Former Broncos, Dolphins Starter Could Be ‘Wild Card’ Addition to Ravens Offense

Ravens Ja'Wuan James

Getty Former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James warms up during an August 2019 preseason game.

The Baltimore Ravens have been battered by injuries this season, most recently to three starters on offense: right tackle Patrick Mekari, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Latavius Murray.

Mekari’s injury has stretched the Ravens especially thin at offensive tackle, with only two–Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips–healthy and on the active roster.

The Ravens did add former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to the practice squad this week, but Ryan Mink of thinks there’s already a “wild card” offensive tackle “waiting in the wings” in Baltimore.

That would be Ja’Wuan James, who was released by the Denver Broncos in May after tearing his Achilles. The Ravens signed James to a two-year, $9 million deal, a bargain even if he only played in the second year of the contract.

But there’s a chance James is able to play this season. The Ravens haven’t updated his status since he signed in June, when head coach John Harbaugh said James “could possibly be back this year,” potentially in November or December, per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

Impact of James’ Potential Return

It’s unclear where James is in his recovery, but if he’s available at all this season, he could be a reliable veteran at a position of weakness in Baltimore.

Mink agrees, writing on Wednesday:

Here’s the other wild card in the whole situation. The Ravens have Ja’Wuan James waiting in the wings for a potential return. James, who was one of the league’s better right tackles, is on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list after tearing his Achilles in early May. He opted out in 2020 and then tore his Achilles, so it’s been a while since he’s played football and he obviously has the physical recovery hurdle to overcome. Still, I’m not ruling him out as a potential contributor down the stretch.

It would definitely be an uphill battle for James to play this season, since he hasn’t played more than 65 snaps since 2018. But as a Miami Dolphins from 2016 to 2018, he averaged a 72.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. It’s nothing flashy, but at this point, with All-Pro Ronnie Stanley out for the season, the Ravens can’t afford to be too picky.

But they won’t be able to expect too much out of an offensive tackle coming off an Achilles injury who hasn’t played a significant number of snaps in three years.

Learning the Ravens’ offensive playbook shouldn’t be an issue; after all, he’s been with the team for almost five months. But James still has to develop on-field chemistry with his fellow linemen and quarterback Lamar Jackson.

While it would be an incredible story if James were to contribute to the Ravens this season, it would also signal that their injury situation has escalated dramatically.

James’ Role in 2022

However, the Ravens don’t have a clear starting right tackle for the 2022 season. If Mekari is able to return from his injury and continue to perform, he’ll have an incumbent advantage next year.

But James will have more than a year to recover from his injury and return to form. That should give him a fighting chance to win the starting job. Even if he doesn’t start, the Ravens’ awful injury luck this season shows how valuable it is to have quality depth, especially at offensive tackle.

The Ravens took a chance on signing James less than a month removed from tearing his Achilles, but it could prove to be yet another shrewd move by Baltimore’s front office.

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