When thinking about San Francisco 49ers wide receivers in 2019, most fans are probably eager to watch someone like second-year pro Dante Pettis or the Niners' Round 2 NFL Draft pick, Deebo Samuel. Maybe they're intrigued by fellow rookie Jalen Hurd or whether or not third-year pro Trent Taylor can bounce back from an otherwise disappointing 2018.


Not too many are talking about wide receiver Richie James.

But Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox is, as he went through all 32 teams ahead of the upcoming 2019 season and listed each squad's secret weapon. Interestingly enough, James is that weapon for San Francisco.

"The San Francisco 49ers receiving corps looks much more threatening than it did this time last year," Knox wrote. "George Kittle is a Pro Bowl tight end, and Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis are back from last year. The 49ers also added Jordan Matthews, second-round pick Deebo Samuel and third-round pick Jalen Hurd in the offseason.

"Let's not forget about second-year wideout Richie James, though."

James was scantly used on offense for much of his rookie season, starting two games and seeing a bit of time in the slot following a nagging back injury to Taylor. During that limited action, James hauled in nine catches for 130 yards and a touchdown -- certainly not eye-popping offensive numbers.

But Knox isn't looking at James as an offensive powerhouse. Instead, it's James' return abilities catching the attention.

"James was a dangerous returner on both punts and kickoffs," Knox continued. "He averaged 6.3 yards per punt return and 25.2 yards per kickoff return and took one kick 97 yards to the house."

Speaking of that 97-yard kickoff return versus the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15 last year...



Maybe Knox is onto something there. A season ago, San Francisco's starting offensive field position averaged out at its own 26.2-yard line, which ranked third worst in the NFL. Considering James had a combined 35 returns between punts and kickoffs, maybe that's a knock against the Middle Tennessee State receiver. But one could also argue the ranking would have been even worse without James in the mix.

"With kickoff rules making touchbacks nearly automatic, return specialists aren't quite as valued as they were in the heyday of Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs," Knox concluded. "James, however, is a weapon who can have the 49ers on the scoreboard as quickly as you can get to the refrigerator for your next drink."

Considering how deep the 49ers are at wide receiver heading into training camp, James' best chance to crack the 53-man roster will likely come in the return game.

According to Knox, at least, the Niners would be wise to keep James around in this role for the upcoming season.
  • Peter Panacy
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    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.