Let’s make no mistake about it — wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel are far and away the most dynamic 49ers’ receivers on the roster.
Samuel has back-to-back games with at least eight receptions and 100 receiving yards, and he’s the last rookie to do so since Odell Beckham Jr. Sanders has only been a 49er for a few weeks, but he’s already atop most of the receiving categories.
If San Francisco is going to make a deep run in the playoffs, the 49ers will need a consistent third and fourth receiver. Kyle Shanahan needs to be able to trust two of Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, and Richie James Jr.
With Bourne catching touchdown passes in the last three games, I think he’s emerged as the 49ers’ third receiver. While Pettis and Goodwin trend downwards, I think James Jr. deserves more playing time as the season goes on.
On Sunday, the 49ers were down 16-0 with 9:03 left in the second quarter, looking for any type of momentum play. The offense had struggled on its first three drives, having no semblance of a Kyle Shanahan-led offensive unit. The defense came out flat, and suddenly San Francisco was in a deep hole.
That’s when the most important, momentum-shifting play happened. San Francisco fooled Arizona on the misdirection, and James Jr. caught a pass and took it for 57 yards, and the 49ers were in business. The 49ers finished off the drive with a touchdown, and it fueled San Francisco to close the half with ten unanswered points.
Maybe it’s just me, but every time the former Middle Tennessee State star touches the field, it seems like he’s exploding onto the scene and making plays for the 49ers’ offense. Here are some of the key statistics for James Jr:
Yards after Catch: 108
James Jr. has been on the field for 153 snaps through the first ten weeks (not including the Cardinals’ game) but needs to see more time on the field. Defenses continue to throw 8-man boxes to combat the 49ers’ dominant rushing attack, leaving San Francisco’s receivers in one-on-one coverage on the outside.
Early in the afternoon on Sunday, only Sanders and Samuel were able to break free from Cardinals’ defensive backs — until James Jr. had his 57-yard catch and run. San Francisco can certainly use his quickness and burst, especially if defenses continue to sell their souls to stop the run.
Pettis only saw one snap at the end of the game, and Goodwin had a huge drop late in the fourth quarter that probably doesn’t help his case. Neither receiver looks to be a part of the game plan moving forward, and I’d slot Richie James as the fourth receiver on this team.
The 49ers’ 7th-round pick already returns kicks and punts, so his spot on the active game-day roster is usually intact. If he continues to make plays in the receiving game, I’d expect him to see more offensive snaps as well.