Like most people on the planet, 2020 hasn’t been an easy year for San Francisco 49ers receiver Richie James.
The 25 year old broke his wrist in July while training with teammates in Nashville. A short time later, he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list before moving to the injured reserve. Luckily, but was able to be ready for Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Unfortunately, James tweaked his hamstring in the season opener and didn’t get back on to the field until the Week 6 win over the Los Angeles Rams. James hurt his ankle again against the New England Patriots and was forced to miss the Seattle game.
The Niners’ receiving corps was decimated coming into the matchup against the Green Bay Packers. No. 1 wideout Deebo Samuel was originally going to miss the game with a hamstring injury. Still, once he was moved to the reserve/COVID-19 list along with fellow pass-catchers Brandon Aiyuk and Kendrick Bourne, San Francisco was left with a receiving corps that was bare.
James — who was recovering from an ankle injury — wasn’t sure he would be able to play in the 34-17 loss to the Packers. Head coach Kyle Shanahan was thrilled that the receiver was able to suit up.
“We were told on Monday that he had a 50% chance of playing because he was coming off the ankle injury; he wasn’t able to go last week,” Shanahan said. “We didn’t plan on using him that much because he was coming off the injury, but I was just thankful to have him.
“I told him before the game that irregardless of what happens, I know he’s going in a little beat up. I know he didn’t get to practice this stuff, he knew a lot of pressure was on him.”
The 49ers offense looked awful, but you can’t blame James for the unit’s performance. He finished the game with a career-high nine receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a guy who only had 15 receptions for 295 yards over his first two seasons. James says that even though he wasn’t fully healthy, he wanted to come in and make a difference.
“I would say I’m about 95%,” James said after the loss. “I’m willing to do everything I could to help my team, so if I got to get out there and play on a 95% ankle, I would. That’s just what I did.”
James took advantage of his increased role with all of the holes at receiver, something that veteran All-Pro teammate Richard Sherman tweeted about during the game.
He has always had this talent just not the opportunity. Unfortunate that it’s under these circumstances but way to take full advantage of your opp https://t.co/iuwFoZbpqg— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) November 6, 2020
Although it came in a blowout, James’ performance stood out for a few reasons. His all-world speed and playmaking abilities could bring a spark to the San Francisco offense that desperately needs it, considering all of the injuries.
Samuel is undoubtedly the No. 1 receiver, while Aiyuk has had flashes during his rookie year. There isn’t a lot on the depth chart after that, and with James showing he could be the vertical threat the 49ers need, Shanahan could look to get him some extra snaps, even when Samuel, Aiyuk and Bourne return.
Richie James had a career game, gaining more yards (184) than he had all of 2019 (165) or 2018 (130).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 6, 2020
James was most successful on vertical routes and screens.
Vertical Routes (15 routes)
➤ 2 rec, 84 yds, TD
WR Screens (3 routes)
➤ 3 rec, 60 yds#GBvsSF | #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/xc7jONPgRF
For his part, James is just staying ready for when his number is called.
“I am just trying to be more patient, I know the opportunities will come, just like they did [Thursday],” James said. “Just got to take advantage of those opportunities and I did really well. Hopefully I get more of them.”
With the way this San Francisco season has gone, he should get plenty more chances to showcase his skills and gain a more regular role in the offense.