. When he stops his feet on pass protection, he is able to use his length and shove opponents outside of the play. James can continue to work on hand placement but he does a pretty good job of using his hands to win at the line of scrimmage. There are times when he gets beaten when it comes to hand fighting but not often enough to be a huge concern.
James has the feet to be great but his footwork, but he does not always make the effort to use it, especially in the passing game. When he is motivated and fresh, he is terrific and can mirror extremely well. He is efficient with his feet in the running game when it comes to getting outside or to the second level. James is not really limited athletically for what he can do with his feet in college or the NFL, so this year could really see him put the finishing touches on a great career and propel himself to a good start to his NFL career.
The other thing that can get him in trouble at times is the angles he chooses and where he aims to make blocks. There are times when James has more than enough athletic ability to get out and make a block but will take an awkward angle and either take on a block from a bad position or miss. Some of this is a matter of getting more experience but it seems like an issue that needs to be handled when he gets to the NFL with a ground up approach.
The most obvious fit is as a right tackle and he is strong enough and athletic enough to play in just about any scheme. In addition, he can add weight if they need him to be bigger and stronger, but he really should be an attractive fit for most any team in the market for the position. If he ends up being a right tackle, he should also be adequate enough to kick over to the left side should there be an injury.
The question with James is whether or not there will be teams who look at him as a left tackle. He appears to have the athleticism to do the job in a number of schemes, but consistency and his ability to protect the edge with proper angles has still not been there. He might be a player that is drafted to a handful of teams and he can be the team’s right tackle but if he can get to camp and show he can take the left tackle job, that is a huge bonus.
James game might end up similar to that of Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens. After playing left tackle for Ole Miss, the Ravens picked him and put him on the right side where he was terrific. Although they have tried to move him to left tackle a couple of times, he has not been able to make the move effectively and ultimately moved back. Oher himself says he is more comfortable at right tackle. James has the athleticism to play left tackle but might just be a great right tackle, which seems to come with more value by the year. Oher and James both had questions when it came to consistency as college players. Both showed the ability to be brilliant, but had times when they did not play up to their ability.
Ja’Wuan James might end up as one of the most intriguing tackles in all of college football because he is more than capable of being a high level left tackle for most of the nation. He has terrific physical skills and a mean streak that makes him a terrific run blocker with the tools to protect the edge. For James, it is all about consistency; with his footwork, his angles, and even just his effort. Nevertheless, James projects as a top 100 pick and inconsistency might be the only thing that keeps him from going in the top 75, but he still looks like someone who could contribute right away, especially if matched with a coach who he can work with to eliminate some of his mechanical questions.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com