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49ers 90-in-90: What can we expect from Richie James in 2020?

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is wide receiver Richie James.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Richie James was drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft from Middle Tennessee State. Despite only playing two full college seasons, James left Middle Tennessee as their all-time leader in receiving yards (3,261) and receiving touchdowns (23). He showed enough to tempt the San Francisco 49ers brass into bringing his electric playmaking ability to the Bay.

His first season with the Niners, James finished with nine receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. His real impact was on special teams, where James averaged over 25 yards per kick return, including a memorable 97-yard touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks Week 15.

Basic Info

Age: 24 (turns 25 on September 5)

Experience: Two accrued seasons

Height: 5’9

Weight: 185 pounds

Cap Status

Richie James signed a four-year contract worth $2,536,572. James has two years left on his deal. If the 49ers release James post-June 1, they’ll save $750,000 against the cap.

What to expect in 2020

James is a fan favorite, and most of that is due to the unknown. The majority of our exposures to James last year were positive. Usually, they were big plays. Whether that’s an early touchdown against Tampa Bay or a throwback screen where James races 50 yards, or even a big kick or punt return. When James has the ball in his hands, he makes plays.

There is a reason we don’t see James more. In practice, you see James either struggle with contact or show that he’s not on the same level as the other receivers. I remember last year in minicamp, James was really struggling. Then it comes to the game, and James doesn’t have those same issues. It’s a tough position to be in as a coach. James should have at least a couple of touches a game for the 49ers, but he also needs to give the coaches the confidence to trust him during the week of practice.

Odds on making the roster

The 49ers drafted a wide receiver in the first round. Brandon Aiyuk figures to make an immediate impact, and it might not be limited to offense. If Aiyuk, Trent Taylor, D.J. Reed, or Dante Pettis win the returner jobs, James doesn’t have much of a chance to make the roster unless he transforms his game. That means James will need to be more consistent and add something to the roster that the 49ers don’t have. A vertical threat? That’s James’ best chance, to me. He’ll need to take every opportunity he has during training camp and knock it out of the park.