Ravens’ Ja’Wuan James should not be considered Ronnie Stanley’s backup in 2022

Ja'Wuan James, Ravens (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Ja'Wuan James, Ravens (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens rolled the dice on offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James years ago, and while James could still offer a sweet return on their investment, expectations should be kept to a minimum.

One of the Ravens’ biggest names returning to the lineup in 2022 is Ronnie Stanley, who underwent season-ending ankle surgery last October after playing just one game.

That marked Stanley’s second season ended early by surgery, and since his initial ankle injury in 2020, Stanley has played just one game.

Stanley reportedly felt like he was “rushed back” to play in Week 1 in 2021, so this time around, the Ravens are playing it safe. So far this offseason, Stanley’s recovery has been going as well as expected and coaches have expressed very cautious optimism about having Stanley in the starting lineup come September.

Should things start to trend south, however, what is the Ravens’ contingency plan at left tackle?

Hopefully not Ja’Wuan James.

The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec recently wrote that James is “the favorite” to start at left tackle in the event that Stanley is not ready in Week 1.

James is a talented and versatile offensive lineman in his own right, but if the Ravens plan to use him as Stanley’s backup, the team is just asking for trouble.

By definition, a backup should be a mostly reliable player, yet James carries a worse injury record than Stanley and hasn’t stepped onto the field since 2019.

Baltimore signed James right after he tore his Achilles in May of 2021, bringing the former Denver Broncos tackle on as a developmental depth piece rather than an immediate starter.

Don’t expect Ravens’ Ja’Wuan James to serve as Ronnie Stanley’s insurance in 2022

Prior to his Achilles tear, James suffered a knee injury that limited him to three games in Denver; prior to joining the Broncos, James had never played two consecutive full seasons.

Injury history aside, there is still potential for James to make a significant impact in Baltimore, and head coach John Harbaugh provided a positive update on James’ recovery earlier this summer:

"“He’s been doing good. I haven’t really noticed the Achilles. We haven’t done any power blocking, and he hasn’t had to move anybody off the ball yet, so, obviously, that comes in training camp when the pads come on, but he’s moving really well. He looks good. He’s in great shape. I feel great about him…”"

But until James actually becomes healthy enough to play and, most importantly, stays healthy, nothing is guaranteed.

Heading into 2022, the Ravens will want to avoid a repeat of last year’s musical chair scenario when injuries ravaged the offensive line and nearly a dozen linemen took turns filling in the gaps in the trenches.

The constant turnover led to Baltimore allowing 57 sacks on the year and finishing with one of the league’s worst offensive line grades, and it’s no coincidence that Lamar Jackson had some of his worst performances this past season.

If healthier options like Patrick Mekari or rookie Daniel Faalele are available at the start of the season, they should have a better chance at earning the starting left guard spot.

The Ravens could even cut or trade James and create $3 million in cap space to use elsewhere, perhaps to bring on a veteran pass-rusher — a much smarter decision than relying on James to be Stanley’s plug-and-play replacement.

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James was always a low-risk, low-reward signing. Don’t expect him to be any more than that.