Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Under-Hyped and Under-Appreciated: Why Richie James Jr. is a legitimate receiving threat

May 7, 2020 at 7:00 AM


The Niners enter the 2020 season with very few holes on the roster following an NFL Draft where they added Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk to replace DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders, while trading for Trent Williams after 13-year veteran Joe Staley announced his retirement

Despite the youthful acquisitions, the 49ers did not add anything new to the roster. Instead, they replaced what was already there. San Francisco will be reliant on returning injured players to be the "acquisitions" for the upcoming season.

Former third-round pick Jalen Hurd has been medically cleared, according to 49ers' GM John Lynch. Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target in 2017, Trent Taylor, is currently rehabbing and is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Even 2020 seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings is the latest player to board the hype train.

With three new targets to throw to in 2020, Jimmy Garoppolo's job should become exponentially easier, but health concerns and prior inconsistencies lead to apprehension as to what the 49ers have in their receiving room.

Do the Niners have five legit receiving weapons? Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, and Brandon Aiyuk are the only locks to make the roster.

Jalen Hurd's back could flare up at any time. Do Garoppolo and Taylor have the same chemistry they once did, and are we sure Dante Pettis is ready to take the next step?

There has been little evidence to prove the Niners receiving core is set in stone. With that in mind, San Francisco should give serious consideration to Richie James Jr. as a legitimate receiver rather than a special teams player.

Primarily known as a return specialist, James has spent the last two seasons buried on the roster but excelled when given the opportunity.

James has been targeted 24 times in two seasons, hauling in 15 of those passes with a catch rate of 62.5 percent. That's higher than Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, and Travis Benjamin's career averages. Interestingly, the latter two are listed ahead of James on the depth chart.

Some might think James doesn't fit the style of receiver Kyle Shanahan's system requires, but he actually fits San Francisco's scheme better than the majority of the roster.

The 49ers offensive scheme relies heavily on YAC (yards after the catch) hence why Lynch and Co. drafted Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk over the past two seasons. While there is no argument for James to start over Samuel, Aiyuk, or even Bourne, his YAC alone should jolt him into the top five receivers on the roster.

Since 2018, James ranks first on the 49ers in YAC per reception with 14.2 yards. The next highest receiver is Dante Pettis at 8.8 yards, and while James' high number can be attributed to a small sample size, his statistics should be further proof he can succeed in Shanahan's system.

For a team that often uses screen passes and plays behind the line of scrimmage, James has arguably been the Niners' best option behind Deebo Samuel.

Signed through 2021 on a cheap seventh-round contract, James can be a diamond in the rough, and the "addition" San Francisco couldn't afford to add in free agency. Instead of relegating James to a return specialist, he deserves a fair shot to prove himself in pre-season, and an argument can be made that he already has shown more promise than the majority of the Niners receivers.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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